LILY WHITE LEADERSHIP Ten years ago civil rights leaders protested the lack of African-American teachers in the Escambia County School District. Although one out of three of its students were black, most teachers—89 percent—were white. The 1969 federal desegregation lawsuit that led to integration of Escambia County schools mandated that 25 percent of the county’s teaching and administrative staff should be black.
The county had never met that requirement, and the African-American community was upset. In September 2002, over 50 protesters marched in front of the district’s Garden Street offices. Groups of concerned black educators and parents attended school board meetings and demanded the district do more to recruit minority teachers.
They were tired of hearing excuses. They wanted to see action.
At the time, the district had only 290 black teachers. Of its 59 schools, 43 had five or fewer black teachers and six had none. One black parent spoke out at a board meeting. His son had attended Escambia County public schools since kindergarten. The child was then in the eighth grade at Ferry Pass Middle and had never had a black teacher.
Movement for Change criticized Woodham High principal Bill Slayton because he employed only one black classroom teacher, even though 42 percent of his enrollment was black. (Slayton has retired and now serves on the school board.)
The school district’s response was that the county paid far below the state average, and minorities went to other counties for higher pay. Slayton said that he had few openings and no qualified black candidates.
Then-Superintendent Jim Paul personally took over minority teacher recruitment.
He selected several leaders, including County Commissioner Marie Young and Ellison Bennett, president of the Pensacola chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, to help him.
What did these efforts get us? A one-percent increase. From 2002—2012, the district added only 38 black teachers. Today just 12 percent of the instructional staff in the Escambia County public schools is African-American.
To meet the 25-percent criteria set by the 1969 federal integration case, current Superintendent Malcolm Thomas would need to hire 343 more black teachers. Instead he has gone in the opposite direction. Since Thomas replaced Paul in 2008, the district has lost 28 black teachers.
Excuses are the same as they were 10 years. Many of the people in charge of recruiting black teachers back then are still failing at it today. What has changed is the public outcry for change. There is none.
The African-American community is a sleeping lion. When will it awake?