Community meetings on diversity hosted by Jefferson City Public Schools in recent weeks have cast a renewed spotlight on the district's efforts to have the diversity of its staff match the diversity of its students.
JCPS Director of Human Resources Shelby Scarbrough explained Thursday all school districts in Missouri face challenges in attracting the candidates they need, but the district is re-evaluating its recruitment, hiring and retention processes to try to stay competitive amid a teacher shortage that's particularly acute among diverse candidates.
"We have to honor diversity and have a focus on equity," Scarbrough said of the next steps for the district's HR department given the recent diversity meetings prompted by a racially insensitive photo involving students that stirred community concerns.
"Are we finding the best people to meet the needs of our students? Because that's the ultimate thing. We have to think of our students first and then work backwards from there. So finding people that best support the needs of our students is where we start," she said.
She added: "I think our staff population needs to mirror our student population. That is our ultimate goal."
She said it's difficult to put a timeline on accomplishing that goal.
"There's so many factors that we can't control. We have to have a strong pool of applicants to fill these positions, just like colleges and universities need a large pool of pre-service education students. And that's what's frightening — the decline in the number of people that are even entering education," she said.
She told JCPS's Board of Education in September that "in the last 10 years, there are 13,000 less teachers in the state of Missouri," citing a conversation she said she had with the Missouri State Teachers Association.
She provided a December 2016 report to the state's General Assembly from Missouri's Department of Elementary and Secondary Education on "Recruitment and Retention of Teachers in Missouri Public Schools."
That report shows since the 2009-10 school year through 2015-16, the state lost 1,473 teachers, down to a total of 69,683. Through that time, the percentage of teachers in the state who are "non-white or multiple ethnicities has remained the same at 6.5 percent," but the share of black teachers dropped from 5.9 percent to 4.9 percent.
The percentage of all districts' new hires in the state who were first-year teachers also decreased from 64.5 percent to 55.3 percent in the same window. The state's teacher retention rate declined from 90.2 percent to 88.9 percent.
Scarbrough also provided a letter dated Aug. 1 from the U.S. Department of Education, addressed to Roy Alberson, DESE's assistant director of data analysis. The Department of Education has designated Cole County as having teacher shortages in the 2017-18 school year in the academic areas of art, business, elementary, family and consumer science and human service education, foreign (world) languages, journalism, English, music, occupational family consumer sciences and human services education, physical education and health, science, social studies, special education, and speech and drama.
A shortage can be determined by a number of factors, including a lack of candidates with appropriate certifications and competition with other districts, Scarbrough explained.
Numerous Missouri counties are listed as having teacher shortages in many of the same areas and others, especially in English, science, social studies and special education.
On the recruitment front, Scarbrough told the board in September "we're looking at making contact with pre-service teachers, making contact with colleges and universities, creating those partnerships to get them in our schools before they even graduate so they can say, 'I know I want to work there when I graduate.'" She reiterated this Thursday.
Community members at the district's diversity meetings have expressed wanting to use Lincoln University's resources and students more.
LU is among the top five institutions for undergraduates and graduates who come to work for the district, according to information from Scarbrough.
The other four top undergraduate institutions for district employees are the University of Central Missouri, Columbia College, Missouri State University and the University of Missouri-Columbia. The list for graduate institutions is the same, except Columbia College is replaced with William Woods University.
Scarbrough said the district's HR department is focusing on recruiting candidates from the colleges closest to Jefferson City. In the spring, almost all institutions have networking expos, but the HR department is "trying to build those relationships so we can carry it beyond just career fairs," she said.
JCPS would like to visit college students' classrooms, she added. Pre-service teachers already come to the district's classrooms to complete practicum hours, she said.
She also told the board in September the district is using job headhunter organizations to recruit minority candidates in particular through postings on job boards.
When it comes to the hiring process, she's working with Brenda Hatfield, the district's director of quality improvement, to have conversations with principals to improve the process, focusing on collaboration and finding people who fit the culture of a given building.
On collaboration, Scarbrough said they're trying to include input from stakeholders in the hiring process.
"Rather than me just interviewing you for a position, I want a team of people that are going to work with you to get a good feel on your skill set and things you bring to the table," she said.
She explained a candidate who fits a building's culture understands "the uniqueness of every school building, what are the needs of our students, what are the needs of our staff where you have a high poverty population, you want to make sure you have staff that are cognizant of poverty and the steps that they have to take."
She also used the example of a "PBIS school district, Positive Behavior Intervention Support system. If you have people who already believe in that, have already been trained in that, they're a good asset."
Matching a candidate to a building's culture means "knowing what your culture is as a school, what are our driving forces, what are our goals, and then finding those people that can tie in with those goals," she added
"Ultimately, all our principals want people who are fun, passionate, caring — that's across the board," she said.
On the retention front, she said the results of exit interviews with employees who have left don't indicate any problems.
"There were quite a few retirements, a lot of relocating because of a spouse's job or because they were moving," she said. "There wasn't any alarming trends with those exit surveys, but we will continue that practice just to keep out in front of anything people might share that we need to be aware of and make adjustments as needed."
She told the board in September: "Instead of focusing on exit interviews, why people leave, we want to know why people are staying so we can capitalize on that and continue to make those things better. We're looking at finding ways to continue to support people that we have here."
She and Superintendent Larry Linthacum have cited the importance of developing "grow your own" programs for the district to internally create future candidates with local people.
"Let's say you're a junior in high school; you really don't know what you want to do in college. Well, if we can tap into the programs to get you volunteering in an elementary school so you can say, 'Hey, I might like this,' help them figure it out, get a degree and maybe come back and work for us," she said.
Linthacum said at Tuesday's diversity meeting JCPS is looking at the "grow your own" campaigns in the Columbia, North Kansas City, Ft. Zumwalt, Parkway, Raytown and Kansas City Center districts for ideas, and the district has met with experts from MU.
"We've got to make education an attractive career for people to pursue," Scarbrough said. "If we truly are a premier school district, it's all about the people that we employ."