By Cash Michaels
Saying that, “…I for one, support the effort of our Superintendent to close the gap between our minority student population and our minority teaching force,” Wake School Board member Keith Sutton blasted his fellow board members for remaining silent as Wake Superintendent Anthony Tata comes under fire for suggesting that more black and Hispanic teachers are needed for an increasing diverse student population.
In a July 5 email to the rest of the nine-member school board, Sutton, who represents predominately-black Southeast Raleigh on the board, wondered why his colleagues were being so quiet while Tata was taking flak.
“As critics attack efforts of what I think is a very noble effort of our Superintendent to increase the number of minority teachers, where is support from our board?” Sutton wrote. “Why are we silent? We have all agreed on goals such as improving educational quality, and closing achievement gaps, and have supported plans to accomplish these goals.”
Sutton continued, “We may not all agree on all of the things that we do as board members or that the superintendent does. But it does seem to be quite inconsistent and paradoxical that we continuously talk about the failures of our minority and economically disadvantaged students and the strategies that are needed to improve their chances, but we don't support the things that will ensure they are successful.”
Controversy erupted last week when Supt. Tata - struck that while black and Hispanic students now make up over 50 percent of Wake’s over 143,000 student population with 85 percent of the school system’s teaching force is white and overwhelming female - announced that he is already sending scouts out across the country to recruit more quality teachers of color.
“If we have shunted the applicant pool of minority pipelines, then by definition we're not getting the best applicants across the spectrum,” Supt. Tata told WPTF-AM last week, adding that, “ It’s important to have the proper role models throughout the district.”
The Wake superintendent’s challenge is huge. While the number of black college students earning degrees has dramatically risen over the past ten years, many of them are opting for employment in corporate America, where the salaries are comparatively better than teaching.
But some of Tata’s fellow conservatives, both in the media and in published comments, whether by seeking more teachers of color, the Wake superintendent ran the risk of lowering the school system’s teacher standard.
“…[I]f we're sacrificing overall quality just to get the right mix, that's where I guess I would question you," challenged conservative talker Bill Lumaye when Tata appeared on his WPTF-AM show last week.
“It angers and sickens me to read that Wake County is going out of state to find teachers and overlooking qualified teachers who live here simply because they are not minorities,” wrote Grace Gates in a July 1 letter to the editor of the News and Observer.
Retired teachers The Carolinian has spoken with expressed outrage that any educator of color is perceived to be less qualified by white conservatives just because of the color of their skin.
When The Carolinian asked for open reaction on Facebook to the white conservative premise that more black and Hispanic teachers would lower Wake’s standard of teaching, there was even more outrage.
“It’s pure and simple racism,” remarked Arleigh Birchier of McGee Crossroads. “Any generalization about people based upon their ethnicity is racism.”
“Highly qualified is highly qualified,” wrote Bobby Flanagan of Chapel Hill. “As a teacher I lean toward younger and younger for teachers. We need new thoughts and new energy.”
Barbara Garlock of Raleigh wrote, “Why does hiring minorities equate with lower standards? That's insulting beyond belief. Hurts us all.”
As The Carolinian first reported in 2007, Wake County Public Schools commissioned a special audit of system policies and practices with the targeted goal of reducing the racial achievement gap. Among the recommendations, “develop incentives to attract minority and male teachers.” During that year, out of an estimated 9,000 teachers in the Wake School System, only 196 were black males.
Attracting and retaining more teachers of color was seen as an effective way to not only help close the racial achievement gap, but curb the high school dropout rate as well.
At that time, a Wake assistant superintendent told The Carolinian that the school system was already recruiting black teachers from historically black colleges in 38 states, and was trying to “build better relationships” with the Triangle’s three HBCU’s - Shaw University, St. Augustine’s College and North Carolina Central University.
A spokesperson for NCCU told The Carolinian that Wake Public Schools hired five of its graduates this spring to teach.
Tata, who is scheduled to meet with NCNAACP President Rev. William Barber today to discuss the school system’s proposed school choice plan, has challenged the civil rights group to prove that it has pushed for more black teacher recruitment in the past.
During that meeting, Barber told The Carolinian that he will provide evidence, by way of a national NAACP resolution adopted last year, and other documents, showing that the civil rights organization is on record calling for, “…a diverse teaching corps, generated by diversifying the pipeline of prospective teachers along racial, cultural, linguistic and socioeconomic lines, with a particular emphasis on strategies that allow communities to "grow their own" educators…”
In August 2007 for a story titled, “Black Parents Under Fire,” Rev. Barber told The Carolinian, “Of course there is always a need for parental support of our young students, but strong parental support does not replace strong public policy that’s fair and just,” Rev. Barber said. “Public policy that addresses the resegregation of schools, the lack of adequate funding of schools in low wealth counties, the lack of qualified teachers of color in schools with predominately black student populations, and the lack of focus and math and science in these schools.”
The Carolinian also has a record of press accounts of local NAACP chapters around the state in past years, including in Wake County, petitioning their local school boards to hire more black teachers.
If Wake Supt. Tata wants to know why Wake has had a poor record of recruiting teachers of color to the school system, all he had to do was check with the state Dept. of Public Instruction.
They aren’t interested.
In that same August 2007 story, The Carolinian reported:
Getting more teachers of color into the classroom is seen as a priority by many in the educational community.
Many, but not all.
“The state of North Carolina is only really interested in recruiting teachers overall to the state,” Linda Fuller, Communications Officer for the NC Dept. of Public Instruction told The Carolinian/Wilmington Journal newspapers last spring. “We don’t target particular groups of teachers. We want just teachers. So when we go and we have our recruitment effort, we target more towards, “Hey come to North Carolina to teach.”
“If we have 10,000 to 12,000 [teacher] vacancies a year, why would we go out and just recruit certain groups of teachers?” NCDPI spokeswoman Fuller asked. “Why wouldn’t we want to recruit all teachers?”
“That only highlights the problem that we have,” State Sen. Larry Shaw (D-Cumberland) told The Carolinian/Wilmington Journal newspapers last spring. “[NCDPI isn’t focusing in on these kids…these black kids need role models, and [the high] dropout rate is unacceptable in any civilized society.”
“Obviously DPI isn’t sensitive enough to recognize this,” Sen. Shaw added. “Either it’s a lack of sensitivity, or they just don’t care!”
In an April 2007 story in Black College Wire Magazine, it was reported, “An analysis of data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows one black male teacher for every 63 black male students in public schools, compared with one white male teacher for every 21 white male students. If more blacks were teaching, more black men and boys would be graduating, some said.”
Four years earlier, Elizabeth City State University, historically a black teachers training institution, cosponsored along with the NC Legislative Black Caucus, a 2003 summit titled, “The Shortage of African-American Men in the Teaching Profession.” The summit recommended that the seeds for steering young black males into the teaching profession, perhaps by starting teaching academies, must be planted early while they’re still in high school, if not earlier.
Some call it, “Grow your own.”
“Black males are not there for us to even recruit,” Dr. Claude Mackie, Associate Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs, told UNC-TV’s “Black Issues Forum” in 2003. “That’s the problem; we need to plant those seeds for young men to be going into the profession.”
Appearing on the same program, Lynwood Williams, then Assistant Superintendent for Pasquotank County Public Schools.
“There are a lot of school districts that who have kids who would come back home if the proper incentives were there,” Williams, who eight years later, is now the superintendent of Pasquotank County Public Schools, told UNC-TV.
Wake School Board member Keith Sutton, well aware that the pipeline for developing new, young black and Hispanic teachers has been running dry for a long time, says he’s supportive of Wake Supt. Tata’s efforts now to bring good teachers to the system from wherever he can find them, and he believes that Tata deserves the stated support of the Wake School Board.
In what seemed like a slap at board Vice Chairman John Tedesco, who also chairs the Economically Disadvantaged Student Performance Task Force, Sutton, who serves as vice chair of that committee, questioned in his July 5 email to fellow board members what the purpose of the ED task force was if it has no intention of dealing with the needs of underperforming students of color.
“We parade speakers in from all over the state and country to talk about the resiliency in African American children and research on the racial achievement gap, and we do this for what? When the exact policies and strategies that they promote such as cultural competency and cultural relevance, we can't or don't support,” wrote Sutton, the board’s only African-American member.
“If we are serious about ensuring that minority and economically disadvantaged children reach their full potential, then we must follow through on that promise,” Sutton continued. “All of these students will become adults, and when they reach that potential and if we can't support them as adults then are we really being truthful with them? Are we really being sincere in our own efforts?”
Sutton closed his missive on a skeptical note.
“I am certain that as time goes on, and the minority recruitment efforts prove to be fruitful, there will be some of our board members who are silent now, but will be quick to take credit for boosting the number of qualified black teachers and administrators, or to take credit for closing achievement gaps for poor, minority students,” the District 4 representative wrote.
At press time Wednesday, Sutton said the only Wake School Board member to respond to his challenge was John Tedesco. Sutton said Tedesco maintained that he has publicly voiced support for Tata’s plan on WPTF-AM and other venues.
The Carolinian checked Tedesco’s last recorded appearance on WPTF-AM online from June 20th .
While he did make remarks about battling teachers unions and associations, he made no mention of supporting Supt. Tata’s efforts at recruiting more teachers of color.