Oak Harbor School Board passes Affirmative Action plan

Oak Harbor’s school district represents perhaps the most diverse on the island, and the administration is aiming to recruit teachers who better reflect its students.

“It’s important that we have staff that look like them,” said Human Resources Director Kurt Schonberg.

Monday night the school board unanimously passed an updated affirmative action plan, which included goals to increase both male teachers and teachers of color. Approximately 40 percent of the student population are non-white, but around 6 percent of teachers are non-white. Men are also significantly under represented, with 77 percent of the teaching staff being female, according to Schonberg’s presentation.

The district’s move comes on the heels of the Legislature’s last-minute vote to end the state’s ban on affirmative action.

However, Schonberg said he’s not exactly sure yet how this will affect the school’s policy. The school has had federally mandated goals to reflect and review ways to diversify its workforce since 1974, he said. However under state law, the district couldn’t use preferential hiring or employment practices.

The goals were very specific: increase males in teacher, instructional assistant and clerical categories 3 percent annually and increase the number of non-white teachers 3 percent annually. The methods to achieve those goals were less specific.

The plan includes “aggressive and creative recruitment, equitable hiring practices and cultural competence.” Schonberg told board members that the district should focus on creating a welcoming atmosphere for non-white employees to make it a more desirable place to work.

Research from the Brookings Institute has demonstrated that minority students typically perform better on tests, have improved attendance and are suspended less frequently when they have at least one same-race teacher. And boys, particularly non-white boys, are also more significantly impacted by the disparity, the New York Times reported. One study found that eighth graders with a female teacher fell behind the girls by the equivalent of three and a half months of learning, according to the newspaper.

Schonberg emphasized the importance of affirmative action, but said the school’s policy won’t be changed until he’s sure of the impact of the state legislation. He told board members that hiring the most qualified candidate will still be the first priority.

Student board member Tiara Hylton, who is a non-white student, said she appreciates the effort to diversify the teaching staff.

“I think that increasing the number of non-white teachers will definitely help …” she said “because it is more of a relatable kind of experience.”

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