Harford school board members call lack of minority teachers 'disheartening'

Harford schools minority hiring lags

Several Harford County school board members are concerned about the lack of diversity among teachers in Harford County Public Schools, they said at a recent school board meeting.

The school system has been struggling to attract teachers who are men and who are non-white, Jean Mantegna, assistant superintendent of human resources, told the school board Dec. 15.

Her report showed 94.79 percent of this year's 2,976 teachers are white and 3 percent are black, with the rest identifying as Hispanic, Asian, Native American/Alaskan or more than one race.

About 80 percent of teachers are also female, with just 19.8 percent male.

About 10 percent of new staff members have identified themselves as part of a minority group, Mantegna said in her presentation.

Board member Jim Thornton, one of two African American's on the 10-member school board, said the school system "does not come close to mirroring" the racial make-up of the county.

About 22 percent of Harford residents identify as non-white or as being two or more races, according to the U.S. Census.

In the 2014 Maryland Report Card's demographic statistics compiled by the Maryland Department of Education, of the 37,842 students enrolled in Harford County Public Schools, 25,228 or 67.7 percent said they are white; 6,836 or 18 percent are African-American; 2,263 or almost 6 percent are Hispanic/Latino; and 1,226 or 2.3 percent are Asian-American. Another 2,099 students or 5.5 percent said they are two or more races.

"Actually, we are sliding backwards," Thornton said, noting the school system has been hiring fewer people of color.

"We want to give our students an opportunity to feel as though they are representative of the community in which we live," he said. "This is not about compromising quality. This is simply about having people in front of students who look the way they look."

Howard Kutcher, senior manager of human resources, acknowledged the school system has always looked at that issue and is now looking at best practices from Montgomery and Anne Arundel counties for trying to hire minority teachers.

"We are doing our best to go after [historically black colleges and universities]," Kutcher noted.

He said the school system is not seeing high numbers of minority applicants and he hopes the new initiative, targeting historically-black institutions and minority recruitment expos, will draw more interest.

Thornton said he found it "disheartening" to see the county school system moving backward in its racial representation.

"We live in a county that is more and more diverse," he noted, adding the school system is "not making progress."

Board member Arthur Kaff said he shared Thornton's concerns and encouraged the administration to step up its efforts to recruit minority personnel and solicit historically-black institutions. Kaff is the first Asian-American to serve on the board.

He agreed the school system should reflect "the growing diversity of Harford County."

Kaff added he thinks the data can be useful in advocating for broader issues of increased education funding and increased salaries.

Mantegna said she believes the non-teacher workforce is more diverse. About 87 percent of support and administrative service personnel reported being white, and about 10 percent identified as black, according to the report.

"This is a statewide concern that we need to continue to study," she said, adding the school system needs to review the best practices that exist, including encouraging middle school and high school students to consider teaching.

Kutcher said school officials have changed some of their recruiting trips to eliminate sites that do not typically get many minority applicants, such as Chicago.

They added others that may get more applicants, such as Howard University in Washington, D.C., Morgan State University in Baltimore and schools in North Carolina and New Jersey.

Board member Cassandra Beverley, the board's other African-American member, asked if school officials have tried to assess why minority applicants are not attracted to Harford County.

Mantegna said they often have high-quality school systems closer to them.

"That is one hurdle, is making ourselves known well among those particular colleges and universities," she said.

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