District trying to fix disparity
Arizona Republic
Nov. 4, 2005

Carrie Watters

Nearly seven of every 10 students in the Glendale Elementary School District are Hispanic, but fewer than two in 10 teachers reflect that heritage.

That disparity is something district officials want to change.

The Glendale district is one of three that volunteered to take part in a state initiative to diversify teacher roles by recruiting local residents, from the student yet to graduate to the person looking to switch careers.

Two issues drive the campaign: increased difficulty finding teachers and an increasingly diverse district.

A guiding principle is research that shows that students will do better if they interact with educators from the same background and who sound like them.

The district does have a slightly better showing than national statistics from a National Education Survey in 2003 that revealed nine of every 10 teachers are Anglo. But, the district also has a larger population of minority students than federal government figures that show more than half of public school students are Anglo.

Jose Mendoza, who attended a district meeting with about a dozen community leaders this week, said success will depend on building trust and easing suspicion in the Hispanic community, some of whom have been at odds with district officials over issues from teaching English to low test scores.

Mendoza, coordinator of minority services at Glendale Community College, said discussing the issue is a good start.

More Hispanic teachers would mean easier outreach to families, he said.
Greater diversity would also mean that teachers could more readily relate to students, he said, telling how a teacher asked him about Benito Juarez because her students were referring to him.

"He's the Mexican equivalent of George Washington," Mendoza said with some disbelief.

The district attempts to recruit minority teachers nationally, according to governing board President Steve Johnston. His frustration is that minority applicants are scarce, in part because immigrants often are further away from obtaining a college diploma, he said.

Trying to reach out to a decentralized Hispanic community is difficult, Johnston said. He and the district are attempting to send the message that the district is short on teachers and is looking to recruit.

Johnston said some teachers have the gift to engage students of any background.

"There are certainly people in the Hispanic community that would have that gift," he added.

The two other districts developing recruitment campaigns are Tempe Union and Kyrene Elementary.

Reach the reporter at carrie. watters@arizonarepublic.com.