Tata defends Wake's minority teacher recruitment efforts

Staff writerJuly 1, 2011 

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Wake School Superintendent Tony Tata introduces the two student assignment plans recommended by his task force today. The details of both plans will be available on the school's website at 4 p.m.

TAKAAKI IWABU - TIWABU@NEWSOBSERVER.COM — TAKAAKI IWABU - tiwabu@newsobserver.com

— Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata defended today his efforts to recruit more minority teachers, saying it’s helping to ensure that the district has a better chance of getting more high-quality educators.

Tata said he’s not out to make a “big social statement,” but he wants to make sure that Wake isn’t overlooking high-quality minority teachers. He questioned how Wake continues to have a teaching force that’s more than 80 percent white over the past few decades even as the percentage of minority students has risen sharply.

“If the minority population has gone up and our hiring rates have remained relatively the same, we’re either not geared to tap into the talent pools for those populations or we’re consciously not doing that,” Tata said today at a press conference. “Neither one is a good thing.

Tata said one of the questions he had after first becoming superintendent on Jan. 31 was why the percentage of white and female teachers has remained relatively unchanged over time. This year, the teaching force is 85 percent white but minority students now account for 50.5 percent of the enrollment.

Under Tata’s direction, recruiters visited states with historically black colleges and universities or which had high Hispanic populations. Of the 45 teachers who accepted early employment contracts, Tata said 27 were African American and Hispanic and 13 were men.

Tata added that recruiters were told by representatives from the historically black colleges and universities that Wake isn’t perceived as having a friendly environment. He said that’s a perception he wants to change.

As part of Tata’s recruitment efforts, he challenged the Rev. William Barber, president of the state NAACP, to show how the civil rights group is helping recruit more minority teachers and principals. Barber agreed to discuss the recruitment efforts as part of a private meeting both men will have on Thursday.

Barber had requested the meeting to discuss with Tata concerns about the new student assignment plan being developed. Tata agreed to the meeting but expanded the topics.

Tata’s efforts have drawn some criticism locally, particularly on talk radio, from people who’ve accused him of potentially watering down the quality of the teaching force.

“We have been looking for high-quality teachers first and foremost and we’ve been looking for them in a broader range of places,” Tata said. “We have high standards for teacher recruitment and we will not waiver from those standards and anyone who thinks I will lower standards doesn’t quite frankly know me very well.”

Tata also attempted to answer allegations that Wake is out to replace white teachers with minority educators. Of the 729 teachers who were rehired after their contracts expired Thursday, Tata said 582 are white, 120 are African American and 16 are Hispanic.

In other issues today:

* Tata discussed some of the results of an online simulation of a new controlled-choice student assignment plan that might be used beginning in the 2012-13 school year.

Under the plan, families would pick from a list of schools which one they’d like to attend instead of being assigned to s specific school based on their address. This new plan would replace the old policy of trying to balance schools by socioeconomic diversity.

In addition to ranking which schools they’d like among a list of sample choices, families were asked several questions. Tata said the 13,805 families indicated that 91 percent said having multiple choices is important, 77 percent said it’s important to keep students together across grade levels, 79 percent said it’s important that they have a guaranteed K-12 feeder pattern, 88 percent said it’s important to go to a school close to home and 72 percent said they wouldn’t change their choices if they didn’t get door-to-door bus service.

Tata also said 80 percent of families indicated that they have some interest in an “achievement choice” school. Every family will be able to apply to at least one achievement choice, which is a school considered to be among the highest ranked in the district.

* Tata indicated it’s too early to say whether Wake will take advantage of a new state law allowing school districts to seek high school accreditation from the state Board of Education.

The bill was passed in response to problems that Wake and Burke counties are having with AdvancED, a group that accredits the high schools in both districts. AdvancED has warned it would remove accreditation unless changes are made.

The new state law would prohibit state-run universities and community colleges from considering accreditation in admissions, scholarship and loan decisions unless accreditation was from a state agency.

Tata said they first need to see how the accreditation process would be set up in the state. * Tata said Wake filed a request Thursday with the state Board of Education for permission to not add five more days for students for the 2011-12 school year.

New guidelines approved by the state Board of Education last week say school districts can seek waivers from adding the additional days if they show how they’d use the time on teacher training. Tata said Wake will use the time to train teachers on the new curriculum standards that are being used in school districts nationally.

Tata said the waiver means Wake will not go ahead with a plan to add 10 minutes to the school day for this fall. The board had agreed to add the time in case it was necessary to get a state waiver.

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