Diversity 'Conversation is just beginning' in district 204

Brock A. Stein | 3/8/2016, 11:53 p.m.
Members of Joliet Township High School District 204's administrative staff and two board members held a community meeting Thursday night ...

Members of Joliet Township High School District 204's administrative staff and two board members held a community meeting Thursday night to discuss concerns parents and other members of the community have over what they say is a lack of diversity in its teaching and administrative ranks.

Superintendent Cheryl McCarthy gave a presentation that covered the school's hiring practices, its diversity policies, and the best method for addressing those concerns about a lack of minority teachers and administrators.

Attendees were able to submit questions on notecards to Mike Clark, president of the NAACP Joliet Branch #3018, which he relayed to the administrators and board members to answer. The meeting is the result of an outcry at the February board meeting from the community over not replacing the impending retirement of an African American female dean at Joliet Township High School's Central Campus with another African American. This, some say, furthers the schools low diversity staff numbers.

District 204 has 6,427 students enrolled at its two high school campuses, Joliet Central and Joliet West. Hispanic students make up the largest minority population at 44.5% followed by black students at 24.3% with another 4.3% made up of Asian, American Indian and mixed races. White students comprise 26.9% of the student body.

Of the district's 400 certified staff members 5.5% are Hispanic, 8% are African American, 1% are Asian, and 86.24% are white. Of the district's 37 administrators, 5.4% are Hispanic, 16.2% are black and 78.38% are white.

In its Pupil Personnel Services division which includes its deans, at the Central Campus 72% staff members are white, 17% Black, 11% are Hispanic while over at West 78% of the group is white, 17% Black, and 5% Hispanic. Some in the audience recalled that the issue of under representation of minorities in its teaching and administrative ranks as a problem that stretches back as far as 50 years. It's an issue that has bred some distrust.

"The board is asking us to have confidence that it is going to open up a process and address this issue," said Pastor David Latimore who said that the problem is not new. "So why would we have confidence in the board addressing this issue if it has failed to do so up until this point?"

The lack of minority candidates coming up through college teacher prep programs may be part of the issue as school board member and vice president Tracy Spesia told the audience. Spesia who works as a Field Experience Coordinator for student teacher candidate for the University of St. Francis said that her school as well as many across the state are seeing record low enrollment in teacher education programs and a shortage of minority candidates. Spesia cited a 2015 study by the Illinois Education Research Council that shows that the teaching profession isn't attracting enough minority teacher candidates to fill the growing need in schools for diversity in the classroom.

Of the 4,371 students in the Northeast Region, which includes Will County, only 2.5% of students were African American, 4.5% were Hispanic and the majorities, 84%, were white. Spesia said that the University of St. Francis has offered a 4-year scholarship for the past four years to minority students in Joliet that so far hasn't been successful in making the profession more attractive to high school seniors.