Harford schools improve teacher diversity, still face challenge of shrinking applicant pool

The Harford County public school system is making strides in recruiting new teachers, especially teachers of color, officials say, but is facing the same challenge that bedevils school districts around the state and the nation — a shrinking pool of applicants.

“Our goal continues to be to hire the most qualified and diverse teachers for the students of Harford County Public Schools; however, there are many challenges to reaching this goal,” Ben Richardson, senior manager of human resources for HCPS, said Jan. 22 during the human resources department’s annual presentation on teacher recruitment and retention to the Board of Education.

Richardson and Jean Mantegna, assistant superintendent for human resources, presented hiring and retention data gathered for the period between Oct. 16, 2016 and Oct. 15, 2017.

Harford County Public Schools had 4,974 employees, of which 2,916 were teachers, in 2017, according to human resources data. Out of those 2,900 teachers, 94.1 percent were white, 3.7 percent were African-American, 1 percent Latino, 0.6 percent were Asian, 0.4 percent American Indian or Alaska Native and 0.2 percent were biracial or multi-racial.

Mantegna said during the presentation that her department met its two key goals for the 2016 to 2017 period: reducing by 10 percent the number of vacant positions in “critical shortage areas” on the first day of school and continuing efforts to hire more teachers of color.

Mantegna said there has been a “positive upward trend” in faculty diversity, as 13.4 percent of the teachers hired in 2017 were people of color, compared to 6.8 percent in 2014, according to her data.

The overall staff diversity numbers, however, still do not come close to reflecting those of the student body.

According to the Maryland State Department of Education’s latest enrollment data posted on its Maryland Report Card website, out of 37,426 students, 7,038 are African-American, almost 19 percent; 2,539 are Hispanic/Latino, almost 7 percent; 1,223 are Asian, 3.3 percent; 2,272 listed two or more races, 6 percent; and 24,193 were white, almost 65 percent, compared to the 94.1 percent white teacher percentage cited by Mantegna.

HCPS leadership has come under increasing community criticism for what some say is a long-standing systemic failure to address racism and objectification in the schools, and to recognize, both in hiring and in programs, that the student body is becoming more diverse from a racial, ethnic, religious and national origin standpoint.

School board member Thomas Fitzpatrick highlighted community members’ repeated petitions to increase diversity among teachers, and he touched on the declining pool of teacher candidates.

“That makes your job hard, but it’s a job worth doing and I applaud your efforts, and I applaud [Supervisor of Equity and Cultural Proficiency Laurie] Namey’s efforts as well,” he told Mantegna and Richardson.

Filling ‘critical shortages’

Critical shortage areas, as defined by HCPS and MSDE, include art, English, mathematics, science and special education, according to Mantegna.

There were 33 critical area vacancies when the 2016-2017 school year started Aug. 25, 2016 and 19.4 when this school year started on Sept. 5, 2017, according to human resources data, a 41.2 percent reduction.

The school system hired 247 teachers for the 2016-2017 school year, including 30 who previously worked for HCPS.

“Of all staff hires this past year, 12.6 percent of the new staff were former colleagues that returned to serve in our school system again,” Mantegna said.

There is still a significant hiring challenge in the coming years, as federal and state education officials project major shortages in the teaching workforce and fewer and fewer applicants to fill those positions.

Shrinking pool

Richardson said the U.S. Department of Education has reported a “staggering 100,000 projected teacher shortage by the year 2025.”

He said Karen B. Salmon, the state superintendent of schools, recently reported the state projects 6,000 vacancies, with an estimated 2,600 “teacher education graduates” from Maryland colleges and universities available for hire in the coming year.

Salmon also reported that Pennsylvania officials expect to graduate fewer teacher candidates, too, a concern for HCPS since Harford County recruits many new teachers from Pennsylvania, Richardson said.

“Not only will we continue to face a challenge of competing with other local and regional school systems that offer highly competitive starting salaries to new teacher graduates, we will be competing for fewer and fewer candidates in light of the declining teacher supply,” he said.

Richardson also highlighted a declining lack of interest in teaching among college students, which he said is even greater among students of color.

He cited an article published by the Learning Policy Institute that stated enrollment in teacher education programs dropped by 35 percent from 2009 to 2014 and a National Education Association survey from 2016 which indicated 4.2 percent of college freshmen nationwide plan to major in education, the lowest point in 45 years.

Richardson cited another study from the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy which indicates 95 percent of white college graduates who majored in education plan to teach, compared to 90 percent of Hispanic graduates and 76 percent of black graduates.

Harford human resources staff, who have developed partnerships with historically black colleges and universities in Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Washington, D.C., have experienced that issue.

Richardson said Bowie State University representatives told him they will not have a teacher career fair in the coming year since there is such low student interest in teaching.

“Although this presents a new challenge, we will not be deterred,” Richardson said.

He said HCPS recruiters plan to meet with Bowie State students who do plan to pursue education and offer screening interviews on the Prince George’s County campus.

Heather Kutcher, coordinator of teacher induction, said officials at Maryland’s historically black schools prefer to place their education students in internship programs in schools in their immediate geographic areas.

“Declining enrollment in teacher preparatory programs and fewer minority candidates countrywide highlight how vital all of the recruitment and retention efforts of HCPS are, and we will continue to seek partnerships with historically black colleges and universities,” Kutcher said.

She said Harford’s internships, which are open to any college or university student who requests them, are a “powerful recruitment tool.”

“Experiencing first-hand what it is like to teach here is one of the most authentic tools that we have,” Kutcher said.

Mantegna said HCPS had a 91.8 retention rate among its certificated staff for 2016-2017. That rate has improved each year since the 2013-2014 reporting period, when it was 89.2 percent, according to data.

“A critical component to staff satisfaction and thereby linked to retention is the amount of support, both in quantity and quality, that is provided to staff throughout their career,” she said.

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