NAACP sets public forum on educators

School officials to address status of black teachers

Hiring, treatment at issue

Civil rights group says some employees face bias, hostility

April 15, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

Hoping to bring resolution to their complaints about the hiring and treatment of African-Americans in the school system, the Howard County NAACP has organized a public forum with school officials April 26.

Superintendent Michael E. Hickey, Karen B. Campbell, school board chairwoman, and Mamie Perkins, human resources director, are among the panelists scheduled to speak at the forum, "The Status of Black Educators in Howard County."

The event is a follow-up to complaints last year from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that the school system had failed to hire enough black teachers and administrators, passed over qualified candidates for jobs and demoted an unidentified black assistant principal to a teaching job.

Though school officials have defended their track record and hiring practices, members of the civil rights organization contend that some black school employees face discrimination and hostility.

"We're hoping that there will be, certainly, a public commitment to removing the disparities that exist in the school personnel throughout the county," said Natalie Woodson, chairwoman of the NAACP education committee.

Woodson said the organization has had "positive" and "fruitful" meetings with school human resources officials, although she declined to elaborate. However, Woodson said, there are key issues the school system needs to address.

"There are several levels of concern," Woodson said. "Of course, the actual hiring is one level, but then what happens after people are hired? What is done to ensure their success or to promote an environment of at least appreciation or acceptability?"

During the 1998-1999 school year, 12.4 percent of the county's 3,036 teachers are African-American, compared with 16.7 percent of its 41,633 students, according to school system data. The percentage of black teachers has remained about 12 percent every year since 1990.

More than 20 percent of the school system's administrators -- school-based and in central offices -- were African-American last year.

"We have very good representation in our administrative ranks, far beyond what the proportion of African-American students is," Hickey said. "One of the problems in the teaching ranks is we don't have the distribution [of black teachers] around the county we would like to have."

Woodson and Hickey agree that some schools in outlying areas of Howard County do not have enough black teachers. But Hickey has said those patterns are not by design. Teachers who are wanted by more than one school are allowed to choose the one they prefer, and many African-American teachers choose not to go to schools where there are few black students and employees, he said.

Hickey said recruiters don't want to eliminate the opportunity to choose because it is an important recruiting tool. He said the Human Resources Department is trying to better target historically black colleges and universities in the area such as Morgan State University.

"We'd like to attract more from Howard [University], but they're pretty much committed in their program to the D.C. schools," Hickey said.

Woodson said the NAACP is calling for an across-the-board 15 percent representation of African-Americans in the school system's employee ranks. She said the organization is equally concerned about employee retention.

"We're hopeful that some mechanism will be put into place to make certain that we retain the staff persons who are hired," she said. "We really would like to ensure that there is a level of success."

Resignations and transfers are not broken down by race in the school system's hiring report. School system spokeswoman Patti Caplan said that race does play a part in some transfers, but not in a punitive manner.

"I think sometimes people are moved because of race, but it's because we wanted a balance of the administrative team," Caplan said.

Hickey said the school system needs to do a better job of hiring teachers and administrators from Hispanic and Asian backgrounds as the county's ethnic population continues to grow.

"I'm glad to be part of the panel, and hopefully we can discuss some of these issues and at least let everybody who is involved know what we're doing," Hickey said.

The NAACP education forum will be held at 7: 30 p.m. April 26 at Dora Mack Carter Christian Center, 7504 Oakland Mills Road.

Pub Date: 4/15/99

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