As CPS prepares to close a record number of schools, the fate of students and communities is in question.
Faculty integration an elusive goal
CPS targets schools to do more to achieve a racial mix of teachers.
When Warren Elementary, a predominantly African American school in Calumet Heights, needed to fill three vacant teaching positions this year, Principal Christine Ogilvie specifically sought out and hired white candidates.
On the other side of town in West Ridge, Principal June Shackter of mostly white Decatur Elementary plans to hire two teachers in February—both of them minorities.
These two examples illustrate a long-standing problem in Chicago schools: achieving racially mixed school faculties.
CPS has made strides meeting that goal. Last fall, 56 percent of schools met the integration requirements, 8 percent more than the previous year. "This is our best single year increase," says Nancy Slavin, CPS' teacher recruitment manager.
The district created an initiative last year targeting 93 schools that were almost in compliance with the consent decree's requirements. According to a CPS report from May 2004, those schools were required to take a number of steps to improve integration, including publicizing all vacancies; developing recruitment strategies to attract diverse candidates; and keeping records on all candidates interviewed, including their qualifications, race or ethnicity and reasons why they were hired or turned down.
But with 44 percent of schools still out of compliance, CPS has stepped up its efforts. This year, 149 schools are included in the Target Schools Initiative.
Small hiring pool, long commute
Placing African American teachers in white schools is especially difficult. For one, Slavin says, "the pool of African American teachers, period, is shrinking."
When schools do find candidates, they are often reluctant to make the commute to schools that can be miles across town from where they live, principals say.
"No one wants to be traipsing all over to another area to teach if there is another [school] closer to home." says Shackter at Decatur, whose two pending hires, both of them black, live on the Near North Side.
Stock Elementary Principal Richard Smith agrees
"The candidates I've been interested in live really far south, and it just wasn't worth their effort to come all the way out here," says Smith, whose school is only two blocks from the northwest suburbs of Niles and Park Ridge. "I can't blame them. I live in the city and I've been here for 15 years and each year, the commute gets worse."
Sarah Vanderwicken, a staff attorney for the Chicago Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, says the board can only do so much to control hiring at the school level, and is battling Chicago's entrenched housing segregation, which typically keeps African American and white teachers living and working on opposite sides of the city.
The district is concentrating on doing more to place white teachers in minority schools, which are more likely to be out of compliance with the consent decree, according to CPS officials.
"Central office sends us resumes, which we go through all the time," says Ogilvie at Warren. "But I always know what I need by going through the computer to check on our compliance status, and if a Caucasian teacher retires, I try to replace that teacher with another [white] one."
But getting white teachers to minority schools is a hard sell, some administrators say, because white teachers, especially those from the suburbs or rural areas, often have preconceived ideas that African American schools and neighborhoods are unsafe.
Beyond safety, white teachers "are concerned about whether they will be welcome," says Slavin.
"In some cases, we not only have to sell the teacher, but fiancés and parents who are concerned about their daughter working in an urban area."
CPS has won over some white teachers by taking them on bus tours of African American schools and surrounding neighborhoods to allay fears.
"Manley High School [a predominantly black school on the West Side] is always a pleasant surprise to many [white]teachers," says Slavin. "They always love that school and if they don't end up teaching there, it makes them open to look at other schools in the area."
More incentives needed?
Last year, 19 percent of schools asked for waivers to hire new teachers who did not improve integration.
Joseph Edmonds, the principal of Columbus Elementary in West Town, has no African American teachers and only one Latino, and says hiring minorities has had to take a back seat to the pressing need for bilingual teachers who speak Polish and Ukrainian.
"We hire the people [who speak] the languages of our students," Edmonds says.
Vanderwicken suggests several ways to foster more teacher diversity, including offering monetary and housing incentives; easing the residency requirement, which could help move whites in neighboring suburbs to minority schools; working with colleges of education to recruit more minority teachers; and adding diversity in hiring to the principal evaluations conducted by area instructional officers.
To contact Debra Williams, call (312) 673-3873 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.