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BOE still debating diversity plan
Postponed vote on proposal leads to more discussion
W Charles Wilson
BOE Superintendent Charles Wilson

After indefinitely postponing a vote in February on a $180,000 plan to recruit more minority teachers and administrators, the Bulloch County Board of Education has not made an alternative move but recently renewed the discussion.

February’s proposal followed a series of meetings, over several months, by a Minority Recruitment Committee, including school administrators and community members as well as two board members. Superintendent Charles Wilson named the committee in December 2015 to study the issue, identified as a priority at a Speak Up for Education forum four years ago.

Minority recruitment did not appear on the agenda for the board’s April 13 regular meeting but was taken up during “freeform discussion,” an agenda element recently introduced by board Chair Cheri Wagner.

District 4 member Steve Hein said the board was in “intuitive agreement” that the school system should recruit more minority teachers and administrators, but he wants scientific evidence linking this to learning.

“The one thing I have not heard … is how enhancing the participation of minorities in leadership roles, that being teachers and-or administrators, brings up the collective performance of our students,” Hein said. “I believe it does exist; I just have not read any data.”

He asked if Wilson or Human Resources Director Phillip Tremble could supply this information. Hein said he wanted the data to support a decision that would cost more than $100,000 the first year alone.

“There has got to be a lot of correlation between it, and I think we’re all unified in our need for that, because we’ve  spent a lot of time talking about it, we’re all believers,” Hein said. “But representing the public trust, I don’t want to be spending and allocating money that’s just eight of us going, ‘Hey, that sounds like a great idea.’”


Up to 14.2

A report Wilson presented in September showed that the number of black teachers and administrators increased from 11 percent of the Bulloch County Schools’ total workforce with teaching certificates in 2012-13 to 14.2 percent this school year. But overall, the certified educator workforce remained 84 percent white in a school system where, in Georgia Department of Education reports, more than 49 percent of students are identified by ethnicities other than “white.”

District 5’s Glennera Martin and District 8’s Maurice Hill, now the only two African-American members of the eight-member Board of Education, were both named to the Minority Recruitment Committee. Martin has been more active on the committee, attending most of its meetings.

“Research suggests that students need to see people who look like them, who sound like them,” she said during the board’s April 13 discussion.

Being a retired educator, Martin named a hypothetical child to illustrate her point.

“I have Johnny Jones over there in third grade. …,” she said. “If he never sees someone who looks like him, he may not know what the future looks like for him. So I think that’s very important.”

Martin said she believes minority recruitment aims could be realized for less than $100,000 a year. She has suggested using volunteers to represent the Bulloch County Schools at job fairs and on university campuses where students are studying to become teachers. Martin mentioned Savannah State University and Fort Valley State University, which are historically black, as well Georgia Southern University, as places to recruit teachers.

But there are limitations on having non-employees represent the school system, Wilson said. He believes he provided meaningful estimates and that it would cost more than $100,000 to do the things in the plan he gleaned from the committee’s proposals, he said.

The costliest steps would be hiring an assistant human resources director, at a projected cost of $60,000 to $80,000 a year, and designating a teaching-as-a-career pathway at Statesboro High School, also at an estimated $60,000 to $80,000 annual cost.

Other recommendations included adding $20,000 to $30,000 to the human resources department’s budget to support community members’ participation in minority recruitment and another $25,000 to $35,000 for a marketing plan highlighting employment opportunities in the district.

Additionally, the committee proposed cultural and socioeconomic sensitivity awareness training for staff members. Having the University of Georgia’s Fanning Institute do the training was projected to cost $15,000 to $25,000, but Wilson and the board have discussed some lower-cost possibilities.

Both Hein and Martin suggested that whether Tremble needs an assistant director could be considered separately from minority recruiting.


‘Most qualified’

At the April 13 meeting, Wilson asked whether the board actually intends to set targets for principals to hire certain numbers of minority teachers.

“I know we all mean this but I do think it’s important we say it, that regardless of creed, color or whatever, we need to hire the most qualified people to help our students learn in this district,” Wilson said. “That needs to be our focus.”

Martin said she believes that both can be achieved.

“When you say are all of these people qualified, I would like to think that all of them may be qualified, so if we would like to make our system better, then we would look at increasing this minority staff and at the same time look at making sure these people are qualified,” she said. “I don’t know how we separate the two.”

District 2 board member Mike Sparks, a retired teacher and coach who worked with student teachers, said he thinks the term “qualified” is overused.

“If you’re coming right out of college, you’re really not qualified to be a teacher, because you’ve never done it before, and if you’re coming from another system, we really don’t know,” Sparks said.

He suggested signing up student teachers from universities such as Savannah State and Valdosta State as a way to give a wider range of potential applicants a chance to try teaching in Bulloch County.


Differing perceptions

What the committee really wants is fairness in hiring, Hill said. He asserted that this is not being achieved through a supposedly blind process and that the board has not really addressed the problem.

 “I’ve sat on this board and I’ve listened, and it started from minority recruitment, and now it seems like it’s missing the mark again, and it’s being broadened and broadened,” Hill said.

Wagner called for unity after reporting that Tremble had gone to one teacher recruiting session where a student told him, “Oh, Bulloch County, I’ve heard a lot about you. I heard you don’t hire blacks.”

“So, where did that come from?” Wagner said. “That came from the discord in our own community.”

Wilson said he has heard the opposite misperception from non-minority citizens.

“Two wrongs don’t make a right,” he said.

Wilson asked board members to respect progress that has been made and to give clear direction on priorities. In evaluating job applicants, the school system now uses online screening surveys and scoring rubrics, both blind to race and gender, and insists on diversity in the makeup of selection committees, he said.

“We’ve come a long way in the last four years in terms of what used to happen and what’s happening now,” Wilson said. “We still have a ways to go, but we’ve come a long way.”

Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.







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