Judy Henderson began teaching almost 35 years ago, but she remains a rarity in Twin Cities suburban classrooms.
Henderson is African-American.
Countless trends in education and students’ lives have come and gone during Henderson’s career; what is constant is that suburban districts continue to struggle to find minority teachers, while the number of students of color steadily increases.
“It would only be fair for students to have teachers in the classroom that look like them. Students need role models and people to model for them,” said Henderson, who teaches U.S. history at Burnsville High School. “They need to see that face.”
Suburban school districts contend hiring teachers of color is a priority, but they also say it is a challenge. The numbers prove it.
In the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan School District, about 3 percent of full-time teachers are teachers of color. Hastings has no fully licensed teachers of color, according to Minnesota Department of Education data for the 2005-06 school year. The same data shows that in St. Paul and Minneapolis public schools, teachers of color are about 15 percent of the teaching staff.
It’s difficult to get them because some minority teachers prefer inner city schools where the pay and incentives can be better, school administrators said. Some teachers also cite their desire to “give back” and make a difference where there are more students of color. Teachers also said being around a diverse student body and staff is another incentive.
The rapidly growing Latino population has South St. Paul High School Principal Butch Moening attempting to hire a more diverse staff. Moening said he’s already lost three prospective minority teachers to St. Paul and Minneapolis schools.
Moening and other principals said they always hire the most qualified candidate, regardless of ethnicity. But Moening also said, “If we have a teacher of color (applying), we’re going to hope and pray that the person has the qualities to be the best candidate.”
This school year, the Lakeville School District instituted training for principals and other top school administrators about “diversity and cultural competence” in their staff and policies, said Tom Coughlin, the district’s director of administrative services.
The Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District set aside $36,500 of its state integration dollars specifically to recruit teachers of color. The money helps provide tuition reimbursement, professional development for teachers of color and pay for the district’s recruitment efforts, said Scott Thomas, the district integration and equity coordinator. That district has about 20 percent minority student population.
Henderson grew up in St. Paul and taught at Central High School and Highland Elementary in St. Paul before she settled in the suburbs. Henderson said she “got practical” and pursued teaching closer to home.
At Burnsville High School, at least 27 cultural groups are represented, Henderson said. Even more languages are spoken in the hallways and cafeteria.
The district had taken advantage of a state grant—which no longer exists—to hire more teachers of color, Grissom said. Now the district is looking into classes, scholarship dollars and support programs for students interested in teaching, Grissom added. Students of color make up about a third of the district’s population.
At Pilot Knob Elementary, where Abdelkhalig teaches, $2,000 in grants is used to help student teachers, who are unpaid.