Lexington schools are not hiring enough black teachers, advocates say

Alvin Seals, a former Fayette Public Schools board member.
Alvin Seals, a former Fayette Public Schools board member. Herald-Leader File Photo

Alvin Seals looks with dismay at the demographics of students and teachers at Lexington’s Bryan Station High School.

Last school year, about 36 percent of the students at Bryan Station were black, and 39 percent were white. But the school had 97 white teachers and just 10 black teachers, 2016-17 data on the district’s Kentucky Department of Education report card showed.

There were 379 Hispanic students and 8 Hispanic teachers at the high school, the report card said.

Seals sees a similar disparity throughout the district.

Overall, in the 2016-17 school year, 22 percent of the students in Fayette County Public Schools were black. But only seven percent of the district’s teachers were black.

Seals, a member of the Fayette County Public Schools board from 1976 to 1980, told current school board members last week that he is troubled that more progress has not been made in minority hiring since his tenure.

“You have much more power and influence than you are utilizing,” Seals, a retired professor, told school board members during a recent board meeting. “Too many of our schools do not have a number of the ethnic and racial groups in the teaching profession.”

At a recent school board meeting, Lexington-Fayette NAACP Education Chair Shambra Mulder, Seals’ wife Chrysanthia Carr-Seals, a former Fayette teacher, and Midway University professor Gina DeArth-Pendley also expressed their concerns about the apparent inequities in hiring..

In 2016-17, the school district had 52 percent white students, while 88 percent of the teachers were white, Mulder said. Nearly 16 percent of the students in Fayette’s public schools were Hispanic, and three percent of teachers were Hispanic.

She said there was a correlation with the lack of minority hiring and achievement gaps between white students and others.

“It’s been a number of years where we’ve seen the lack of teachers of color. It hasn’t increased in proportion like it should,” DeArth-Pendley said. She said research shows that academic performance, including standardized test scores, have been higher for black students who have black teachers.

District spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said Thursday that the criticism from the advocates “was not reflective of the intentional efforts taken and progress made” by the district in minority recruitment and retention.

Bryan Station has more teachers and administrators of color today than in the past five years, she said. This school year, 23 of the 123 certified staff members at Bryan Station High School are people of color, comprising 19 percent of the teachers and 44 percent of the administrative team, she said.

In response, at the Oct. 23 board meeting, board member Doug Barnett asked district staff for data on the number of minority staff members and for information on the district’s recruiting efforts. Superintendent Manny Caulk said the district is looking for talented teachers of color. It’s part of a district strategic improvement plan. Board member Stephanie Spires said the board had been discussing the need for more minority hiring at a retreat this month.

Adrian Wallace, the president of the Lexington-Fayette County NAACP, told the Herald-Leader that he shares the concerns about the inequities, but he said, “We are confident that Manny is on the right track and want to allow him to fully implement his strategic plan.”

Deffendall said a look at five-year trends shows incremental gains in hiring teachers of color. In 2012-2013, 11.1 percent of certified staff members, or teachers, in the district were identified as minority. In 2017-2018, that figure has risen to 12.3 percent. The percentage of minority administrators has also risen from 16.3 percent to 17.5 percent, she said.

Mulder said there was a position created in the district in 2015 to focus on minority educator recruitment and retention. She said the 2017-2018 school year is the third year that a full-time person has not been put into a position focused on the issue.

Deffendall said the district’s strategic plan includes a goal of hiring and retaining “a talented, effective workforce with diverse cultural and experiential backgrounds.”

“But it’s not as simple as sending a district recruiter out to find talented minority teachers,” she said.

“Under state law in Kentucky, School Based Decision Making Councils select the teachers for their schools. So having a single individual from the district level without hiring authority attend recruiting fairs to talk with potential job candidates is not the best use of taxpayer resources,” Deffendall said. “In fact, data from the years that the district employed a full-time minority recruiter showed that strategy was not effectively moving the needle in hiring. Instead the district has instead established a District Minority Recruitment Team that brings hiring managers from around the district together to interface with candidates and select employees on the spot.”

“The same thinking that got us into this situation, cannot be the thinking get us out of this situation,” said Darryl Thompson, the district’s equity officer. “We’re not going to do what we’ve always done. Our current recruitment efforts clearly reveal our plan of action is different and given time will make a significant difference.”

Last spring, officials said, the district sent six members of its District Minority Recruitment Team to Puerto Rico to recruit bilingual educators. They hired five new bilingual teachers for Fayette County Public Schools this school year and interviewed a pool of other strong applicants for future vacancies.

“Far more than a single recruiter could accomplish alone,” Thompson said.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: 859-231-3409, @vhspears

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