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Sixteen percent, or 20, of the Albemarle County Public Schools’ 124 new teachers are minorities, a 1 percentage point decrease from last year.
Based on preliminary division records, the county school system hired three new Asian teachers, seven Black teachers, seven Latino teachers and three teachers who identify as two or more races.
In the past four years, the number of new minority hires have been inconsistent. The highest numbers were in the 2019-20 school year, the division’s records show.
Of 143 teachers hired in the 2017-18 school year, 15% were minorities. The following school year, 183 teachers were hired and 13% were minorities. In the 2019-20 academic year, 17% of the 186 new teachers were minorities.
The focus is to ensure the teacher population mirrors the student body, said Daphne Keiser, director of educator quality for ACPS. And moving forward, ACPS is serious about hiring minority teachers, she said.
“We’re all committed to that,” Keiser said.
The overall teacher population in the county schools does not mirror the student population, said Phil Giaramita, county schools spokesman. There have been some efforts to address diversity hiring in the division, but there’s still some work to do, he said.
Based on last year’s numbers, Latino students accounted for 13.9% of student enrollment, Black students were 11% and 6.3% of students identified as mixed race, according to Giaramita. Last year, Black teachers accounted for 5% of the teacher population, and 3% were Latino.
Giaramita blamed the 1 percentage point decrease from 2019 to 2020 on a smaller number of hires this year.
ACPS has the percentage of students and teachers for last year, Giaramita said, but numbers for the current academic year have yet to be released.
Overall, ACPS faces the same challenges that schools across the country might face when hiring minority teachers, Keiser said, such as a small pool of candidates. Other challenges could include candidates considering salaries, cost of living, affordable housing and percent of minority population in an area.
The pandemic has affected the division’s hiring in that it had to hire fewer teachers, she said, and that could be due to teachers wanting to not relocate because of the uncertainty around COVID-19.
“We had three minority candidates that we made offers to that declined and stated that they need to stay close to home due to the pandemic,” she said, adding that both the African American Teaching Fellows and the Albemarle Fellows program are among partnerships that bolster the county’s pool of minority candidates.
Tamara Dias, executive director of the African American Teaching Fellows, said while socioeconomics are not the main reason minorities do not go into the education field, it’s one of the biggest conversations she’s had with college students.
The Teaching Fellows, whose mission is to boost the number of local Black teachers, works to examine some of the barriers that minorities face to better help them break into the field.
In helping fellows, Dias said the program may step in to provide tuition scholarships or paying for teachers’ license fees, provide community and social support and professional development opportunities.
“Those are the three kind of things that are helpful and make sure that our college students become successful classroom teachers,” she said.
Moving forward, county schools parents want change.
Adrienne Agee, a Black mother of two county schools students, said it bothers her that the representation is not where it should be.
“I know that they’re trying to work on it, and I hope they will continue working to improve that,” she said. I feel that it’s important because for one, as the saying goes, ‘representation matters.”’
Because of a lack of representation, she said, minority children could be overlooked in education, and one of the reasons could be the low percentages of Black children in gifted programs.
“They’ve purposely held back Black and brown students and done things to prevent them from achieving their full capabilities,” she said.
It’s also important for children of all backgrounds to see leaders of different backgrounds, she said.
She said that she has attempted to address the lack of minority teachers by going to the School Board members, which she felt was a productive meeting.
She was also asked to be on the county school’s gifted program advisory committee, but the meeting was cut short because of the pandemic.
“I think that the Albemarle schools are trying to move in the right direction,” she said. “And I want the change to be genuine. The changes they’re speaking to make — I wanted [them] to be genuine so that it does benefit our whole society, not just a certain portion of our society.”
Agee is not alone.
Daisy Rojas, a mother of a Latino student in ACPS, said she questions how specific the division breaks down the number of minority teachers.
“The first question I would ask is how we are defining the instructor population? Is it only those people who are in the classroom with students, or are we talking about extraneous activities like after school, like support services, which may be outside of the standard day education,” she said.
In the classroom, she said, she has not seen very many educators at all who are Latino or of any other race. She knows maybe two individuals who could be called that in the instructor capacity, and only one of those is in a teacher role, she said.
“I would say beyond that there is a difference in terms of what does it mean for the Spanish-speaking population in our community to have that representation, which is very different from what it may be in other places in the country,” said Rojas, who’s also a published anthropologist and has conducted research on Latino populations.
“Virginia itself has a population that is predominantly of Central American heritage, where other states in the United States have populations that are predominantly of Mexican descent. So, that is specifically different to our area, which means that we may have families that are coming from Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Mexico, but not predominantly Mexico.”
The cultural differences among all of those countries are pretty significant. It’s even reflected in language, where different words are used in each of the other countries, she said.
“So, to have structures that represent those populations is extremely important and helpful, especially to families who would want to reach out to someone who has that knowledge and has that understanding, coming from similar backgrounds,” she said.