Loudoun public school leaders have been fairly blunt in their concerns about one statistic over the past year: In a county that is becoming more and more diverse, most of its teachers are white.
Just 12 percent of the school system’s teachers and administrators are racial minorities, a far cry from the 48 percent of minorities who make up the student body. And it’s not that they aren’t applying. From October 2014 through September 2015, 19.5 percent of the applicants for licensed positions were a race other than white. Of the employees hired during that time, 8.32 percent were minorities.
School administrators are spending part of their summer working to close that gap between the student population and employees’ racial makeup. They set aside $54,165 to bring in consultants to shine a light on unconscious bias and improve hiring practices. In 21 sessions now through September, 500 administrators—including principals, deans and department heads—are learning how to recognize and address their own biases.
“We’ve been very transparent about this,” said Asia Jones, the director of the school system’s human resources who is spearheading the training. “We have a very diverse student body, and our goal is to continue to diversify and have that reflected in our licensed employees, our teachers and our administrators, who are role models for our students.”
The training is part of a new push to diversify the school system’s workforce. That became a stated priority of the School Board after a report released earlier this year by the Department of Human Resources and Talent Development spotlighted the racial divide between the county’s 78,000 students and its 10,000 employees. The report was done in response to an inquiry from the Loudoun County chapter of NAACP, which raised concerns about the lack of diversity among school division employees.
The training, delivered by Montage Diversity Consultants of Florida, teaches about unintentional biases. Tiffany Taylor Smith, Montage’s diversity and inclusion executive, has told the administrators in the workshops that they may have a bias that formed from an experience that occurred when they were a toddler and its engrained in their minds years later.
“If that situation was about a particular person that belongs to a particular group, those emotions would come and you wouldn’t necessarily understand why, and that could directly influence your engagement with that person unconsciously,” she said. “Our training is meant to equip people to recognize, ‘whoa, where is this coming from,’ and be able to catch it.”
The workshop teaches people how to identify “an old tape is playing” and how to erase it and “build a new one,” she added. It is meant to bring to light biases related to disabilities, gender, age, culture, as well as race.
Stephen Reeves, president of Montage Companies, said he’s seen an increased demand for this type of training in schools and in the corporate world.
“Schools are saying, we need to prepare students for the global world. They’re going to be working with people from all over the world, from all different cultures and if we’re not preparing students for that, then we’re doing them a disservice,” he said.
But businesses tend to change their hiring practices faster than school divisions, he added. “Corporations are always looking for the return on investment, and they’re recognizing that if their organization is more diverse and more integrated, they’re going to be more successful in meeting the needs of their customer base.”
The Loudoun school system is also looking to solve the challenge of drawing more minorities to the field of teaching.
To do that, the School Board added a line item to its budget this year for two recruiters—the first the school division has had dedicated recruiters—who will focus on attracting more racial minorities and educators to hard-to-fill positions, such as special education and English Language Learner teachers.
“So in addition to looking at our own practices, we’re bringing in those two recruiters to try to widen our net on sourcing and getting candidates in,” Jones said, noting that the recruiters are making a point to connect with students at colleges and universities with high minority populations. “We’re able to be strategic in reaching out.”
Speaking to concerns some in the public have raised that the push for diversifying the workforce will mean hiring racial minorities over white applicants of the same ability, Jones said she and her staff would continue to hire the best applicant, period.
“We’re not looking at quotas—this is not affirmative action. It is about inclusion,” she said. “For someone to think we’re watering down the candidate pool because we’re making it more diverse is an implicit bias within itself.”
Phillip E. Thompson, president of the Loudoun County NAACP, said the training does not go far enough to solve the school system’s diversity shortfall. He doesn’t expect a one-day workshop to “erase thirty years of perceived bias.”
“We are dealing with a culture that will not or does not want to change,” he added. “It would be nice for LCPS to invite the NAACP and other representatives of the minority community to sit in on the ‘Diversity Training’ to see exactly what is being taught and to maybe add some additional input or perspective.”
Taylor Smith acknowledged that it will take time for school divisions, especially as large as Loudoun’s, to make big improvements in its hiring practices.
“When you’re talking about large entities like educational institutions, you’re not going to see change happen over night,” Taylor Smith added. “But this district has made an investment, which speaks to the improvements they want to make.”
See related articles: