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Diverse students, mostly white faculty
Bulloch schools face continuing concerns over hiring minorities
BOE - Pearl Brown
Pearl Brown, president of the Bulloch County Branch of the NAACP, speaks to the Bulloch County Board of Education and its audience during a meeting in June. She demanded attention to hiring more minority teachers and administrators. - photo by AL HACKLE/Staff

While 48 percent of the Bulloch County Schools’ students are ethnic minorities, including 37.3 percent who are African-American, only 13.8 percent of the school system’s certified teachers and administrators are minorities, including 12.3 percent who are African-American.

As NAACP Bulloch County Branch President Pearl Brown noted at a recent Board of Education meeting, a few of the schools had only one black teacher or administrator in the 2014-15 school year.

“Some of our schools now have as few as one minority teacher in an entire school,” Brown said, “and if that were reversed and there were only one non-minority teacher in one of our schools, this community would be in an uproar.”

In an interview, Superintendent Charles Wilson pointed to an uptick in minority hiring the past two years and a plank in the school system’s strategic plan that calls for a diversity hiring initiative. He agreed that more needs to be done but said that the board’s guidance and the community’s help will be needed.

Speaking June 11, Brown said she would like to see more minority faculty members, especially African-American men as role models and teachers, in all the schools.

When the Bulloch County Schools filed a required annual report with the Georgia Department of Education in October 2014, Southeast Bulloch High School had only one minority faculty or staff member, an African-American, out of 53 employees with teaching, leadership or specialty certificates. Nevils Elementary School also had only one black educator out of 31 certified employees.

Statewide, black teachers make up 22.8 percent of the teaching workforce, while almost 37 percent of the students in the public schools are black.


Continuing concern

A group called Stakeholders for Education came to Wilson soon after he became superintendent in summer 2012, and one of their concerns was that the number of minority teachers in Bulloch County had declined over the previous five to 10 years.

Both the NAACP and the Concerned Clergy of Bulloch County have expressed concerns since then, and he said he has been in fairly regular talks with both organizations.

“It is a conversation that in the past I think has been avoided,” Wilson said. “You know, people just don’t want to talk about this kind of stuff. I think it’s important that we’re willing and able to have this conversation. To me, that is the first thing that has to happen.”

Wilson said he is open to their concerns and he thinks his openness has contributed to a sense of urgency.

“It sort of feels like to me, ‘Well,  you’re just not moving far enough fast enough,’ and I can understand that frustration, and I do think our students  need a more diverse representation of professionals in the building,” Wilson said. “We just need to make sure we do it the right way; do it well.”

The reports do show a small gain in percentages and in raw numbers from 2012, the year he became superintendent, through 2014. But in 2010, the percentage of minority faculty was just as high as it is now.

The decline through 2012 coincided with cuts in the total number of teachers in response to the recession, Wilson notes.  Positions were eliminated as teachers retired or moved away.


Back to 2010 level

In October 2010, of 741 certified personnel in the Bulloch County schools, 103, or 13.9 percent, were minorities. By October 2011, staffing was cut to 708 certified personnel, of whom 98, or just over 13.8 percent, were minorities. The total held steady at 708 in October 2012, but the reported number of white faculty and staff rose from 610 to 619 while the number of minorities dropped to 89, or just 12.6 percent.

Modest recovery began in 2013. Of the with 714 total staff members in that October’s report, 94 individuals, or 13.2 percent, were minorities.

The 13.8 percent minority staffing as of October 2014, the percentage was back roughly to the 2010 and 2011 levels. Last fall there were 100 minority faculty and staff, compared to 103 in 2010, but the total certified workforce of 724 in October 2014 also remained lower than the 741 staff and faculty five years earlier.

The number of black principals has increased from one to two during Wilson’s tenure.

“I’m not saying that’s a massive change, but it is an increase,” he said.

Dr. Bonnie Gamble-Hilton remains principal at Langston Chapel Middle School after the board rejected Wilson’s recommendation to reassign her to Statesboro High School as an assistant principal this year. With Dr. Torian White hired as principal of Southeast Bulloch Middle School last year, African Americans are 13.3 percent of the principals of the 15 schools.

At the central office, the total count has remained steady with three certified staff members who are African-American. But Dr. Mary Felton was hired in January 2014 as assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, replacing a white assistant superintendent who left for another job.

The other black central office administrators are Early Learning Director Jennifer Wade and Human Resources Director Phillip Tremble. Contacted for this story, Tremble said he was working on a response to the diversity issue with Wilson but that Wilson would be the source for any comments.


Disposition surveys

Brown said she has seen a long-term trend toward fewer black teachers and administrators. She questioned the recent use of online tests called disposition surveys to help determine which candidates for teaching jobs get an interview.

“I believe you should be able to put an application in in Bulloch County Schools, and every application that's put in should get an interview,” Brown told the board.

School system officials contend that literally interviewing every applicant is impossible. For 87 new hires to certified jobs last school year, the system received 375 applications. For the 2015-16 school year there have been 317 applicants with 55 hired so far and 52 jobs still open.

But Brown said black teachers who have gotten jobs in other counties, including some who graduated from Georgia Southern University, were never called for interviews in Bulloch.

"If you can be hired in Candler County, Jenkins County, Screven County, Evans County and they say you're highly qualified and then I hear wonderful things about you teaching there and you applied in Bulloch County and didn't even get an interview, something's wrong with that picture, and it needs to change,” Brown said.

“And we are expecting some changes now,” she told the board.

The disposition assessments are meant to measure how well job candidates are suited to working with students and others, Wilson said.

Citing costs, administrators switched to a different company’s pre-screening assessment in 2014. Along with this change, Wilson said, the school system stopped using minimum scores from the assessment as a cutoff that prevented some applicants from being interviewed.

Instead, principals are supposed to use the scores as one piece of information among several and not as a sole determining factor, Wilson said.

“Remember what we have to look at first is effective teachers,” Wilson said. “How you measure effectiveness has nothing to do with whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or anything else. Effective is effective.”


Numbers in perspective

The Bulloch County Schools supplied summary reports for the past five years showing counts of certified personnel by race, ethnicity and gender for the system and its 15 schools and other programs. A report of similar data from all Georgia public school systems, for last October only, was obtained independently from the Georgia Department of Education.

School systems also report numbers on the race and ethnicity of students, which are in a different Department of Education document. As of the latest report, compiled March 5, students listed in ethnic categories other than “white” compose the majority of students in Georgia’s public schools, 58.3 percent.

Of more than 1.7 million public school students statewide, more than 1 million were in the non-“white” categories, including Hispanic students, who by the state’s instructions are counted only in the “Hispanic” category and not as white or black.

All non-“white” ethnicities of certified faculty and staff members made up 28.7 percent of the statewide workforce of school professionals. The total of 134,200 staff and faculty, 38,526 of them minorities, includes administrators from superintendents to assistant principals, and support staff who hold certificates, as well as teachers.

Statewide, there were 641,568 African-American students and 25,561 African-American teachers in the public schools.

With 244,510 Hispanic students, they were 14 percent of the student population, while the 2,272 Hispanic teachers made up just 2 percent of the teacher workforce.

In Bulloch County, Hispanic students were 5.8 percent of the enrollment, but the six Hispanic certified personnel made up less than 1 percent of the workforce.


Strategic initiative

“Implement a diversity recruitment plan to attract more diverse teacher applicants” is the final sentence of the Bulloch County Schools’ 2015-2020 strategic plan.

Wilson said he and staff members are doing several things to move this forward.

The school system has a procedure that spells out what principals should do to screen teacher applicants, including using the disposition survey as just one element and also having finalists teach a demonstration lesson. But Wilson said he is reviewing to see what is actually being done at each of the schools.

Staff members are also talking to the Georgia School Boards Association about what is considered “best practice” for recruiting and hiring across the state, he said.

Wilson also referred to efforts involving Georgia Southern University and Savannah State University. The partnership between the GSU College of Education and the Bulloch schools for placement of student teachers and in recruiting is long established.

Historically black Savannah State University started its current School of Teacher Education just two years ago. Tremble represented the Bulloch County Schools at SSU job fairs last fall and again this spring.

But to undertake more of a drive, the school system will need a commitment of more resources, Wilson said. A single human resources director, he said, will not be able to do the human resources management as well as all the minority recruitment.

The board must offer direction if any recruiting goals are to be set, Wilson said.

Wilson has asked the NAACP for names to fill a minority recruitment advisory committee. He said Hispanics and possibly other minorities should be represented, as well.

“We have to be at the table together and we have to be committed to honesty and openness in the discussion,” Wilson said. “I think we can build on that and I think in the end our students will win. I really do.”

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



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