Live Oak —
The Suwannee County School Board held a community meeting at Triumph the Church and Kingdom of God in Christ on Tuesday, Feb. 11. The purpose of the meeting was to inform the public of the board’s Minority Teacher Recruitment Plan.
Suwannee County School Director of Human Resources, Dr. Bill Brothers invited long-time educator and colleague, Malinda Jackson James Ph.D. to present suggestions and strategies to help improve the district’s minority teacher hiring practices.
“We’ve enlisted the support and help to develop our minority recruitment plan,” said Brothers.
James began by saying she consulted with Brothers and Superintendent Jerry Scarborough on why they wanted to change and how to improve their minority recruitment plan. She read their mission statement and found it to be noteworthy.
“They told me they believed all districts should have a diverse population of people working on the professional level as well as non-professional,” said James. “So, Suwannee County recognizes the need for greater diversity within their teacher and administrator force.”
James said their research found that diversifying minority teacher recruitment promoted creativity, productivity and good citizenship. It was also believed that children needed to see role models they could identify with.
James said she met with district principals to reiterate how important it was for them to take the information to the teachers so everyone was “marching to the same tune” for the betterment of the children they serve.
“We are moving forward to getting more highly qualified minority teachers and administrators in this school district because we believe it is the best thing for the students here to be successful,” said James.
She said with the current hiring policy, it was clear to her that it was the intent of Suwannee County Schools to be fair and equitable. James suggested they make a revision in the current policy by adding administrative, instructional and non-instructional employees to be assigned to serve on interview committees.
James said she was aware that some school principals do use teachers at times to assist in the interview process, but thought it should be policy.
She also recommended that a designee, other than the principal, be given the authority to hire a teacher provided it be consistent with current school board policy.
“If they see a teacher that meets the qualifications and is a minority, they should be able to offer that teacher a conditional contract so as to ‘hold them,’” said James. “If you leave them there (job fair for instance), when you come back, they’re gone. Someone else has them.”
James said there needs to be incentives for minorities to come and work in the Suwannee County School system.
School board perspective
Brothers said some of the suggestions James made has already been implemented or will be soon, such as instructional and non-instructional employees to be assigned to serve on interview committees, and allow the superintendent’s designee, other than a school principal, to make a “conditional offer” for a teaching position.
The district is also posting job advertisements on several websites such as, K-12 JobSpot, Teachers-Teachers.com and Applitrack to reach a larger population of minorities, and they’ll soon be posting jobs on the University of Phoenix website as well.
Brothers then went over some of the demographics beginning with all employees. He said he would mainly be focusing on the numbers of black, hispanic and white.
Black - 13 percent
Hispanic - 3 percent
White - 84 percent
Of the civilian workforce in Suwannee County, 20 years and older and at all education levels:
Black - 10 percent
Hispanic - 5 percent
White - 84 percent
“I’m not going to draw any conclusions, I just want to share those statistics with you,” said Brothers. “What should our teaching force look like? We look at career development theory that says, ‘I want to see a teacher that looks like me’ and you say, ‘Should that demographic fit the student population or the work force?’”
Brothers then shared statistics which showed the makeup of all students within Suwannee County Schools.
Black - 15 percent
Hispanic - 15 percent
White - 66 percent
Out of the county’s population, adults who have at least a bachelor degree:
Black - 9 percent
Hispanic - 8 percent
White - 80 percent
“According to these statistics, 1,775 individuals have a bachelor’s degree, which of course is one of the primary requirements for having a teaching certificate. That’s the reason I’m presenting that to you,” said Brothers.
He went on to say there was a difficult time filling the positions of the support staff which doesn’t require a college degree or a high school diploma. Brothers said they still prefer to hire someone with a high school diploma or a GED.
The support staff numbers (bus drivers and custodians) are:
Black - 33 percent
Hispanic - 2 percent
White - 65 percent
Public opinion and questions
“The bottom line sounds OK because of the number of blacks we have here versus the number of whites,” said Dr. Carolyn Bailey. “When you actually look at the jobs that have zero black or zero hispanic, I want to know what are the qualifications for some of these (non-teaching) positions.”
She said, for example, there was a lack of minorities filling the positions of teacher aides or reading coaches in the classroom. She said what concerned her was there were people that possessed useful skills and may be willing to teach, but do not possess a bachelor’s degree or teaching certificate.
“I’ll use myself as an example. What does an ROTC instructor have to have?” asked Bailey. “I was in the Marine Corps. How come I couldn’t teach basic training for ROTC?”
She said she brought the point up because of what James had said earlier about the community needing to be involved in order for the new recruitment plan to work.
“When she (James) was talking about being able to ‘use the community’ and hire the community and be able to be a part, you have to find where we fit,” said Bailey.
James told her whatever teaching position it might be, the state of Florida has a requirement for it, that the school district doesn’t make that determination. Brothers said that in the case of an ROTC instructor, the Navy would certify a person to be eligible. For k-12 positions, the teacher is required to have a bachelor’s degree.
“When you get into trade specifics, whether it be welding or auto body, those kind of things, industry experience can be used as an alternative,” said Brothers. “By and large, a bachelor’s degree.”
Barry Hicks said he has several degrees and was a licensed funeral director and business owner. He said he applied to be a substitute teacher in September, 2013 and never received a call back.
“I’m still trying to figure out what it is you need,” said Hicks. “I have at least three years of experience substituting in the Philadelphia school system.”
He said he’s offered his services at the schools at least six times this year. He said for Black History Month, he is willing to talk to kids about being a business owner and about the importance of having an education.
“I’m a little puzzled about what it takes to get into the Suwannee County School system,” said Hicks.
Brothers answered saying there was a training class the school system has available for substitute teachers in the month of August and there is usually a long list of people that begin the training, but decide it’s not for them by the end of the year. He encouraged Hicks to sign up for the class when it was available. Brothers said to be guest speaker it is usually up to the teacher or the volunteer coordinator to line up guest speakers for the schools.
Scarborough made some final comments. He asked the administrators and teachers present to all stand.
“The individuals you see before you tonight have been hired by the Suwannee County School system,” said Scarborough. “These are the ones you can trust in and the ones that are going to make a difference. We’re committed and we’re going to make it happen.”