By Terry Dean
Correcting a troubling hiring situation from a year ago, District 97 is reporting an increase in minority hires among teachers and administrators this school year.
Last year's numbers — one black teacher hired out of 36 — prompted then-Supt. Constance Collins to call for drastic changes in recruitment. The elementary school district this year saw a 2.3 percent increase in minorities among faculty. A slew of retirements last year resulted in 34 new teachers hired for the current school year, about half of whom are minorities, according to district data. The new hires include blacks, Hispanics and Asians.
The 2010-2011 annual staffing report was released Nov. 30. Trish Carlson, Dist. 97's director of human resources and development, attributed the increases to improved recruitment efforts. In the administrative ranks, only one minority was hired last year; this year that number rose to three.
The report was discussed at last Tuesday's Dist. 97 Board of Education meeting. School board members were generally pleased with the improvement in diversity. Carlson noted in particular the number of applicants who responded to a flier the district distributed in the area. Dist. 97 also recruited at minority job fairs and Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
Supt. Albert Roberts, who was hired in June, said the district will continue such efforts but stressed that hiring qualified applicants is the main goal of the district.
"It seems to me we're always going to be looking for under-represented parties ... but we're also going to have the standard that we had last year in getting people who are really good, and we're not going to sacrifice ability for political correctness," he said. "The reason we did so well last year is that we made a concerted effort to go out and find the best possible people we could, and we were pleased to be able to bring in under-represented parties — male and Afro-American teachers in particular.
"We're going to continue that route," Roberts said. "I don't want anybody to misread that as the sole way that we're looking at these groups. We're looking at their capacity to do an exceptional job for us."
Board member Peter Barber, however, noted that specific outreach was called for last year, and that "strength in performance" is always the mandate. The district, he noted, found success by reaching out to different colleges and advertising in different publications than it normally would.
Overall, the district has 472 teachers this year, five more than last year because of added class sections at the first grade level, Carlson said. The district also hired 10 additional male teachers.
"They actively looked for quality male candidates, because we all understand the significance of having male teachers, particularly in the lower grades," Carlson said, referring to the district's principals.
Dist. 97 has only one teacher retiring at the end of this school, Carlson added, noting that there will be fewer teachers overall hired for the 2011-2012 school year. Last year, more than 40 teachers retired.