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Minority issues raised in public schools

The number of minorities working in Jefferson City Public Schools has dwindled in the past six years, a situation that has dismayed several people affiliated with the Jefferson City’s NAACP chapter.

On Monday about two dozens parents, school employees and other interested people — the majority of whom were black — met on the Lincoln University campus to discuss strategies for addressing the slide.

According to data provided by the school district and distributed at the meeting, between 2004 and 2007, almost 7 percent of the district’s total full-time workforce were minority groups. This school year, only 4 percent of the district’s faculty and staff are considered minorities.

In comparison, according to the 2010 census, 21.7 percent of Jefferson City’s population is considered either black; American Indian or Alaskan Native; Asian; Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander; of Hispanic or Latino origin; or a mix of two or more races. Of that number, the majority — 16.9 percent — are black.

In Cole County, about 16 percent of the population is considered a minority; of that group, 11.5 percent are black.

According to school district personnel, about 25 percent of the students who attend the Jefferson City Public Schools are minorities.

Rod Chapel, who serves as president of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, told listeners a number of complaints about the retention situation, and other race-related circumstances, have accumulated in the last 12 months. Chapel also reported the local chapter has fielded concerns from minority families who feel their children are disciplined more severely or are being bullied.

Although the NAACP has requested information from the district on disciplinary referrals — broken down by race — the group has not received the data they are looking for yet.

He said the complaints vary from district employees who feel they “are being treated differently” to students who are tired of insensitive jokes and insinuations they are “dirty” or “thieves.”

Chapel also noted the perception exists that qualified applicants with the correct teaching certifications can’t get hired in the district.

Penney Rector, assistant to the superintendent for human resources and legal matters, said administrators are trying hard to identify strong, minority candidates.

“The charge I was given on the very first day of the job was to hire the very best teachers for our district. I take that charge very, very seriously,” Rector said.

The pool of minority applicants isn’t very large, she added, and the competition is quite intense. For every one open position in the district, about 100 resumes are received. She said the district has the luxury to consider candidates who bring more to the table than the correct certification.

She noted it’s a challenge to recruit high-quality, minority candidates. “Are we happy with the numbers? Absolutely not,” she said. “I don’t think the situation is unique to our district,” she said.

Rector said administrators are interested in hearing possible solutions.

In the past decade, the district has typically employed an average of about 20 black elementary and secondary classroom teachers. This year 15 elementary and secondary teachers are black; 486 are white.

At the administrative level this year, of the 52 people who work in management, 49 are white and three are minorities. Seven blacks were administrators three years ago.

“We are concerned there is no plan to stop the attrition, or fix it,” Chapel said. “We don’t have any verification from the school district that they have a plan to address this problem.”

Some of the black leaders in the room held up the mirror to their own community, arguing that good educational outcomes start with conscientious, caring parenting.

Emmanuel Adjuzie, an LU economics and agribusiness professor, said he deals with high school graduates who don’t appear committed to their own education. They exhibit poor work skills, such as running late for class, habits he believes are learned at home.

“I ask them: Why are you here? When do you think your future starts?” he said.

“Your future is now ... in front of me,” he tells his students.

Joe Hardy, an NAACP member, was dismayed by the lack of minority teachers in the Jefferson City Public School.

Hardy said he has seen students matriculate through Lincoln University, achieving the appropriate degrees to be educators. “They apply and they do not get hired, although they have the qualifications,” he lamented. “What can we do? They want to stay in Jefferson City, but they leave for opportunities where they know they can be effective.”

Marc Peoples lamented that students who are frequently in in-school and out-of-school suspension — even with work sent home — are missing the main ingredients of their education and their work will be sub-par as a result.

Peoples worried that students who don’t see people who look like them at school will be less likely to aspire to succeed. “The issue really is having people you identify with, who are like you, spread across the system,” he said. “I went to a large high school, predominantly white, but we had a lot more African-American faculty. We just don’t have that in Jefferson City.”

Former Jefferson City school board member Jackie Coleman lamented she sat through similar retention meetings for a decade, without seeing much in the way of results. Coleman suggested listeners avoid making the district’s problems “a racial thing.”

“It really isn’t. It’s an achievement problem,” she said.

As a relatively new hire herself, Rector has one hiring cycle under her belt and is in the midst of her second. This year her office is participating in seven job fairs in Missouri and Arkansas, four of which are at Historically Black Colleges, like Harris Stowe State University in St. Louis.

“One of my goals is to build relationships with those regional colleges,” Rector said.

She said she often hears younger teachers and college students say Jefferson City is too far from the cities where they live. “It’s a lot to ask any teacher to relocate without more than a one-year commitment,” Rector said.

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