Flagler County schools hope to push the district to a place of equal racial representation by hiring more diverse employees and enrolling more minority students in honors courses.
The Flagler County School Board heard the district’s annual equity report at its workshop Tuesday evening. The report, which the district is required to send to the state each year, explores the racial and gender make-up of students, teachers and administrators.
Shawn Schmidli, coordinator for assessment, accountability and equity for the district, presented the report and outlined the areas in which schools hope to improve.
One of those areas is the diversity of administrators and teachers. The district hopes to forge a staff that is more racially representative of the students who attend school in Flagler County, said Superintendent Janet Valentine.
The equity report found that while 16% of students in the district are black, 2% of elementary school teachers and 4% of middle and high school teachers are. Principals are 15% black, while assistant principals and district administrators are 25% and 4%, respectively.
Hispanic students account for 11% of the student population in the district, 3% of elementary school teachers, 4% of middle and high school teachers, and 8% of district administrators.
“What we’d like to see is for those numbers to be close to equal to each other,” Schmidli said, referring to the percentage of minority students in comparison to employees.
Districtwide, the change in the number of black teachers is moving from 4% to 5% for this academic school year.
“Part of the problem is when you’re trying to affect those numbers with new hires,” Valentine said. “We have a lower new hire rate this year than we did last year, but out of the number of instructors we’ve hired this year, 14% are African American, which more closely mirrors the 16% of the student population.”
The district hired 42 new teachers this year, six of whom are black and none of whom are Hispanic.
Valentine said increasing the representation of minority staff members within the district is important especially in light of a recent complaint filed to the Office of Civil Rights against five counties in Florida — including Flagler — earlier this month. In it, the Southern Poverty Law Center says school districts within these counties are quicker to punish African American students than white ones.
The complaint also noted that there are few African American teachers in Flagler County schools.
“Specifically because we have had a complaint about this, one of the outcomes that I know we would like is that we more closely mirror our student population with teachers and staff,” Valentine said.
The report also shows an increase within all subgroups of students taking eighth-grade algebra and enrolling in honors classes over the last five years, though the district hopes to continue to improve those numbers.
During the ‘07-‘08 school year, 1% of black eighth-grade students enrolled in Algebra 1. By the ‘11-‘12 school year, 2% did.
This marks a 100% increase, compared to the 3% of white students who enrolled in Algebra 1 in eighth grade in the ‘07-‘08 school year and the 12% who did in the ‘11-‘12 school year — a 30% increase.
Hispanic students enrolling in Algebra 1 in eighth grade marked a 133% increase over five years: In the ‘07-‘08 school year, 3% took the course, and in the ‘11-‘12 school year, 7% did.
Similar increases were seen in students enrolling in honors courses.
Board member Colleen Conklin said the focus on numbers of students enrolled in honors courses can create inconsistency among schools in the district.
“We have some middle schools who are putting much more weight on the teacher recommendation (for honors placement) than other schools are,” she said. “You’ve got students who are scoring lower FCAT scores but are getting strong teacher recommendations. They’re getting into honors courses in one school but not in the other ones.”
Schmidli said that although increasing the academic achievement of students in the district is a high priority, it should not supersede the commitment schools have to give children access to the courses most appropriate for them.
“We still need to make the right decision for the individual child,” he said. “Just because the child is in a part of a pool that will affect our numbers, overall we need to do what’s best for the child even if it’s going to affect performance numbers.”