Every fall for the past several years, I’ve written a piece commenting on Carroll County Public Schools’ efforts to diversify its faculty.
For some reason, the school system never made that data public this year, nor did staff make its annual presentation on the topic to the Board of Education.
CCPS staff typically reports to the board annually how many minority teachers the system hired, how many resigned and why it has again failed to make any progress toward achieving the school system’s longstanding diversity goals. Unfortunately, the board never seems overly concerned by the lack of progress.
After years of receiving one disappointing report after another, perhaps it’s time the board of education requires staff to develop and submit a detailed plan explaining what exactly it will to do differently going forward.
The rationale staff gives for the school system’s annual failure always seems to boil down to one primary reason — minority teachers, who are hard to find, do not want to work in Carroll County because our community and its schools are not minority friendly.
In other words, it’s not staff’s fault CCPS never makes progress toward achieving a more diverse faculty. It’s the fault of the people working in our schools, and the community generally, who have created an environment so inhospitable, hiring and retaining minority teachers is nearly impossible.
Frankly, the scapegoating is getting old.
For some reason, the topic never even showed up as a board meeting agenda item this fall. It seems the issue, which CCPS has for years described as a “top priority,” has gone from one that is talked about once each fall for a few minutes at a board meeting to one that isn’t discussed at all.
I know there are many in Carroll County who believe all that matters is a teacher’s competence. One’s background, race or ethnicity is irrelevant when it comes to the education of our children.
I beg to differ.
The value to students of color having teachers who look like them has been well documented. That’s reason enough to take hiring minority teachers more seriously.
However, the truth is, a diversified teaching staff benefits all students, providing them the opportunity to establish meaningful relationships with teachers who have a myriad of backgrounds. Real people with varied life experiences who bring with them a range of perspectives to which students may not be otherwise exposed.
A diverse faculty prepares students for the world into which they will graduate. As things stand now, we are setting up our graduates for a quick slap in the face with reality when they leave the comfortable homogeneity of Carroll County to live and work elsewhere.
Years ago, a co-worker and I spent some time teaching a Junior Achievement class at one of Baltimore City’s high schools.
The students who attended that school were mostly economically disadvantaged African-Americans, but my teaching partner grew up in Roland Park and always seemed to provide economic scenarios for the students that invariably began with something like, “Let’s say you have 12 chafing dishes ...”
Chafing dishes might have been something familiar to people in her world, but I can assure you, not one kid in that class knew what she was talking about.
As well intentioned as she was, given her background and limited exposure to anyone different than herself, my co-worker simply could not relate to the students in the class, making her wholly unprepared to do what she had been tasked to do.
It might seem like a superficial example, but it illustrates how a teacher’s life experience can impact the learning of students. It also illustrates how a sheltered upbringing can put an individual at a disadvantage in a competitive workplace environment. Surely, supervisors and managers who understand something about the culture of the people working for them are at a distinct advantage over those who have never been exposed to anything other than their own culture.
More broadly, the path to better relations among people of all backgrounds, races and ethnicities is not a curriculum or an ideology. The way to break down the barriers that separate us is no more complicated than getting to know one another.
The school system was correct to long ago identify the development of a diversified faculty as a top priority. Regrettably, it never approached that goal with any sense of urgency.
Let’s hope the annual board presentation has just been delayed for some reason, and that when it is given, the results will finally be something we can all celebrate.
Barring that, CCPS needs a new strategy with fresh ideas. It needs to make the implementation of that strategy a priority, and it needs to assign more resources in support of it.
Continuing to simply pay lip service to the concept of a diverse faculty benefits no one.
Chris Roemer is a retired banker and educator who resides in Finksburg. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org