By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
Of the 151 certified staff employed with Arkadelphia Public Schools, 127 of them are white, 22 of them are black and two of them are Hispanic. That’s going to change if all goes according to plan.
In an attempt to balance diversity among its teachers to reflect the district’s pool of students, the Arkadelphia Board of Education on Tuesday approved a three-year action plan to increase the number of minority teachers and administrators. It was noted at the meeting that the plan isn’t necessarily new, but that the state Department of Education provided the district with a template to outline its action plan.
According to data from the 2021-22 school year, the student body was 51% white, 35% black, 7% Hispanic, 5% mixed race, 1% Asian and less than 1/2% Pacific Islander. The district employed a teacher pool consisting of 83% white, 15% black and 2% Hispanic. There was even less diversity among administrators prior to the 2022-23 school year, with 90% of them white and 10% of them black, according to the data. However, with the addition of one minority administrator this year, those statistics now reflect an 80/20 mix.
Using a three-pronged action plan the school district hopes to recruit minority educators, retain a diverse workforce and push more students — especially minorities — to pursue careers in education.
With the aid of a minority recruitment and retention team, the district aims to encourage minority candidates to apply, recruit minorities from within the universities studying to become teachers, assist paraprofessionals in attaining teacher licensure, and use targeted advertising.
“This is not necessarily a new goal,” Superintendent Nikki Thomas explained to school board members at a meeting Tuesday.
In retaining a diverse workforce the district plans to “continue to support our staff academically and emotionally in order to motivate and develop relationships among staff so they will stay and grow in our school district,” according to the plan. To meet the retention goal the district plans to provide mentoring for new teachers, continue working on increasing teacher salaries and provide professional development.
The third prong of the plan is increasing the number of students who pursue careers in education, with an emphasis on students of minority races and ethnicities. Calling it a “grow your own” program, Thomas said some Arkadelphia High School students will be guided on an “education pathway” and encouraged to join clubs and programs focused on becoming future teachers. The district also wishes to partner with local universities to offer students education courses that can transfer to a university.
In school board discussion, Jeff Root said he liked the “grow your own” idea considering the focus the Arkadelphia community has on education, and could foresee the two universities embracing the concept.
President Blake Bell said the plan is “something we should review more than what’s obligated, something we should renew continually. I think the recruiting effort on our part as a district is mandatory or this is never going to work.”
Kenneth Harris and Gina White also spoke up, with Harris noting fostering diversity had been the district’s plan for years and White noting that several minorities were hired prior to the start of this school year.
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