LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – It was almost a year ago when Jefferson County Public Schools officials presented an annual report to the school board about the district’s effort to recruit and hire more minority teachers.

The data showed that while 52 percent of the district’s 101,000 students were classified as non-white, only 15.6 percent of its 6,525 teachers identified themselves as a minority.

At the table was JCPS chief operations officer, Michael Raisor, and Mark Rosen, who was the district’s human resources director at the time.

“This is our trend and it seems to be holding,” Raisor said. “We are not satisfied with this, and we have to do something about it.”

Diane Porter, the only minority member on the school board, was joined by fellow members Linda Duncan and David Jones Jr. in asking for a strategic plan...and improvement.

“What is our plan, short term and long term?” Porter asked at the time. “If all we’re going to do is talk about it, we’ll never be any better.”

Raisor agreed, making a bold statement: “What I can promise you is that we’ll have a targeted improvement strategy. If we’re sitting back in front of you next year and we’re giving the same presentation, that’s not acceptable.”

A year later, not only are the numbers roughly the same, a concrete plan to boost the numbers has not been presented to the school board.

The latest data shows the number of minority teachers in JCPS has only increased by one-tenth of a percentage point in 2015-16. Of the district’s 6,551 teachers this year, only 1,031 (or 15.7 percent) are a minority.

A reorganization of central office by Superintendent Donna Hargens no longer has Raisor overseeing human resources. And less than six months after telling the school board he was going to increase efforts to hire more minorities, Rosen was gone – his one-year contract  not renewed by Hargens.

“A year later, I think we have improved just a little bit on the numbers but we have a long way to go,” says John Marshall, the district’s chief equity officer. “I was at that board meeting and I agree that much more needs to be done.”

Importance of a diverse teaching staff

Policymakers have long agreed that America's teaching force should reflect the same backgrounds of the students they teach, with research indicating that minority students do better academically when they have minority adult role models who can better relate and understand their background.

"It's not just important for black students to be in front of black teachers, but for black teachers to be in front of white students -- and vice versa -- so that we can really celebrate that diversity and learn from each other," Marshall said.

JCPS' strategic plan calls for an employee population that mirrors its student population.

But over the last five years, minority teacher hires in JCPS have only gone up a half percent.

Those are figures that have caught the attention of the NAACP.

“Year after year, it’s the same numbers,” said Raoul Cunningham, president of the Louisville NAACP. “It’s time to call their hands to it and say no more. We've got to sit down and come up with some concrete plans.”

A nationwide struggle

JCPS is not alone in its struggle – the gap between the number of minority teachers and minority students exists across the state and throughout the country.

In Kentucky, there are approximately 43,767 public school teachers. Of that number, only 4 percent are classified as a minority.

A September 2015 study by the nonprofit Albert Shanker Institute in Washington, D.C. found that the number of black public school teachers in nine urban cities dropped between 2002 and 2012.

In a district like JCPS that has repeatedly listed minority recruitment and hiring among its top priorities, the concern only becomes greater as time goes on.

A new human resources director has yet to be hired and plans to hire a recruiter have also been unsuccessful. Both positions have been advertised for months, but remain unfilled.

Marshall said having a recruiter help expand the hiring pool will be beneficial.

“This person can go across the nation and pull in people, let them know about Louisville and JCPS and recruit quality teachers and minority teachers,” Marshall said.

Richard Ingersoll, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has been researching the changes in the education profession for 20 years, says the main source of minority teacher shortages lies not just within the pipeline, but with the high turnover taking place once the teachers are hired.

“There is nothing wrong with recruiting more teachers, but if they are leaving the profession as quickly as you are hiring them, you are not going to get anywhere,” Ingersoll told WDRB News in an interview Thursday.

“We need to address the factors that (are) driving them out,” he said. “That could prevent the loss of recruitment resources and also lessen the need for more recruiting initiatives.”

Different hiring initiatives

Kathryn Wallace, chairwoman of the Louisville NAACP education committee, said she believes JCPS has not done enough to search for quality minority teacher candidates outside of Kentucky.

The state’s only historically black university – Kentucky State –only graduates about a dozen or so teachers annually. And at the University of Louisville – where JCPS gets about a fourth of its teachers from each year – only 10 percent are minorities.

“We need to broaden our scope and go where the population is,” Wallace said. “If you know that you don’t have that many people in Kentucky majoring in teacher education, why would you limit yourself to this commonwealth?”

Wallace said she also thinks the district should do more to focus on professionals who may be considering a career-change.

“We need to stop thinking about kids just coming out of high school or college, we've got people who are in their profession who are not happy,” she said. “Why not explore the possibility of changing professions?”

Marshall said the district’s Alternative Certification Elementary and Secondary (ACES) Program seeks to do just that – find candidates who already hold a college degree and have them pursue a teaching certificate.

“Sometimes teaching isn’t an attractive, viable option until the second time around,” he said. “ACES is an accelerated, very rigorous program and we have principals who will allow them to come in and learn under a teacher and para-teach while they are going to school to get their certification.”

Ingersoll said looking for people to switch careers is not a bad idea.

“But the recent data tells us that those mid-career hires have higher quit rates than those coming in right after college,” he said. “Again, recruiting quality candidates is only half the solution, we must improve retention.”

Rachel Bouya-Ahmed, a fifth-grade teacher at Semple Elementary School, went through the ACES program three years ago.

Her first career was a field interviewer conducting different surveys at the University of Chicago.

"I've always loved working with children and was looking for something different," Bouya-Ahmed says. "And I hear that a lot from people when they find out I'm a teacher, they tell me that they would love to be a teacher."

Bouya-Ahmed said she thinks programs like ACES are good to have.

"I think the minority teacher recruitment project is being used in a great way to get minority teachers," she said. "We just need to get the word out."

For more information about the ACES program in JCPS, click here.

In the meantime, school board member Porter said she looks forward to hearing from district officials again this year, noting that the school board does not do any of the hiring for JCPS.

"There are those of us who want to see results and the only way to get results is to continue to ask for the info and ask for the process we are going to use to make the numbers better," she said.


Reporter Antoinette Konz covers K-12 education for WDRB News. She can be reached at 502-585-0838 or @tkonz on Twitter.

Copyright 2015 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.