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Report: Carroll schools lag in diversity

In a county with one of the lowest minority populations in the state, the percentage of minority school employees is even lower than that of the total population. Carroll County Public Schools sees this lack of diversity as a problem, one that is exacerbated by a reputation that the county isn't friendly to minorities, according to school system staff.

Carroll County's small minority population ranks it second to last in diversity compared to the state's other counties and Baltimore City, but the percentage of non-white county school system employees is even lower.

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Garrett County is the only county in the state with a smaller minority population than Carroll County's 8.2 percent, but the makeup of CCPS employees is less than 4 percent, according to a study presented to the Carroll County Board of Education last week by the school system's Human Resources Department, which cited U.S. Census Bureau data.

The county school system has been trying for years to recruit and retain a more diverse schools staff, a report filed with the school board by CCPS Human Resources staff said.

In that report, which was presented to the board by Patricia Levroney, supervisor of equity and community outreach for the school system, and Chantress Baptist, CCPS supervisor of Human Resources, statistics indicated that, while progress has been made in creating a more diverse workforce, there is still work to be done.

Fifty-four of CCPS's 136 minority staff members were hired in the past five years, according to the report. Over those years, the percentage of minority teachers the school system has hired has floated around 6 or 7 percent of all hires, with a low of less than 2 percent in 2011, the report showed, but only four — or about 2 percent — of the county's 171 new teacher hires in the 2015-2016 school year were non-white.

Most recently, the school system has made an effort to reach out to minority employees, offering things like social events, minority teacher mentors and professional development for school administration, the report said.

But part of the school system's goal also involves creating relationships with colleges and universities in order to attract potential job candidates to CCPS. In pursuing those relationships, school staff have run into some barriers, Levroney said.

"Our reputation precedes us," she said. "They are skeptical about placing teachers into Carroll County Public Schools."

College teaching programs, Levroney said, worry about the availability of transportation for new teachers who choose to work for CCPS and about how they will be treated.

Several members of the school board expressed concern about the idea that some university's worry about treatment of minority staff in Carroll County.

"This is a very disturbing conversation that we need to be having," said board member Devon Rothschild. "That is mind-blowing to me."

"This is not OK," she said.

"I think that that is a sad statement on the climate and the culture that we have going here," said board member Jennifer Seidel, noting that the school system tries to put a focus on creating an inclusive, accepting environment.

Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said he has heard personally of the reputation the school system has among those living outside the county. He has been told by some people, he said, that Carroll County has a reputation for being a place where non-white individuals don't want to be after work hours end.

"It was a fear that, in many cases, turned out to be unfounded," he said. "But it was the perception."

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Commissioner Richard Rothschild, who serves as a nonvoting ex-officio member of the school board, said he believes the county's contentious political climate can sometimes lend itself to creating a perception that the county is not welcoming, something he said is not true.

While the county has made progress in recent years, board members and those involved in the school system must not be ignorant of where some of the negative rumors about the county come from, said Jim Doolan, board president.

When he first came to the school system to teach more than three decades ago, he would find invitations to Ku Klux Klan meetings on his car windshield, he said.

"That was the reputation that Carroll County had," he said.

The county does not recruit school employees to fill any kind of diversity quota, Baptist told the board, but the problem has been in trying to get prospective minority applicants to even apply for positions in Carroll County. She said she often finds herself defending the county and the school system.

"They have the perception, whether its true or not, of us, that we are not a welcoming county," she said, adding that she has heard from people who bring up an English-only ordinance the county passed in 2013 as evidence of hostility against some parts of society. "It's the fact that they don't even want to apply to us."

Ensuring that students encounter a diverse population of adults in their schooling is good for everyone involved, Baptist said. While Carroll County itself may rank low in diversity compared to the rest of the state, the school system has the opportunity to expose children to the world outside the confines of the county, she said.

"We want to present to our students what they will see in the world, which is a diverse population," she said.

The makeup of the school system should at the very least reflect the diversity of the county, Guthrie agreed.

"We have to prepare our students for the world around them, not just Carroll County forever," he said. "We are not doing our job unless we prepare them for that world outside of Carroll County."

Despite the challenges, the county is continuing its efforts, Baptist said.

About 80 percent of the minority teachers CCPS has hired in the past five years are still working in the school system, she said, a retention rate the board said is good for the county and reflects that those who do choose to work in Carroll County are happy once they make that choice.

"The school system's been working on this situation for a number of years," said board member Virginia Harrison, noting that the numbers do reflect a growing diversity both in the schools and in the county. "I have to give it to the school system; they have been trying."

"I think its going to take some time," Harrison said. "I feel like we're doing a good job. I feel like we're moving a little slow, but as long as we are moving on it."

"What I'm proud of is, in our years, we're recognizing and we're talking about our issues," Doolan said. "To think that we're there is a major mistake. I think we've got a long way to go as a community and as a school system, but as a school system, we're open for that."

Teachers hired by CCPS 2011-2016:

2011/2012:

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Total hires: 124

Minority hires: 2

2012/2013:

Total hires: 152

Minority hires: 11

2013/2014:

Total hires: 128

Minority hires: 8

2014/2015:

Total hires: 148

Minority hires: 10

2015/2016:

Total hires: 171

Minority hires: 4

Source: CCPS

Total CCPS employees: 3,767

Minority CCPS employees: 136

Source: CCPS

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