ATLANTIC CITY — Two teachers who live in Egg Harbor Township but currently are working in Camden County came to the Pleasantville School District’s booth at the New Jersey Education Association convention Friday to inquire about jobs. While there, Havana Berry, a recruiter for Pleasantville, handed them applications for jobs in neighboring Egg Harbor Township.
“They will have openings for minority teachers,” she told the teachers, one of whom is Colombian-American and the other Chinese-American. They declined to give their names because they are working in other districts, but said they would like to find jobs closer to home to reduce commuting costs. They were told to note on the job applications they got them at the convention and Egg Harbor Township school Superintendent Scott McCartney also gave them his business card.
Egg Harbor Township partnered with Pleasantville at the convention after the Mainland/Pleasantville branch of the NAACP last month sent a letter to McCartney about the small percentage of minority employees in the district — between 4 percent and 6 percent. Blacks, Hispanics and Asians account for more than 40 percent of the student population in the district, according to 2010-11 Department of Education data.
McCartney said after he got the letter, he spoke with Pleasantville Superintendent Garnell Bailey about her recruitment efforts to see what more Egg Harbor Township might do.
“We really are doing much the same thing as Pleasantville, but we are attracting different applicants,” McCartney said. “We said, ‘Lets pool our resources here (at the convention). Maybe we can help each other.’”
Bailey said in a phone interview they use the convention to recruit teachers with experience.
“We believe districts should mirror the population they service,” she said, adding with the increased Hispanic population in the district she has been working to recruit more Hispanics in all types of positions. Pleasantville’s student population is about 35 percent Hispanic, but only about 7 percent of teachers are Hispanic, according to state Department of Education data. About 40 percent of teachers are black, slightly more than the student population.
With tighter budgets, there are fewer teaching jobs, but both McCartney and Bailey said they anticipate some retirements and longterm substitute positions for maternity leaves in the near future. Pleasantville currently has openings for a high-school math teacher and assistant principal as well as an electrician and a position in accounts payable. Egg Harbor Township has an opening for an English teacher, school nurse and paraprofessionals. McCartney encouraged prospective teachers to consider taking the aide or substitute-teaching positions as a way to get known in the district for future job openings.
Berry gave out 200 brochures at the convention, and Egg Harbor Township staff did some onsite interviews Thursday. But, overall, there is a shortage of minority candidates education advocates said must be addressed, starting while potential teachers are still in middle and high school.
“There are educational advantages to having a diverse workforce,” NJEA spokesman Steve Baker said. “But the demographics for teachers don’t match the state.”
Data compiled by the state Department of Education show most minority teachers are clustered in districts with large minority populations. In Newark and Camden, almost 60 percent of the teachers are minorities. Atlantic City and Pleasantville are at about 40 percent. Other districts with large minority populations have fewer minority teachers — Vineland has about 14 percent, Millville 9 percent, Wildwood 8 percent and Woodbine 6 percent.
Laurence Fieber, state director of the New Jersey Future Educators of America and executive director of the Center for Future Educators at The College of New Jersey, said the state needs more FEA chapters in high schools and recruitment should begin in middle schools, when teachers can be role models for students just beginning to think about careers.
He said most teachers tend to return to districts where they attended school because they are comfortable there, which can make it more difficult for other districts to recruit minority teachers. He said the state used to take a larger role in minority teacher recruitment, but lack of funds has reduced those efforts.
Leilani Bell of Newark, a freshman at TCNJ and international president of the Future Educators of America, said her role model was an elementary-school teacher and she still goes back to volunteer with her. She wants to teach high school in Newark and said schools could do more to encourage talented students to become teachers. She attended a magnet high school, where people were encouraged to become doctors, lawyers and engineers.
“I think teaching sometimes gets left behind,” she said. “But, I decided I wanted to do something to help other urban kids — be someone who cares about them and makes a difference.”
The NJEA’s Baker said, ultimately, the most important factor is having good teachers who care.
“The goal is to find the best workforce,” he said. “It can and should be diverse. But, that takes work.”
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