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Like other school systems, Maryland’s Carroll County struggles to recruit a more diverse staff

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Charles Evans III always wanted to teach middle school, so he accepted when Carroll County Public Schools offered him a teaching position at East Middle School in Westminster in 2013.

Now, of the school’s 82 staff members, Evans is one of 10 people of color and the only Black man.

“Obviously, I wish things were a little more diverse,” Evans said, “but overall, I can’t complain too much.”

Despite years of emphasis on hiring more diverse staff, school districts across the country have reported difficulty recruiting — and retaining — teachers of color. Among Baltimore-area school districts, it’s a particular issue in Carroll County, where 95 percent of the school system’s teachers, support staff and administrators are White and district officials say teachers of color have said in exit interviews that they feel more comfortable in a school that is more diverse.

Of Carroll County’s more than 40 schools, three schools have all-White staffs and six have only one non-White teacher or staff member. About 5 percent of the school system’s staff is non-White, while 18 percent of the student body is non-White.

Carroll school officials say part of the problem the district faces is that Maryland does not produce enough teachers of color. Of Maryland’s 62,000 teachers, about 28 percent are non-White, according to a 2020 Maryland State Department of Education report. However, statewide, non-White students account for about 60 percent of the population.

Chantress Baptist, Carroll County schools’ director of human resources, said she and other administrators are trying several ways to attract more diverse teaching applicants. For example, as larger Maryland districts offer higher salaries, Carroll County is exploring offering financial incentives to bring in recruits.

Baptist said school officials also have reached out to historically Black colleges and universities — Evans is a 2012 graduate of University of Maryland Eastern Shore — and contacted other area colleges. They’ve also attended job fairs looking for diverse candidates.

She also meets with others around the state and the state education department once a month to discuss recruiting initiatives.

Baptist acknowledges it’s disappointing that the district hasn’t been able to hire more diverse teachers but said she will keep working until things improve.

“The way I look at it is, if I fail, I’m not succeeding for the kids,” she said. “We must succeed.”

Staff diversity matters because research shows that students do better academically when they have teachers who look like them. A 2017 study co-written by a Johns Hopkins economist found low-income Black students who have at least one Black teacher in elementary school are significantly more likely to graduate high school and consider attending college.

Evans, 31, said he feels welcome at his school, where nearly half the students are minorities. His co-workers seem open to change. His relationships with students and their parents are positive. However, he said, some Black teachers leave Carroll County because of the lack of diversity.

One of his good friends moved to Atlanta, he said, “because she just couldn’t teach in this [mostly White] environment anymore.”

At the time, there were Black Lives Matter protests — and counterprotests — and she considered staff conversations about race insufficient. In Atlanta, Evans said, she told him she would feel “a little more embraced” and “a little more recognized.”

Evans and others say Carroll, which is 92 percent White, needs to overcome a reputation of being a predominantly White county. One of the first things recruits ask about is the county’s racial diversity, Evans said.

“Until we try to change that stigma . . . it’s always going to be a difficult uphill battle,” Evans said.

Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, said one factor contributing to the lack of diverse teachers is that many people of color are first-generation college students and are often encouraged to pick a profession that pays more than teaching. She also said that while the number of Black students on college campuses mirrors the U.S. population, there is a huge drop-off in graduation rates for Black students.

While Walsh said she appreciates Carroll County schools’ efforts to add diversity, it may be unrealistic to close the gap.

“Every single district I know is looking in every corner . . . to find candidates of color,” she said. “Unfortunately, the pipeline is so leaky.”

Lora Rakowski, a spokeswoman for the Maryland State Department of Education, said the state continues trying to get more diverse teachers into the pipeline with programs such as the Teacher Academy of Maryland, which is designed for students who want to explore careers as teachers.

In the 2019-20 academic year, 44 percent of the program’s enrollees were Black, Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander or American Indian, and 85 percent were male, she said.

While the state monitors how school districts are doing when it comes to diversity in recruitment, it’s up to local systems to hire diverse staff, Rakowski said.

In Carroll County, the job of recruiting teachers of color has moved beyond the central office leadership. Judy Jones, equity and inclusion officer for the schools, said once an employee of color comes into the school system and experiences some success, they often help with recruiting. The county has mentorship programs and social programs to help staff of color feel comfortable, listened to and involved, she said.

Michael Brown, who is Black, left Baltimore City Public Schools to work in Carroll County. He’s now principal at Westminster’s Winters Mill High School. He said former Baltimore colleagues told him he was “nuts” for taking the job in Carroll.

Brown said he has hired two people of color since getting to the school, giving his school twice as many non-White staff members as some other schools.

It’s all about word of mouth, Brown said. He tells potential recruits how people of color are treated professionally in the county schools. He serves on the county’s Education That is Multicultural council, a group focused on policies to increase diversity.

“I wouldn’t be part of it if I didn’t think I could [make a difference],” he said. “And honestly, I’d like to be part of the reason why it’s successful.”

Not everyone is willing to persuade others to come teach in the county. Karl Stewart, who worked in Baltimore County Public Schools for 20 years, went to Carroll County five years ago. Stewart, the school system’s assistant supervisor of fine arts, said based on his experiences, he’s not sure he would recruit other teachers of color. He said top leaders need to do more.

What the school system says about addressing equitable issues doesn’t necessarily align with its actions, he said.

Even so, Stewart said he is willing to stick around for the sake of the kids of color.

“Just the look on their face when they see me,” he said. “They don’t have to articulate it.”

Diana Flores, who is Hispanic, was one of Evans’s former students at East Middle. She is now a senior at Winters Mill High. Flores, 17, said she doesn’t have any teachers of color now and had few during her time in the county’s schools.

Flores belongs to Cultural Differences Unite, a school club where she says students of color can talk about issues comfortably. She said she’s grateful for teachers of color who have that empathy when students bring a problem to them. One of those teachers is Christy Kennedy.

Kennedy teaches social studies at Winters Mill and is the club’s adviser. Flores said Kennedy, who is African American and White, gives students the opportunity to get things off their chest.

At East Middle, Evans offers that opportunity as an adviser for the school’s diversity club, which has grown from 10 members to 50. It’s a place where they can have honest conversations, he said.

“If not for those kids, I probably would have left,” he said.

Evans agrees students of color need as many mentors and trusted adults who look like them as possible.

But he knows other counties can offer more pay or a better quality of life for his family. He thinks about his friend who moved to Atlanta.

It can be tough going to work, Evans said, not knowing how broaching some difficult topics will come off.

“Overall it’s a sacrifice that I’m willing to make,” Evans said, “for the student body that’s going through the same thing.”

— Baltimore Sun

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