A resolution reflecting on Auburn City Schools' history of desegregation and efforts to increase the diversity of its staff was recently reviewed and unanimously approved by the Board of Education — an action the board takes annually to reaffirm its commitment to improve minority representation within the school system.
At the same time, the board was given its biannual report outlining the diversity demographics of its staff, both certified and support.
The report shows 85 percent — or 532 people — of certified staff members are white and 15 percent — or 91 people — are black. Only four certified staff members identify as "other," which can be broken down to include Asian-Americans and Hispanics, among other ethnicities, according to Superintendent Dr. Karen DeLano. These percentages are the same as they were a year ago, in the September 2016 diversity report.
As far as support staff, 62 percent are white, 37 percent are black and 1 percent fall into the "other" category. These numbers changed slightly from a year ago, when 59 percent of the support staff were white and 40 percent black.
DeLano said she is pleased with the report in comparison to previous years, but that the school system has a goal to better balance the racial representation of its staff.
"The goal is to try to have a staff that is ethnically similar to the student body make-up," she said. "It's real important that kids see all ethnic groups, in my opinion, that are successful in their jobs, not just education ... If you've got a school system with the kind of make-up we have and your staff is not diverse, you're missing an opportunity."
As of 2016, 58 percent of the student body identifies as white, 26 percent as black, 10 percent as Asian, 4 percent as Hispanic and nearly 1 percent identified as both American Indian/Alaskan and Pacific Islander.
The strategies ACS implements to maintain as well as improve minority representation in the district date back to when the school system achieved unitary status in 2001. Achieving unitary status means the school district showed the U.S. District Court it had eliminated all traces of intentional segregation and had strategies in place to prevent backpedaling.
The Rev. Clifford Jones, who served 10 consecutive years on the school board and 15 years total, was board president in 2001. He remembers the day unitary status was achieved.
"It was a big deal for us," he said. "One thing I recall (the judge) saying, is as easy as it was for us to achieve it, it can be just as easy for us to be taken off unitary status. The point he was making is that if we indicated that we were going to do these things, we must carry them out."
The things Jones refers to are the strategies that were put in place to hold administration accountable for its duty to improve minority representation and provide a proper education to all students, without prejudice.
The review of a biannual diversity report, changes in teacher recruitment efforts and increased consideration of qualified minority teachers were all efforts that were implemented at that time and that continue to be used.
Human Resources Director Jason Lowe said he has become even more aggressive in recent years while recruiting new faculty members because not only is he competing with other quality school districts in the area, but the number of applicants has decreased, especially for math and science positions and especially in regard to minority applicants.
"National trends show there aren't as many people going into education at all right now, but in particular, African-Americans aren't going into education like they did even 10, 20 years ago," Lowe said. "I think of the overall applicants of the districts that were polled; there's only 7 percent of applicants that are African-American, so when you're trying to maintain 10 percent and only have 7 percent of an applicant pool to do that with, it can be challenging."
DeLano said that at the end of the day, it's most important to her to not lose sight of hiring the teachers who are best qualified for open positions.
"Basically, our goal is to find the best we can possibly find," she said. "That's truly always the goal, but we feel very morally obligated to the ethnic representation. I think 15 percent, based on applications and the past, we have to really work to keep it at 15 percent, and there are a lot of factors to that."
Despite this challenge, Lowe hopes to improve the numbers.
"I'm trying to grow. I always feel like (the report) should look better than what it does when we actually do the numbers," he said.
Jones, upon hearing the results of the recent report, said the school system's diversity has improved since he was involved, but it's important to keep pressing for improvement.
"As the school district grows, it's going to require more demands for recruitment and finding those educators who are willing to come and have the respect to be received as sometimes even an outsider," he said. "I think the school district has progressed in a lot of ways and we just, we can't slip back to where we were probably 25-30 years ago, but if we don't pay attention to those things that are required of us to do, we can easily begin to slip back."