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Pinellas school plan aims to boost recruitment of minority teachers

Published Aug. 17, 2016

LARGO — Pinellas County school officials outlined a plan Tuesday to address an issue that has dogged the district for years — a lack of black and Hispanic teachers.

Paula Texel, the district's new director of human resources, told the School Board that the plan for recruiting and retaining more of those teachers included focus groups with current minority teachers, creating "hiring packets" to be given to job prospects, establishing support organizations for black and Hispanic educators in Pinellas, and strengthening the pipeline of recruits from high school teaching academies and a new teacher training partnership with St. Petersburg College.

Superintendent Mike Grego said the plan, developed by Texel over the summer, adds structure to the district's previous work.

"What she's trying to do is connect all of these pieces so it's kind of a well-greased machine," Grego said.

The shortage has been a problem in Pinellas for years and is a recurring theme in discrimination lawsuits against the district, even as school officials say they are working to correct it.

Only 8 percent of the district's teaching force is black, while black students account for 19 percent of total enrollment.

Statewide, 22.5 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade are black, and black teachers are 13.3 percent of the teaching corps.

The Pinellas numbers are worse for Hispanics, who account for 16 percent of the student population but less than 3 percent of teachers and administrators.

The new plan drew a less-than-enthusiastic response from Goliath Davis, a former St. Petersburg police chief and deputy mayor who is active in the group Concerned Organization for Quality Education for Black Students.

"I don't see anything that I think is going to be compelling," he said. He added that recruitment efforts should be continuous, not haphazard, and emphasized the importance of recruiters.

"It's going to require some people of passion to go out and bring other people in," Davis said.

Grego said teachers, principals and administrators often visit their alma maters to recruit staff.

Texel said her plan reflects the district's strategic plan.

"We're always striving to have our instructional staff population mirror our student population," she said. "That's always been a focus for the district."

Board members at Tuesday's workshop nodded in agreement with no opposition to the plan.

"I know this is for minority educators, but I think we need to know for all teachers," board member Linda Lerner said, referring to the expected feedback from teacher focus groups. "It all pertains to all teachers."

The district is obligated by a 2012 agreement stemming from a federal discrimination lawsuit to match the percentage of black teachers in the district to the percentage of black students. Now that case is heading back to court as the plaintiffs' lawyers cite broken promises — including the stagnant hiring of black educators.

Since the School Board approved the agreement, the district has published progress reports twice a year comparing the district's black student population to its black teacher population. Those reports show little to no progress in boosting the percentage of black teachers working in the district.

District officials denied that the new plan was related to recent actions related to the lawsuit.

Contact Colleen Wright at cwright@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8643. Follow @Colleen_Wright.