Wanted: Minority Teachers for Suburban Schools Districts Say Candidates Are Few; Potential Teachers Don't See Welcome Mat

Article excerpt

Byline: Deborah Johnson Daily Herald Staff Writer

Tara Glenn is 22, black and a native of Chicago. A recent graduate of the University of Illinois, she's looking for her first teaching job.

Although she lives in the city, the future art teacher would prefer to work in the suburbs because she believes the schools are better equipped.

Transportation, however, will be a problem.

"Because I don't have a car yet, the optimal situation is a suburb not too far from the city," she said.

"I would consider Naperville just because I student-taught there, but that would be the only suburb that far from the city," she said.

Glenn believes her willingness to work in a predominantly-white suburb is unusual. Most black teachers, she said, probably would never apply in Naperville.

She's not sure why. Her own experience at Jefferson Junior High School was positive: One of the teachers even picked her up and dropped her off at the train station every day.

"Maybe they're thinking that the district is not very welcoming for whatever reason," she said.

"There are very few minorities there, and maybe they just figure that (people) won't be warm."

One of only 10

If Glenn took a job in Naperville Unit District 203 today, she would be just one of 10 blacks out of 1,100 teachers.

The district's student population, meanwhile, is 88.2 percent white, 2.4 percent black, 1.2 percent Hispanic and 8.1 percent Asian.

The small number of minorities - particularly blacks - teaching in the district recently grabbed the attention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which is pressuring the school system to diversify.

School officials say they want to do just that, but can't find minority candidates for jobs.

They're not alone.

Reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Education indicate many DuPage County school systems are in the same boat, with teaching staffs that are almost exclusively white.

Marvin Byrd, president of the DuPage County chapter of the NAACP, said his group is focusing on District 203 because of a complaint from a Naperville parent.

But the group's interest doesn't stop there.

"We are interested in all of them," he said of DuPage County's school districts. "It's my immediate plan to deal with the entire county, and I'm looking at a strategy now to deal with all of them."

Seeking diversity

Many officials in DuPage schools appear puzzled about how to go about finding more minority candidates.

Michael Kiser, assistant superintendent for personnel in Naperville Unit District 203, said he has tried contacting black colleges in hopes of recruiting some of their graduates, only to find that minorities have little interest in moving to Naperville.

The district now is working with AT&T, a company that aggressively recruits minorities, in hopes of finding potential job candidates through the families of the firm's employees.

District 203 school board member Osie Davenport is black and an engineer at AT&T. She doesn't buy the theory that blacks are unwilling to move to Naperville, although she concedes many recent college graduates may not be able to afford to live in the community.

"Over 30 percent of AT&T's employees are minorities and somehow they have come to DuPage County. And 20 years ago, (AT&T) would have told you they couldn't get them to come," she said.

Davenport, a former teacher at Jackson State University in Mississippi, remembers when AT&T came to recruit at the school in the 1970s. She said the recruiters would say they couldn't find "qualified" candidates, yet there were 2,000 computer science majors at the school.

"When people look at minority candidates, they automatically assume they are not qualified," she said. …