WASHINGTON – When Montgomery County officials learned in the spring of 1997 that 23 of the county’s elementary schools were staffed entirely by white females, they realized they had to take action.
By the start of this school year, only five of the county’s 185 schools had homogenous staffs in the county where minority students make up 47 percent of the total school population.
But it didn’t happen by accident.
“Schools must take concrete steps to promote and ensure a diverse teaching workforce, it won’t happen otherwise,” said Ana Sol Gutierrez, a former Montgomery County school board member.
Montgomery was one of two Maryland counties, along with Caroline County, whose local teachers unions displayed their efforts Friday to recruit and retain minority teachers.
The efforts were showcased as part of a two-day forum at the National Education Association, which provided seed money for the programs.
The Caroline County Teachers Association used its NEA grant to fund a minority recruitment day with students from local colleges and universities last April.
“Basically, we held a minority recruitment fair and invited students to spend a half-day at Caroline County schools,” said Carol Visintainer, a supervisor of instruction for the county school system.
Visintainer said they would have more minorities apply for jobs in the school district “if they could see what a fine school system we have.”
She said that of the 12 candidates who spent a half-day with them last April, five were offered jobs and three were eventually hired: two elementary school teachers and a middle school math teacher.
The teachers union plans to use another NEA grant for a similar program in March.
“It’s important to learn from those whose life experiences vary, [so that] every child’s experience is enriched,” said Visintainer.
Gutierrez cited Montgomery County’s rapidly changing demographics as one reason behind the push for more minority teachers.
Montgomery County hired 1,077 new teachers this fall. Of those, 15.8 percent were black, 3.5 percent were Asian, 3.8 percent were Hispanic and 76.5 percent were white.
Overall, the county’s faculty is 10.5 percent black, 3.3 percent Hispanic, 2.7 percent Asian, 0.3 percent American Indian and 83.1 percent white. By contrast, the student population is 20.4 percent black, 13.2 percent Hispanic, 12.7 percent Asian, 0.4 percent American Indian and 53.3. percent white.
With its NEA grant, the Montgomery County Education Association concentrated on retaining minority teachers. It held a social to let minority teachers network and also invited a motivational speaker to address the school system on the importance of diversity in the teaching staff.
Gutierrez said the county has not been moving fast enough to keep pace with the rapidly changing face of the county.
“The board and superintendent have been taking it one step at a time, but the population is changing much more dramatically,” she said.
But a spokesman said the school system is making every effort to bring minority teachers on board.
“It is a highly competitive area for which there are far too few eligible candidates,” said Brian Porter, the spokesman. “We are as aggressive as any school system in the country … at identifying potential candidates.”
Gutierrez added that Montgomery County’s diverse population makes it important to look beyond just black and white.
“We should not lump minorities all together, but look at an Indian from India, teachers with Middle Eastern backgrounds, Latino teachers, to increase diversity both ethnically and culturally,” she said.
Helen Miller of the Maryland State Teachers Association also said the state’s changing demographics demand that teachers represent a variety of backgrounds.
“It’s an ongoing process of ours to try to have the teacher population reflective of the state’s population as a whole,” said Miller.
— Capital News Service reporter Kayce T. Ataiyero contributed to this report.