School officials say changes in hiring needed

Forum discusses recruiting, retaining black teachers

April 27, 1999|By Erika D. Peterman | Erika D. Peterman,SUN STAFF

At a public forum last night, Howard County school officials acknowledged that more could be done to attract and retain African-American teachers and administrators.

Held at the Dora Mack Carter Christian Center before a standing-room-only crowd, the forum was organized by the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, which charged last year that the county school system does not hire enough black people and sometimes discriminates against the ones they do -- charges school officials have rebutted.

But officials allowed last night that the county can do more to recruit African-Americans and improve retention rates.

"I think we are trying to make some really major changes in our human relations process," Superintendent Michael E. Hickey said. "We need to make them because of the insensitivities, some of it perceived, some of it very real. We need to do it because of the growing prospect of a teacher shortage. We also need to do it because we really want to attract qualified candidates.

"Where we've fallen short in the past, and I'm certain we have we need to make up for that."

Other participants were Karen B. Campbell, school board chairwoman; Sandra Erickson, associate superintendent; Mamie Perkins, human resources director; Eileen Woodbury, human relations director; and Karen Dunlop, Howard County Education Association president.

Some NAACP members and people in the audience asked whether Howard County had considered adopting an affirmative action plan similar to Harford County's. The school board there recently launched a three-year plan designed to recruit more minority teachers in a county where only 5 percent of the teachers are nonwhite.

Howard County's percentage of black teachers has remained about 12 percent since 1990. The county's student population is more than 16 percent African-American.

Campbell said that the board studies the school system's annual hiring and separation report, which breaks down staffing and hiring along lines such as race and gender.

"Yes, we do review this and we look to see if there are trends," Campbell said. "I have not seen a decline in the percentage of African-American applicants who have been hired."

But Campbell said there has been a decline in the number of African-Americans who apply for jobs.

Perkins said the county wants to do more to attract black teachers, including contacting education majors who are sophomores or juniors in college. She said on a recent recruiting visit to Morgan State University, she brought along two young black teachers who spoke with students about the work environment in the county.

Hickey pointed out that the school system hired 8 percent of the 5,000 people who applied for jobs last year. He said that Howard gets an overabundance of elementary education applicants.

Perkins said applicants with a specialty in "critical need" areas -- special education, math, science, technology education, reading and English as a second language -- are in higher demand.

"It's really going to depend on what your area of expertise is," she said. "I've been carrying 12 vacancies for special education all year."

Some in the audience expressed concern about what happens to black teachers and administrators after they are hired, and whether there is enough support for them.

Though there are support programs for new teachers, Woodbury said, the county "still has a long way to go in creating a culture in our school system where everyone feels accepted."

Nathaniel Alston, who was in the audience, urged the school system to step up recruitment and retention efforts and to market itself better so that candidates won't be lost to private industry.

The NAACP gave officials some suggestions, including:

Creating an NAACP education clearinghouse to assess job candidates and develop an annual list of potential hires.

Setting up a volunteer mentor program and a volunteer support group for educators.

Creating a faculty senate in each school to address concerns related to fair treatment of staff.

Pub Date: 4/27/99

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