Warren County teacher diversity stands out in Kentucky

by Hunter Frint

Warren County Public Schools has been hiring minorities at a higher rate than the Kentucky state average in recent years in order to diversify its teachers.

In 2014-2015, 9 percent of teachers hired by Warren County Public Schools were racial minorities compared to the state average of 4.4 percent. In fact, Warren County has exceeded the state averages since the 2012-2013 school year. Through annual programs and self-evaluations the county works to increase diversity among their teachers.

Chief Communications Officer for Warren County Public Schools, Morgan Watson said Warren County sees the need for diversity among their teachers due to the amount of diversity among their students.

“We want students to achieve great things, and when they see individuals who look like them, speak like them and talk like them, they’re going to be more likely to use those individuals as role models,” Watson said. “So, we’re being very proactive in seeking the best candidates, whoever they might be, to fill our positions.”

Diversity on the state and national level

Since 2008 Kentucky public school systems have seen a rollercoaster trend in the percent of hired minority teachers each year. A steady increase that started in 2008 took a drop in 2011 and has remained at an approximate rate of 4.0 percent teachers hired being minorities.

Within the past seven years, the closest the Kentucky average came to Warren County’s current rate was when they reached 7.1 percent in 2010-2011 before the drop off to 4.0 percent. This average for Kentucky has remained steady through the past four years.

Diversity of teachers has long been a concern nationwide, not just in Kentucky. The

National Education Association has published several reports and articles in their online publication, neaToday, regarding the need for diversity in the United States education system.

One report published in April of 2016, titled “Lack of Teacher Diversity Jeopardizes Student Achievement” stated that even though minority enrollment in schools has increased the effort to add teachers of color has fallen behind.

Mary Dilworth, co-author of the report told neaToday that presently 18 percent of the teaching population is of color, but two decades ago it was 26 percent. Dilworth said this shows the nation’s commitment to creating a diverse teaching force has decreased.

The report touches on the importance of having teachers and leaders in the community who students of color can look up to. It then refers to the programs and initiatives that need to be developed in order to bring minority teachers into the school systems.

These programs and initiatives are similar to the ones that the Warren County Public Schools are already putting into place in order to increase their percentage of minority teachers hired.

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Diversity in Warren County

In the Kentucky Department of Education reports each year’s calculation included the minorities American Indian/Alaskan Native, Asian, Black, Hispanic, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander and other. The increase in rates of those minorities being hired began for Warren County after the 2012-2013 school year.

That year Warren County was at 4.1 percent of hired teachers being minorities, which was within range of the Kentucky state average of 4.5 percent. The following year, Warren County jumped up to 6.6 percent, or 2.6 percent more than the state average.

This continued into the most recently documented school year of 2014 -2015 when Warren County reached a much higher percentage of 9.0 percent of their teachers hired identifying with a race other than white.

Watson said their students are from over 30 different countries and speak 59 languages and dialects. The most common languages are Spanish, Bosnian, Arabic and Burmese. In 2013, minority enrollment of Warren County Public Schools totaled at approximately 25 percent of the student body, according to the Warren County Comprehensive District Improvement Plan.

One statistic that could present an issue when it comes to minority teachers hired is the low percentage of Hispanic teachers hired. Even with Spanish being one of the most common languages spoken by students, other than English, Hispanic teachers have one of the lowest rates of being hired in Kentucky school systems, according to records from the Kentucky Department of Education.

In her two years with the Warren County Public School system Watson said she has not seen an issue with the diversity of teachers in their system. The county has an upcoming equity report card coming out in May where the district evaluates itself to find out where those problems might be.

“We’re able to compare ourselves to other districts,” Watson said. “We’re able to compare ethnicity-to-ethnicity, race-to-race, and kind of look at where some of those issues might lie. So, it’s something that we’ve done completely voluntarily. The state did not require us to do this. It’s just something we felt was important given the diversity of our community.”

The annual Minority Teacher Recruitment dinner is just one of several events that is held in order to promote diversity among Warren County teachers. The dinner and work session lasts approximately an hour and a half and provides minority candidates an opportunity to meet principals and Central Office personnel.

Potential teacher candidates may present resumes and ask anyone from the Warren County Public Schools questions about the profession and each school. Also, available to the candidates are mock interviews between actual administrators and staff members playing the role of interviewee where they can learn which questions to ask and what will be asked of them.

Western Kentucky University and Warren County Public Schools partner up to hold the event at the Augenstein Alumni Center that gives future teacher candidates the opportunity to speak with staff from all Warren County Schools. Those in attendance include principals from all schools, superintendents and other administrators.

“I think the dinner really helps increase the likelihood that we increase the diversity of our district,” said Chris Stunson, principal of Bristow Elementary.

Along with the annual recruitment dinner, Warren County has a Minority Teacher Recruiter, Michael Coleman, who takes trips throughout Kentucky and sometimes out of state to colleges to recruit minority educators.

Stunson, an African American, found out about employment opportunities when he met Coleman at a teacher fair at University of Kentucky in Lexington. Stunson then went to the Minority Recruitment Dinner as a candidate teacher. Stunson said he has now been a part of the recruitment dinner in three different capacities: from candidate, to teacher, to administrator.

Stunson has worked for Warren County Public Schools for eight years. His career with Warren County began as a math teacher at Warren Central High School, where he worked for seven years then became assistant principal before being hired as the principal of Bristow.

This 2015-2016 school year was his first year as principal at Bristow. Coleman had contacted him when the position opened and asked if he was interested. Stunson said that he has personally seen the effects of increased diversity positively reflected in his work.

“By engaging in the conversation and placing minority recruitment and hiring as a priority, we begin to offer readily available mentors and role models to our diverse populations,” said Stunson. “Children of diverse backgrounds then have successful individuals who they can reach out, have conversation with or just build a relationship that may last a lifetime.”

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