Minority teacher shortage slow to change in local districts
By Angela Oliver Messenger-Inquirer | Posted: Sunday, February 22, 2015 12:00 am
Lewatis McNeal said he’s never doubted the quality of the academic education his daughter and son receive at Daviess County High and Middle schools. Culturally, though “something is missing.”
“This is bigger than hiring more minority teachers, it’s about creating a culture of diversity and inclusion in the school systems and in Owensboro,” he said.
McNeal, an Arkansas native who’s been here for about 11 years, has been gathering data on the lack of minority teachers and on the disproportionate number of minority student suspensions for a few years. He said the first issue caught his eye when he was a graduate adviser to education majors at Western Kentucky University-Owensboro. He’s now the associate dean of student affairs at Owensboro Community & Technical College.
“I wondered about minority teachers across the state and how we could get more,” he said. “I’ve asked my kids if they have minority teachers. I know that answer from going to PTA and open houses, but I like to hear their perspective.”
Of about 800 certified teachers in Daviess County Public Schools, five are minorities, all are black. There are two each on the middle and high school levels and one on the elementary level. The school system has about 11,000 students, of which nearly 12 percent are minorities — 4 percent Hispanic, 3 percent black and 3 percent bi- or multiracial and 1.8 percent Asian.
“When stats are that low, applicants might feel that this isn’t a welcoming place,” DCPS Superintendent Owens Saylor said. “I’d never want students or teachers to feel that way.”
Owensboro Public Schools’ body of 310 certified teachers includes 11 minorities — nine black, one Hispanic and one Asian. Its minority teaching staff nearly matches that of the state’s 3.5 percent. Of its 4,500 students, about 16 percent are black, 7 percent are Hispanic, 9 percent are bi- or multi-racial and nearly 3 percent are Asian.
Saylor and OPS Superintendent Nick Brake said they’d like to see the percentage of minority teachers grow to mirror the percentage of minority students.
“Our minority students need to see someone who looks like them in front of the classroom and in leadership positions,” Brake said. “White students need to see minority teachers, too.”
In both systems, the coaching staffs often have higher minority representation, along with instructional assistants, food service and transportation positions.
The root of the problem, both men said, is a lack of applicants of color.
“There are no excuses, but we just don’t get a lot of minority teachers apply,” Saylor said. “I’m pretty open and intentional in encouraging the (site-based decision-making councils) that we need more.”
Though superintendents present the SBDM councils with recommendations from the applicant pool, school principals, after consulting with their council, make the hiring decision, according to the 2014 SBDM Personnel Guide on the Kentucky Department of Education website.
Within that guide, KRS 160.380(2)(d) states that when a vacancy occurs, “the superintendent shall conduct a search to locate minority teachers to be considered for the position,” and annually report the recruitment process and efforts made to increase the percentage of minority (categorized as American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian, black/African-American, Hispanic/Latino, Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander, Other) teachers.
According to the Kentucky Education Placement Service, which details 2013-2014 recruitment reports, DCPS had a total of 109 administrator, principal, student services and teacher positions to fill. Of 410 eligible applicants who received an interview, one black and one Hispanic and five blacks and one Hispanic interviewed for administrative and teaching jobs, respectively. None were hired.
The OPS report shows 42 positions within the above categories. Of 152 eligible applicants interviewed, one Hispanic interviewed for a principal job, and three blacks and two Hispanics interviewed for teaching jobs. Two Hispanic teachers were hired.
Saylor said DCPS has a short-term goal of at least one teacher of color in each school. His efforts to increase minority teachers include consulting with a local Minority Recruitment Committee, attending recruiting fairs and taking recommendations from local leaders. But the push can’t only come from the school system, he said.
“It’s also about making sure people will feel a part of the larger community if they apply here and that it’s a place they’d want to stay,” he said.
McNeal agrees that an increase in diversity and inclusion has to go beyond the school systems.
“We have to create a culture that says we value everybody, and our children have to see it,” he said. “Diversity is key if we want them to be successful outside of Owensboro. In a city our size, the lack of inclusion is embarrassing.”
Even Hancock County, a smaller district with 321 teachers, has five certified teachers, as DCPS does, McNeal said.
He’s long discussed both issues with Brake and Saylor and said both superintendents have been open and receptive.
“Overall, (DCPS) is an excellent system. Mr. Saylor is always willing to listen, and I believe he cares,” McNeal said, “but we’ve been having the same conversations for two years. We can do better. The worst excuse is that minorities aren’t applying because if the schools have any other problem, they find a strategy to fix it.”
Brake said OPS is partnering with Kentucky Wesleyan College to recruit minority teachers. Also, an Introduction to American Education survey course is available for Owensboro High School students for college credit. It’s open to all students, and Brake said he hopes it encourages minority interest in the teaching field.
“We’re excited to launch the partnership with KWC. (KWC President) Bart Darrell and I agree that growing our own is the best shot at ultimately improving minority teacher presence,” Brake said.
Angela Oliver, 270-691-7360,