• Evi Arthur

Hiring changes at FHSD led to record number of diverse new teaching recruits

Still, administrators say, there's work to be done

“This round of hiring this year, we saw some great success, and we’re excited about that, but it’s still not enough. We know it’s not enough, and we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Photo by NeonBrand on Unsplash.

Following worldwide protests and calls for racial equity, many are looking to institutions to see what they’ll do next to support people of color. And since Francis Howell School District’s Black Lives Matter protest last week, many in the community are curious to see what next steps the district will take to uplift the voices of its students and families of color. The protest was a marked difference from the town hall seven years ago when the Francis Howell School District announced that it would be taking in students from the Normandy School District after it lost its accreditation, and parents came to voice their concerns about the move. 

According to the Pew Research Center, in the 2015–2016 school year, 51 percent of all public school students identified as nonwhite; however, only 20 percent of public school teachers identified as nonwhite. At Francis Howell, the numbers are even lower. Lisa Simpkins, chief human resources officer, says that 2 percent of the current teaching staff comes from a diverse background, while 20.4 percent of students identify as nonwhite

However, this is something that Simpkins, as well as her coworker, Human Resources Director Mark Delaney, have been committed to changing since she started the job in the 2016–2017 school year. “Diversity in our recruiting and hiring process became a strong goal of ours,” Simpkins says. 

Since then, several changes have been made in the way the district hires in order to welcome more nonwhite educators, including an action team that is dedicated to improving diversity efforts in recruiting and hiring.

One big change made by the human resources department was a new online interview system—InterviewStream—that allows recruiters to meet with applicants on a more personal level. “A lot of times it’s difficult, from just paper, to see which candidates come from a diverse background,” Simkins says. “We wanted to be proactive in giving candidates of color an opportunity to meet with us face to face to be a part of that process.”

Another big effort to improve diversity among teaching staff is the district’s outreach to historically black colleges and universities, institutions established before 1964 with the sole purpose of serving African American students. FHSD administrators frequently attend hiring events at nearby HBCUs such as Harris-Stowe State University and Lincoln University. Simpkins says they’ve developed relationships with 20 to 25 local HBCUs.

Still, Simpkins says that she and her team don’t see many applicants of color in general. “What we have found is that there are very few people of color who choose education as a profession,” Simpkins says. “The candidate pool is very small. So we were hopeful that if we built some relationships with those HBCUs that we would be able to have access to the candidates who did go into education.”

The team has also made efforts to invite students at HBCUs to hiring events the district hosts, like Meet FHSD, which Simpkins describes as a “reverse job fair.” Simpkins says they focused a lot of the event’s advertising on attracting candidates of color by putting ads in diverse magazines and sending invitations to faculty at HBCUs and organizations like the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and the Multi-Greek council at UMSL.

In February, the department sponsored The State of Black Educators Symposium as well as Celebrating Black Educators 2020 and had tables set up for information on working for the district. “It was a visible way to show that we were supportive of people of color in education and to be there to answer questions and talk with folks who might have been interested in applying in our district,” Simpkins says.

The department has also been making an effort to listen to black and brown employees who have ideas on implementing better hiring practices. Simpkins mentioned that one teacher of color suggested the team make an effort to bring along educators of color on staff. The teacher pointed out that it was sometimes uncomfortable for a person of color to approach a white person and ask questions and they should recruit other, more diverse staff to attend events with them. “We were hoping that it would make the district seem a little more approachable,” Simpkins says. Moreover, Simpkins said she and Delaney have been talking with teachers and administrators of color to learn how to improve “as an organization to be inclusive” so that new diverse hires will want to stick around. 

All of the outside outreach came from a desire to undo the “infamous Normandy town hall meeting” from 2013. “We were worried that people of color who did choose to go into education would see [the Normandy town hall meeting] and think, Why would I want to work in a community that doesn’t want me?" Simpkins says. “That really isn’t Francis Howell as an employer. That was a community response but not our belief as administrators and educators. So [we’re] trying to help people see that our workplace isn’t a reflection of what the community had to say that day.”

Parents of diverse backgrounds suggested that Simpkins and Delaney reach out and invite people of color to apply to jobs because “people of color don’t feel wanted in St. Charles County. So we tried to think about that. How do we make people feel comfortable coming to Francis Howell?” Simpkins says.

One change was to start offering bias training for faculty involved in hiring committees. Sherita Love, manager of EdHubSTL, led an equity in hiring training session that addressed unconscious bias. “We are teaching our staff and educating our staff to be more open to the idea of diversity within our hiring,” Simpkins says. “I still think that there is some work we need to do around that process. We’ll definitely be advocating to continue that training and effort with our staff.”

Simpkins and her team have also been making an effort to sit down with administrators and remind them of the importance of their teaching staff reflecting the student population and how to look for diverse candidates.

The new measures over the past few years have made a difference. Simpkins says that in 2017, 7 percent of job applicants self-reported as nonwhite. In 2019, that percentage rose to 8.5 percent. And 11 percent of the new hires coming in this year will be from a diverse background. “That’s the highest number of diversity of our new teacher class that we have ever seen,” Simpkins says. “We’re excited that our efforts are helping, but we know that we still have a lot of work to do.” Long term, one of the action teams is looking into how to encourage students of color, from elementary years on, to consider education as a profession.

Still, there are no solid plans for any inclusionary practices that will ensure that diverse voices are heard in the district after they are hired. However, Simpkins believes that will be a major goal of the new district superintendent Nathan Hoven, who starts the job on July 1.

“We know how important it is for our students to see people who look like them within our buildings, especially in positions of authority and in professional positions like teaching positions and our administrators,” Simpkins says. “This round of hiring this year, we saw some great success, and we’re excited about that, but it’s still not enough. We know it’s not enough, and we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

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