BY JESSE AGUILAR
The lack of teacher diversity in the Kern High School District hurts all of our students. It is hurting students of color who often have teachers who do not understand their life experiences, and it is hurting our white students who leave high school unprepared for the diverse university and work environments of California. Put simply, we cannot succeed as a school district that promotes success for all students until we hire and retain more teachers of color.
How do I know? Because I have seen the dynamics of race play out in every classroom and in every principal’s office over the last 24 years as a teacher in the Kern High School District. The history of racism runs deep in our country, and although none of us caused it, we all have a responsibility to acknowledge it still exists, to address it, and to remedy its present-day manifestations.
We need a teacher body that is reflective of the diverse student population. We need to give students an opportunity to see themselves in the teachers that stand before them at the front of the class every day. We need to give our students the advantages a diverse teacher pool brings.
Social science research shows teachers of color are more likely to have high expectations of students of color and less likely to see behavioral problems in those students. They see themselves in their students. This in turn gives students of color a chance to feel seen and understood, which makes them more likely to study hard, listen to their teachers, and do well in their classes.
Having teachers of color is also important to the development of white students. Teachers of color break down pernicious racial stereotypes that still exist in our society and help white students learn how to work with people from different backgrounds — a critical skill for life in the 21st century.
The District itself acknowledges the importance of diversity. One of their LCAP goals has been to “recruit, hire, develop and retain […] an effective teaching staff demographically reflective of the diverse student body at KHSD.” The question is whether the District is taking the necessary steps to meet that goal.
If we judge by the numbers, the District is not making much progress. In 2017, 20.7 percent of the students in the district were white; 5.8 percent were African American; and 66.4 percent were Latino. That same year, 66.5 percent of the teachers were white, while only 2.7 percent were Black and 17.7 percent were Latino.
In 2018, the District had 271 open positions. The open positions were an opportunity to close the gap between the low number of teachers of color and the high number of students of color that make up the District currently. Instead, the new hires for 2018 were 67.7 percent white, 24.4 percent Latino, and 4.4 percent Black. The District absolutely must do better.
Further, the District should do more to retain the teachers of color it already has. Teachers of color benefit from smart policies that serve all teachers. All teachers ought to have more input into the decisions that affect their classrooms, and all teachers who are coming into existing school structures should be welcomed and given the latitude and space they need as professionals to teach in ways that meet the needs of all students. This prevents teacher burnout, allows teachers to make long-term commitments to schools, and grows a more experienced and more diverse teacher pool.
As a more diverse teaching environment develops, teachers can better learn from each other and better support the growth of all students.
The only way we become a better, more inclusive school district is if we urge District leaders to make the changes that are necessary and then support those changes through greater accountability.
As part of its Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), the District is holding three public comment sessions on May 16, May 23 and May 30 from 6-7 p.m. at 5801 Sundale Ave. I encourage students, parents and all concerned members of the community to attend those sessions and hold the District accountable to their promises.
Ask the District what steps they are taking toward meeting their stated goal of greater teacher and staff diversity. Ask them how they are recruiting Black and Hispanic teachers, as well as what they are doing to retain those teachers. Now is the time to demand more from your school district – our children deserve more and we cannot wait any longer.
Jesse Aguilar has been a teacher in the Kern High School District for the last 24 years and is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the California Teachers Association.