Just under half of all elementary students in River Forest public schools will never have a teacher of color and just one in 10 classes at Roosevelt Middle School are taught by a teacher of color, according to a new report presented to the District 90 Board of Education at its June 6 meeting. The study was conducted by an outside consultant.

The 30-page report, commissioned by the board for $15,000 as part of its continued push for greater equity and inclusivity in its schools and produced by Chicago-based Alma Advisory Group, focuses on revamping hiring practices and boosting staff diversity. The report’s conclusions — which used district data, staff interviews and focus groups — were mixed. There were several areas of improvement but also a few clear strengths that Alma consultants said should be leveraged. The report comes just about a month after District 90 partnered with Oak Park’s District 97 and District 200 at the Tri-District Town Hall Forum.

“There’s an awful lot of research and I think anecdotal kind of support as well that children do benefit when they see themselves in adults in their community,” District 90 Supt. Edward Condon said at the June 6 meeting. “Our student body today is more diverse than we’ve ever been before. It’s a very rich tapestry. … Our faculty, while it continues to change and evolve, has not really become more diverse, as our student body has over the years.”

District 90’s students are about 30 percent “non-white,” but just 14 of its 127 teachers — roughly 10 percent —are “non-white,” district HR data show.

The district, Condon said, is “probably not as reflective as we would wish of our student body,” adding later that the Alma study was “to help us provide some context behind why we are kinda running up against some barriers in identifying and recruiting high-quality, diverse candidates for our vacancies.”

Alma spelled out recommendations including utilizing a “competency-based” hiring process, expanding the role of the HR department to free up the district’s principals to focus on a whittled-down list of candidates and overhauling the district’s website.

“Competency-based” hiring requires developing a specific rubric that scores candidates against a set of qualifications, values and skillsets and can help reduce bias and improve objectivity, said Sandra Tacina, one of the Alma consultants.

“It’s not based on gut reactions or impressions,” Tacina said. “And it’s more rigorous in measuring the skills a candidate is bringing to the job.”

Alma also advocated using current employees of color as “ambassadors” and tapping local universities for high-quality diverse candidates.

The district, Tacina and Monica Rosen, another Alma consultant, said, should use its current strengths to reach those goals. District 90 is a high-achieving school system, with over 90 percent of students reaching Illinois State benchmarks in math and English. Also, the pair added, most vacancies get about 70 applications, a number far above average. About 10 percent of those applications are from teachers of color.

“You do have teachers of color interested in working here,” Rosen said, mentioning District 90 is a sought-after employer. “That’s not really a concern, according to your data.”

Alma, nevertheless, called for the HR department to attend job fairs at local universities with diverse student bodies such as Loyola University Chicago and post positions to job sites popular with diverse candidates. Now, when a vacancy occurs, the position is posted internally and externally on job boards.

Tacina and Rosen, citing several academic studies, reiterated it is important to reframe the district’s commitment to increased diversity as a benefit for all students, not just students of color.

Correcting other misconceptions is critical, too, the pair said. For instance, they found in conversations during their research for the report, some people used the terms “low-income” and “minority” interchangeably. That is not true, Tacina said, adding just 17 percent of students of color receive free or reduced priced lunch in District 90.

District 90 Board Member Stacey Williams called the presentation “fantastic” and added that expanding diversity is key.

“It is important for our all students,” Williams said. “You show that a significant majority of our kids will make it through this school district and never have a teacher who is not white. I think we are doing them all a disservice and not preparing them for what the world looks like.”

District 90 Communications Coordinator Dawne Simmons said in a June 8 email Alma and the district will now discuss next steps based on their recommendations.

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