The absence of black teachers at Dist. 91's elementary schools is an issue that has struck a chord with many area parents, and rightfully so. Only 29 percent of the district's students are white, while only seven percent of its teachers are not.
District officials state that it is the district's policy to hire the best teachers it can, and race plays no part in the process. We certainly believe this to be true, and would certainly not make the suggestion that candidates are turned down because of their race.
Still, for the district not to acknowledge that this is a problem is naïve and out of touch with the families that send their children to public school in Forest Park.
Superintendent Randy Tinder says that it is not an issue "unless you're looking for something to pick at." But if parents in the district are concerned about the matter, as they clearly are, then it is an issue. The parents who trust schools with their children are the ones who should largely determine what the issues are, and the school's administration should be more receptive to their concerns.
Parents are surely appreciative of the district's efforts to find the most qualified teachers it can, but it seems many believe that reflecting the culture of the students is in itself a qualification. Minority parents should be able to have role models in school that their children can relate to, and minority students should not be put in a position where they are subconsciously trained to equate authority figures with other races.
Though nobody would suggest sacrificing quality, the district should seek to ensure that all races are represented in its teaching staff by reaching out to minority teachers during recruitment. If the majority of hiring is done internally and current teachers connect their friends with job openings, the problem is unlikely to change.
Proactive measures must be taken so that a more diverse range of candidates will be made aware of job openings and highly qualified minority candidates will be encouraged to apply. Other districts in the area are able to attract a diverse teaching staff, and there is no reason why District 91 should be the exception.
Though tempers may flare over this issue, we would also encourage parents to express their concerns in a calm and, if possible, non-accusatory manner. There is an ideological divide between the district's administration and some parents regarding just how much needs to be done to ensure a diverse teaching staff, and it is crucial that parents explain their views to the schools. Still, parents should keep in mind that all involved are working toward the same goal of educating children to the best of their abilities.
If this is done, perhaps the school will back off of its defensive position on the issue and acknowledge the legitimate concerns of those it serves.