By Andrew Cluley
Ann Arbor Public Schools culture of respecting diversity continues to be illustrated through the district’s staff of over 18-hundred. The 2015-16 staffing report shared with the Board of Education highlights students can find diverse positive role models at school.
It’s important because studies show students and staff benefit from the many perspectives and the rich culture of a diverse educational environment. This diverse K-12 educational environment also helps prepare students for the increasingly diverse world.
Superintendent Jeanice Swift says a key purpose of the report was to answer one question, “Are the individuals on our AAPS staff mirroring the student composition?” To stay focused on this core issue of making sure the district’s staff reflects student demographics, the report started with student diversity and worked from there to staff members that students have the most interaction with like teachers.
The report highlights that some groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are closely aligned between students and staff. 17 percent of staff self identify as African-American and about 14 percent of students are African-American. About four percent of the student population is Hispanic and about two percent of the staff.
Even though percentages align for African Americans, School Board members say AAPS still must work to maintain a workforce that mirrors the student population. Trustee Patricia Manley says, “It’s nice to see in some areas percentage wise it’s above 13.9 percent, however on a day to day and in classroom and building basis, the comments always come back that there are not enough African American faces there for their children. So percentage wise yes, it’s close, but somehow that is not resonating well with parents.”
Board Member Andy Thomas thinks the more comprehensive race options for students to select compared to the federal government’s choices for employees may be a factor. “Looking at the percentages I think we are really hampered in our analysis because we have two categories of students that are not reflected in the employees,” says Thomas. “I am particularly concerned about the number of multi-ethnic students, nearly as many as African-American. I suspect that may have something to do with the difference in numbers and perceptions about not seeing as many teachers looking like them.”
Another challenge the district faces in coming years is the prospect of many long-time African American employees retiring. “The challenge is many of them retire at the same time, and we struggle, not only us but institutions period, the state police same thing, struggle to on our own implement the necessary practices that would sustain that level of diversity,” says School Board Member Simone Lightfoot. “I want action. Going to historically black colleges in a timely manner to attract African American teachers.”
Swift shares Lightfoot’s concern that the numbers could really shift in the next few years as some of the great long serving staff members start to retire. “I think you’re absolutely right that we have to get on action now so that five years from now we’ve done the work necessary so that we’re not going to see a downturn.”
Lightfoot hopes Ann Arbor’s African-American, Asian, and Hispanic communities can help with some very deliberate ways that AAPS can make the right connections to continue attracting diverse employees.
Swift thinks some programs the district already has in place for students can serve as a way for the district to grow their own diverse workforce. “If you think about our rising scholars and our trailblazers groups and how much those kids do get to be around younger kids and help them,” Swift says. “I think we really could cultivate some future teachers, inspire them and get them started on the right path.”
Other next steps identified in the report include continuing to monitor staffing levels to ensure all races and ethnic areas are well represented, having diverse employees sit on all hiring committees, and continuing conversations about the priority and value for ensuring a diverse AAPS team.