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‘Uphill battle’: Carroll County Public Schools joins other Maryland districts in the hunt for more diverse teachers

East Middle School teacher Charles Evans III works with eighth graders Nika Stovsky, left, and Hailee Collins during a Tech Ed class Monday, March 22, 2021.
East Middle School teacher Charles Evans III works with eighth graders Nika Stovsky, left, and Hailee Collins during a Tech Ed class Monday, March 22, 2021. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

When Charles Evans III, received an offer from Carroll County Public Schools to teach at East Middle School in 2013, he accepted. He had always wanted to teach at a middle school.

Now of the 82 staff members at the school, Evans, a 2012 graduate of University of Maryland Eastern Shore, is one of 10 staff members of color there and the only Black man.

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“Obviously, I wish things were a little more diverse, but overall, I can’t complain too much,” Evans said.

East Middle School teacher Charles Evans III works with eighth graders Kyan Williams, left, and Dantae Jones during a class in March.
East Middle School teacher Charles Evans III works with eighth graders Kyan Williams, left, and Dantae Jones during a class in March. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

The public schools in Carroll County have a problem that administrators have been trying to fix — with little success — for years. More than 95% of the school system’s staff, including teachers, administrators and support staff, are white, while more than 18% of its students are nonwhite, according to school officials. Those numbers haven’t changed much in recent years even as the school district has worked to improve the balance.

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It matters that there are few minority teachers in the county’s classrooms because research indicates kids do better academically when they have teachers who look like them. A 2017 study co-authored by a Johns Hopkins economist indicates that low-income Black students who have at least one Black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate high school and consider attending college.

The National Council on Teacher Quality, a nonprofit research and policy organization did a study in February that also concluded students who have teachers of the same race have a better chance of attending college.

As Carroll County schools officials work to find the right balance, they are not alone. Schools across Maryland are dealing with the same issue. It is difficult to find and keep nonwhite teachers for a variety of reason, experts say.

Challenges now and ahead

Of the 41 schools In Carroll County, there are three schools with all-white staffs and six schools that have only one nonwhite teacher or staff member.

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Evans considers himself lucky at East Middle because it’s more diverse than other schools in the county. More than 12% of the staff at East Middle are people of color, while the student body is 45% nonwhite, according to the latest state data.

Evans, 31, said he feels welcome at the school. His co-workers seem open to change. His relationships with students and their parents are positive. However, he said some Black teachers leave due to lack of diversity.

One of his good friends left the county and moved to Atlanta “because she just couldn’t teach in this [mostly white] environment anymore.” He was sad to see her go, but understood that it’s important to enjoy where you work.

East Middle School teacher Charles Evans III talks with his students during an eighth grade Tech Ed class Monday, March 22, 2021.
East Middle School teacher Charles Evans III talks with his students during an eighth grade Tech Ed class Monday, March 22, 2021. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Jon O’Neal, chief of operations for county schools, said during a Nov. 11 meeting, retention is better at some schools, but he couldn’t explain why. What he does know, he said, based on exit interviews, teachers of color feel more comfortable in a school that is more diverse.

Evans and others say the county, which is 92% white, needs to overcome a stigma some have associated with being a predominantly white county. Evans said one of the first things recruits ask about is the county’s racial diversity.

“Until we try to change that stigma … it’s always going to be a difficult uphill battle,” Evans said.

Michael Brown, principal of Winters Mill High School, who is Black, left Baltimore City Public Schools to come to Carroll County. He said former Baltimore colleagues told him he was “nuts” for taking the job in Carroll. Brown decided not to live in the county even though he works there.

Brown said he has hired two people of color since coming to the school two years ago, which is double the number of nonwhite staff compared with some of the other schools.

O’Neal and others say part of the problem the district faces is that Maryland does not produce enough teachers of color. Of Maryland’s 62,000 teachers, about 28% are non-white, according to a 2020 Maryland State Department of Education report. However in the state, nonwhite students are about 60% of the population.

Kate Walsh, president of the council on teacher quality, said one factor contributing to the lack of diverse teachers is that many people of color are first generation college students, who are often encouraged to pick a profession that pays more than teaching. She also said while the number of Black students on college campuses mirrors the U.S. population, there is a huge drop-off in graduation rates for Black students.

Walsh said while she appreciates Carroll County school officials’ efforts to add diversity, it may be unrealistic to close the gap.

“Every single district I know is looking in every corner … to find candidates of color,” she said. “Unfortunately, the pipeline is so leaky.”

Possible solutions explored

Chantress Baptist, Carroll County schools’ director of human resources, said she and other administrators are trying several ways to attract more diverse teacher applicants. For example, as larger Maryland districts offer higher salaries, Carroll County is exploring how to offer financial incentives as a way to bring in recruits.

Chantress Baptist, Carroll County Public Schools - Original Credit: Submitted Photo
Chantress Baptist, Carroll County Public Schools - Original Credit: Submitted Photo (HANDOUT)

Baptist said they also have reached out to historically Black colleges and universities, contacted other area colleges and prior to the pandemic, attended job fairs looking for diverse candidates.

She also meets with others around the state and the state education department once a month to discuss recruiting initiatives.

On the state level, Lora Rakowski, MSDE spokeswoman, said the state continues to try to get more diverse teachers in the pipeline with programs such as the Teacher Academy of Maryland, which is designed for students who want to explore careers as teachers.

In the 2019-2020 school year, 44% of the enrollees were Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander or American Indian, and 85% were male, she said.

Rakowski said while the state monitors how school districts are doing when it comes to diversity in recruitment, it’s up to local systems to hire diverse staff.

It’s a team effort

In Carroll County, the job of recruiting teachers of color has moved beyond the top leadership. Judy Jones, equity and inclusion officer for the schools, said once an employee of color comes to the school system and experiences some success, they often help with recruiting.

Brown, the principal who left Baltimore for Carroll County, said it’s all about word of mouth. He said he tells potential recruits how people of color are treated professionally in the county schools. He serves on the Education that is Multicultural council, a county group that focuses on policies about increasing diversity.

“I wouldn’t be part of it if I didn’t think I could [make a difference],” he said. “And honestly, I’d like to be part of the reason why it’s successful.”

Jones, of the equity office, says retaining diverse staff is also part of the plan. The county has mentorship programs and social programs to help staff of color feel comfortable, listened to and involved, she said.

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Not everyone is willing to convince others to come teach in the county. Karl Stewart, who worked in Baltimore County Public Schools for 20 years, came to Carroll County five years ago. Stewart, the school system’s assistant supervisor of fine arts, said based on his experiences, he’s not sure he would recruit other teachers of color. He said top leaders need to do more.

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“I’m not just talking about equity as far as words are concerned” but “implementing equity as far as actions,” Stewart said.

Even so Stewart said he is willing to stick around for the sake of the kids of color.

“Just the look on their face when they see me,” he said. “They don’t have to articulate it.”

That is the same reason Evans said he continues to teach in the county. He’s an adviser for the diversity club at East Middle, which has grown from 10 members to 50. It’s a place where they can have honest conversations, he said.

Diana Flores, who is Hispanic, was one of Evans’ former East Middle students. She is a senior now at Winters Mill High. Flores, 17, said she doesn’t have any teachers of color now and had few during her time in the school district.

Diana Flores, a Winters Mill senior, who was was recently awarded McDaniel College's Dorsey Scholarship, said having teachers who can emphasize with being a nonwhite student is helpful.
Diana Flores, a Winters Mill senior, who was was recently awarded McDaniel College's Dorsey Scholarship, said having teachers who can emphasize with being a nonwhite student is helpful. (Dylan Slagle)

Flores belongs to Culture Differences Unite, a club at her school where she says students of color can be comfortable talking about issues. She said she’s grateful for teachers of color who have that empathy when students bring the problem to them, she said. One of those teachers is Christy Kennedy.

Kennedy teaches social studies at Winters Mill and is the club’s adviser. Flores said Kennedy, who is African American and white, gives students the opportunity to get things off their chest.

Kennedy graduated from Francis Scott Key High School in Carroll County in 2000. She said she knows what it’s like to be “the only one that looks like me.” Although she feels supported by the school district, Kennedy said she is aware of discrimination and racism in the schools — usually through microaggressions.

Baptist admits it’s disappointing the district hasn’t been able to hire more diverse teachers, but that it’s not just about reaching a certain number.

She said she will keep working until things improve.

“The way I look at it is, if I fail, I’m not succeeding for the kids. We must succeed,” she said.

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