DeKALB – Billy Hueramo wants his students to see teachers who look like them in the classroom, but the DeKalb School District 428 faces challenges as it tries to diversify the faculty at its 12 schools.
Hueramo, principal of Littlejohn Elementary School, said that about 50 percent of students at Littlejohn are white, 17 percent are black ,25 percent are Latino and the rest are made up of Asian and multiracial kids. But staff don’t mirror the student population, he said.
“There is a big disparity,” he said. “I would like to see it change. … It would be great for a student to be able to have someone in their classroom that looks like them and that can relate to them and their background from a cultural perspective.”
District 428 hired 51 new teachers this year. Of those new teachers, 92.2 percent were white. 2.1 percent were black and 5.9 percent were Hispanic. The district also hired six administrators, all white.
Districtwide, 86.1 percent of teachers are white, compared with the 53.7 percent of white students.
Throughout the district, 16.5 percent of students are black, while 3.7 percent of teachers are black. Hispanic students make up 22.9 percent of the population whereas 4.4 percent of teachers are Hispanic. Asian students represent 1.9 percent of the district and 4.5 percent students are multiracial. Some 0.3 percent of district teachers are Asian and 0.6 percent are multiracial.
School board President Victoria Newport said she doesn’t think the demographics within the district are diverse enough and wants the board to make a bigger effort on the recruitment end of hiring.
“We are going to look at having job fairs, going out to universities in the area and talking about the DeKalb School District and encouraging minorities to apply,” she said.
Newport said that, in her view, it was important for the teacher population to mirror the student population.
“It’s important that a minority child can be taught by someone else that is a minority,” she said. “Learning from different minorities can give you a different perspective and other views on a subject, too.”
District 428 will also enact a committee, led by Newport and Human Resources Director Jim Bormann to recruit more minority teachers to the district.
“The first task is to pull data together to find trends in our applicant pool, where we are seeking applicants and look at what others are doing to see what is working elsewhere,” Bormann said. “It’s a very challenging situation.”
The hiring issue District 428 faces is twofold, Bormann said.
District 428 uses a lot of student teachers from Northern Illinois University and Aurora University. Of the 39 student teachers used in the fall of 2015, only three identified as a minority ethnicity, Bormann said.
“The educational programs near us simply aren’t putting out minority candidates,” he said. “And it’s an obstacle to get candidates to come to DeKalb [from Chicago colleges].”
This year, at NIU’s College of Education, 72 percent of graduate students identified as white, 12 percent identified as black, 4.8 percent identified as Asian, 3 percent identified as Hispanic and 6.7 percent identified as multiracial, according to department statistics.
The issue isn’t confined to DeKalb, according to statistics from the Illinois Department of Education.
In Illinois, 82.5 percent of teacher identify as white and 49.3 percent of students are white. Hispanic students make up a quarter of the state’s student population while 5.7 percent of state’s teachers are Hispanic. Some 17.5 percent of students identify as black while 6.4 percent of teachers are black. And 3.1 percent of students are multiracial, whereas less than 1 percent of teachers are multiracial. Statewide, 4.6 percent of students are Asian, and about 1.4 percent of teachers are Asian.
Hueramo said he tries to make sure the curriculum and events held at Littlejohn represent different cultural perspectives, regardless of the demographic makeup of the school.
“We try to do our best,” he said. “We celebrate Latino heritage month and Black History Month. We teach different lessons about people like [civil rights leader] Cesar Chavez and things like that.”
In addition to curriculum, Hueramo said that the school utilizes intervention systems designed to build rapport so that students have at least a few staff members or teachers they know they can come to with any problems.
“I think it’s a learning process,” he said. “This year in particular, I am focusing on how to build rapport with students from diverse backgrounds.”