Of the 36 teachers hired for the current school year in District 97, one is a minority, a development that the Oak Park’s elementary district’s superintendent calls troubling and unacceptable.
Along with hiring one black teacher, the district hired one minority administrator, an assistant principal, who also is black. In a stern statement read during the board’s meeting last week, Superintendent Constance Collins vowed the district will do better next year in finding and hiring minority teachers and administrators.
She listed a number of initiatives for the district to meet that goal. In November, administrators and principals will attend a minority recruitment fair to start networking with potential candidates. Collins added that the district will hold its own minority recruitment fair this winter.
The superintendent and board, however, stressed that they’re not displeased with the new staff members but only want more diversity moving forward.
“It is disappointing and troubling to discover that we have not been true to our mission, which says that we are committed to the needs of a diverse population,” said Collins, the district’s first female and first black superintendent, who was hired in 2005.
She added that the recent hiring developments also failed to meet a strategic plan goal of establishing “a culture of inclusion that respects and promotes diversity by developing a highly qualified staff.”
Collins said what happened this year is unacceptable and will not happen again. She’s already reviewing hiring practices. “District 97 receives thousands of applications on a yearly basis, and I am certain that just as there are highly qualified Caucasian applicants, there are also many highly qualified Asian, Hispanic, African-American and multiracial applicants.”
Administration, she added, will work with building principals to identify new ways to hire teachers who reflect the student population.
According to data for the 2008-09 school year, of the more than 5,300 Dist. 97 students, about 26 percent were black; whites made up nearly 57 percent. Of the 443 teachers last year, 14 percent were black. Approximately 3.8 percent of students and 2.7 percent of teachers were Hispanic last year. Asian and Native American students represented 4 percent and .04 percent, respectively; among teachers, the percentages were about 3 percent and .03. Though no data was reported for multiracial teachers last year, students in that group represented 9 percent of the district’s enrollment.
In all, the district last year employed 63 black teachers, 13 Asians, 12 Hispanics and one Native American.
School board member Jim Gates, a former District 97 teacher, said minority hiring is a historical problem in the district. He asked Collins if the district knew how many minority candidates were interviewed this year. Collins said that information will come from the principals and be included in the district’s staffing report in October.
“I think that when the principals go online and look at the applications, they don’t know what the ethnicity of a candidate is,” she said, stressing that the district needs to improve in identifying and recruiting candidates before the stage of interviews.
“We are determined to approach this in a more aggressive way,” Collins added. “I do know that there are candidates out there, and so it may involve taking a look at doing this differently and not saying we’re going to keep the same process in place.”
Collins said that she’s aware of some candidates applying to the district repeatedly but never brought in for an interview, perhaps because principals were unaware that those applicants were in the candidate pool.
Board member Jennifer Reddy suggested broadening that pool; Chicago Public Schools, she noted, has a high number of minority teachers. Gates, though, said that CPS pays its teachers more than some suburban districts, leaving District 97 at a competitive disadvantage. Board member Peter Barber noted that some teachers in the district are hired from more familiar schools, like Dominican and Concordia universities. Barber said he applauded Collins for addressing this issue, and encouraged the district to move out of its comfort zone.
“I know that what happens in organizations is that you tend to go to where you’ve had success in the past. I think it’s probably similar here. Maybe you need to break that mold, and that might be something involving training and discussion with you and the other professionals in the district.”