From Virginia to Florida and southwest as far as New Mexico, recruiters for the Wake County school system have been on the hunt.
Following the orders of Superintendent Tony Tata, they're looking for the best male and minority teachers they can bring back to Wake. Their mission: To get the right mix.
"I'm not satisfied with the fact that we have an 85 percent Caucasian teaching force and 50.5 percent minority student population," Tata said.
So far, the county is making headway. In the past two months, the county has hired at least 27 minority teachers.
The call to increase the number of minority teachers mirrors efforts statewide and nationally to make the teaching ranks more representative of an increasingly diverse student enrollment.
But like other school districts, Wake is finding that it's not easy getting more black, Hispanic and other minorities into the teaching ranks.
Teaching used to be one of the few respected professions that blacks could choose, according to Diane Scott, associate dean of the School of Education at N.C. Central University.
But now young black students are increasingly choosing other professions, she said.
Educators say that minority students can benefit from being around teachers who are of the same race or ethnicity. For instance, some educators have linked higher dropout rates among black students to a lack of black male teachers.
Some studies have also shown that minority students do better academically when they have minority teachers.
A 2004 study by the Harvard University Kennedy School of Government found that white and black students in Tennessee schools did better on state tests when they had teachers of their own race.
A 2002 report from the Education Resources Information Center found that Hispanic students also saw increased academic benefits from having Hispanic teachers.
Hiring for a new school
Corey Moore hopes to have at least one male minority teacher in each grade level at Walnut Creek Elementary School. When the Southeast Raleigh school opens in August, the student body is expected to be mostly black and Hispanic.
"It's very important that in a school like Walnut Creek, the students see for themselves teachers who are representative of them," said Moore, the principal of the school, who is African-American.
One of Moore's hires isJarrett Martin, 26, who recently graduated with his teaching degree from East Carolina University after having been a teacher assistant for two years in Chapel Hill. Martin, who will teach fifth grade, said he recognizes the importance of being a role model to his students.
"It's not often young African-American children see a teacher who looks like them," Martin said. "I want to make a difference, and I hope I can inspire them."
A national mismatch
When Tata started Jan. 31 as superintendent of the state's largest school district, he asked for the demographics on Wake's 9,300 teachers.
He found that 85 percent of them were white, 12 percent were black and 3 percent were Hispanic and other groups. In addition, 81 percent of the teachers were women.
Those numbers didn't match the student population. Of Wake's 143,289 students, 49.5 percent are white, 24.8 percent are black and 14.6 percent are Hispanic. The rest of the students include Asians, American Indians and people who say they are a mixture of races.
This is the first year that Wake's white students are no longer in the majority.
The mismatch also can be seen nationally, where more than 83 percent of the teachers are white, 7 percent are black, and 7 percent are Asian.
In April, U.S. Rep. SusanDavis, a Democrat from San Diego, introduced a bill to provide competitive grants to school districts to design and implement programs to recruit minority teachers.
Locally, Tata had Wake's human resources department find the money to conduct out-of-state teacher recruitment trips.
Wake had stopped doing out-of-state recruiting trips in recent years because of budget cuts. But under Tata's direction, recruiters visited states with historically black colleges and universities or large Hispanic populations.
Stephen Gainey, Wake's assistant superintendent for human resources, said recruiters also contacted local universities and colleges, including the historically black colleges and universities in the Triangle.
Before the teacher hiring freeze was lifted this month, Gainey said he got permission from Tata to offer a limited number of employment contracts. Of the 45 early contracts that were accepted, 27 of them are minority teaching applicants. He stressed that the county is not hiring people just because they are from a minority group.
"Our focus has been on finding talented teachers who could help improve the Wake County school system," Gainey said.
Grooming the young
There is so much demand for the relatively few minority teaching candidates that school districts have to hire them early in the year instead of waiting until summer, according to Hazel Gibbs, the executive director of human resources for the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system.
"It's something we've been trying to address for years," Gibbs said.
Going to job fairs can bring some more people, but Scott of NCCU said a long-term approach is for school systems to groom more of their minority students to want to pick the profession.
Gainey said the continued budget woes, which are expected to last several more years, could limit how many minority teachers can be hired.
Tata said he realizes that change won't take place overnight. But he said Wake is off to a good start.
"This is the beginning of a long-time effort to turn an aircraft carrier of HR policy that has been pretty staid with about an 85 percent Caucasian teaching force," Tata said. "I'm pretty satisfied with the initial efforts that we've made."
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