The number of black teachers and administrators in the Bulloch County Schools has increased from 11 percent of the school system’s total workforce with teaching certificates in 2012-13 to 14.2 percent this school year.
But an educator workforce that is 84 percent white still does not closely resemble the diversity of the children in the classrooms. A Georgia Department of Education report in March showed that 5,074 of the Bulloch County Schools’ 10,370 students, or 49 percent, were nonwhite.
Citizens expressed concerns on the topic during the public comments time at some recent Bulloch County Board of Education meetings. Superintendent of Schools Charles Wilson gave a preliminary report on the work of the Minority Recruitment Committee during the board’s Aug. 25 work session. Then he brought school-specific information to last Thursday’s meeting at the request of District 8 board member Maurice Hill.
A Speak Up for Education community forum held at the beginning of 2013 led to an ongoing effort to attract and keep minority educators, Wilson said.
“What we heard was, we really need more minority role models for our students, and when we think about that, we really need to increase the ratio of minority certified staff: teachers and administrators and others,” Wilson said.
After community members brought the issue to Wilson and the board’s attention in 2013, it became part of the school system’s strategic plan.
“We started immediately on an ongoing effort to recruit in the district to raise our awareness and to acknowledge it, to recruit, hire, retain qualified minority certified staff that are a good fit for our organization,” Wilson said.
Recruiting, not quotas
But, as he and other school system officials acknowledged, when they say “hiring,” the focus really has to be on recruiting.
“We’re not allowed to look at the demographics of the pool before we bring them on board, so when an employee applies for a job, they can’t say, I’m Hispanic, I’m black, I’m white. That is illegal,” school system Human Resources Director Phillip Tremble told board members.
Setting a quota, a goal to hire a certain number of minority educators in a year, would also be illegal, Tremble said.
Board members at the Aug. 25 session struggled with the distinction between a quota and a quantifiable goal to move forward in minority recruitment. District 4 member Steve Hein observed that principals wouldn’t be able to guarantee results because they can’t control the applicant pool.
“But what we can control is what we try to attract here. …,” said District 1 member Cheri Wagner. “I think we need to do a better job attracting minorities no matter what, in however we can go about doing that, so that we strengthen the outcome of that 10-person pool being a 50-50 demographic.”
The school system can offer incentives, such as help for teachers in furthering their education, but these incentives have to be available to anyone who applies, Tremble said.
School systems also send recruiters to job fairs and specific universities where they are likely to find minority teachers or soon-to-graduate teacher education students.
“If Mr. Tremble goes to Savannah State, Albany State or what have you and he recruits there … and then he encourages those persons to apply, so they come to Bulloch County and they apply through the high school principal here, is that illegal?” District 5 board member Glennera Martin asked.
Tremble said no, that isn’t illegal. In fact, he already does it, as the school system’s only recruiter.
The committee’s work
The current Minority Recruitment Committee was created in 2015. In December, Wilson asked members to identify barriers to minority recruitment in the schools and the overall community and to recommend solutions.
Originally the committee had 13 members, including black, Hispanic and white community representatives, as well as school and system administrators and two Board of Education members. The committee met 10 times from Dec. 16, 2015, through June 22, 2015. Except for two citizen members who withdrew, members on average attended 30 percent of the meetings.
Minutes from the June 8 and June 22 meetings show the committee’s recommendations.
For incentives, the committee recommended against cash bonuses but suggested that a payment toward college loans might be possible. Members suggested talking to Georgia Southern University officials about developing a program to convert professional experience into credit toward a teaching degree.
But the main recommendation, stated more than once in the minutes, is to create recruitment teams with more people recruiting.
“We’re talking about retired educators as well as other persons in the community,” said Martin, who served on the committee and attended seven of its meetings.
Wilson told the board he will review the committee’s ideas and bring the board more concrete recommendations by January.
“There are probably are some things we can do internally,” he said. “There are probably some financial implications. We’re going to have to work through it.”
Presenting a slide show with graphs, Wilson reported that the total number of minority certified personnel in the school system increased 37 percent from the 2012-13 school year to 2016-17. A 9.1 percent decrease in the “other” category, now including just 10 Hispanic and Asian certified educators, offset a larger increase of 43.6 percent in African-American educators.
But Wilson noted that when the totals are small, a modest increase in the raw numbers can produce a big percentage change. The number of black certified educators increased each year, from 78 four years ago to 112 this year. Meanwhile, the total number of certified educators employed also increased, from 708 to 788, but the number of black educators grew faster than the total.
This “certified” category does not include paraprofessionals.
At the Aug. 25 session, Hill asked for more detailed information.
“How can you help me tell my constituents that we are improving, 44 percent, but they say, ‘Maurice, Mr. Hill, I still don’t see it. When I drive to school I still don’t see it,” he asked.
Last Thursday, Wilson gave the board members a new page showing counts of African-American certified educators in each of the 15 schools, the Transitions Learning Center and the central office.
The list shows a concentration of 29 black certified educators at Langston Chapel Middle School. Much larger Statesboro High School has 11. All other schools are in the single digits. Brooklet Elementary, Portal Elementary and Southeast Bulloch High School have three black certified educators each, and Nevils Elementary has just one.
‘Just slightly changed’
“It looks like those numbers hadn’t changed that much in the last five years,” Hill said in an interview. “It’s like 3.2 percent, so they either about stayed the same or just slightly changed, and I think we can do better than that for our boys and girls, especially for our minority constituents.”
He was referring to the number of added percentage points from 11 to 14.2 percent, but the growth from 78 to 112 black educators is a 43.6 percent increase, as Wilson had reported.
More needs to be done, Hill said.
“Meanwhile, we have our constituents also pushing us very hard on having not only certified professionals, but minority professionals in leadership positions, and trying to keep those in leadership positions there and utilize their skills,” he said.
Some of the citizens who spoke during recent board meetings expressed concerns about the fairness of some reassignments and promotions.
Hill and Martin, two of the three current African-American members on the school board, were the board members assigned to the Minority Recruitment Committee. But Hill did not attend any of its meetings.
“I had a conflict because that’s during the time where I pick up my kids at school, and I’ll be honest with you … we can spend all day meeting and meeting and meeting, but until we really put forth the effort to come to a solution, don’t waste my time,” he said.
Herald reporter Al Hackle may be reached at (912) 489-9458.