The buzz in the Columbia High School Cougar Cafe was palpable on Thursday evening, May 18, as more than 100 candidates attended the South Orange-Maplewood School District Diversity Job Fair.
The flier for the event stated that the district “is committed to recruiting educators from diverse backgrounds, and forming collaborative relationships that would enhance staff diversity within our school district from under-represented backgrounds, regardless of race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, affectional or sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, disability or socioeconomic status.”
The candidates were diverse in many other ways as well. Some were new college grads from Kean and Rutgers. Some were long-time South Orange-Maplewood residents with children in the district. Some taught in towns like Jersey City and Paterson — but wanted to come teach in SOMA.
“It’s wonderful!” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. John Ramos as he watched staff interact with applicants and dozens of interviews took place at tables around him.
The fair comes as the district continues to struggle to increase the percentage of teachers of color, a number which trails significantly behind the percentage of students of color.
According to 2015 -16 numbers contained in a report from the South Orange-Maplewood Community Coalition on Race, 19.7% of certified district staff are people of color (11.9% Black, 5.8% Hispanic and 2% Asian). The percentage of students of color is currently just below 50%:
(See the CCR’s full Demographic Changes in South Orange and Maplewood report below.)
Broken down by school, CCR Director Nancy Gagnier reported to Village Green, the percentage of teachers who are Black is as follows:
- South Orange Middle School 20%.
- Maplewood Middle School 16.5%
- Marshall Elementary School 15.4%
- Columbia High School 12.7%
- Tuscan Elementary 11.9%
- Jefferson Elementary 11.4%
- Clinton Elementary 10%
- Seth Boyden Elementary 9.8%
- South Mountain Elementary 7%
On May 15, Carol Barry-Austin and Meredith Sue Willis of the CCR’s Schools Committee read a statement to the Board of Education that included the following, “[T]hough the district continues to have as one of its goals to increase and maintain a diverse staff, and though the Coalition on Race has advocated this for many years, we have not seen much movement on increasing the number of teachers of color in our district, nor have enough robust efforts been made to retain the teachers of color we already have. We are aware that a Diversity Job Fair is scheduled for this spring but we are not satisfied that this is enough, especially given the district’s history with recruiting teachers of color.”
Assistant Superintendent for Administration Kevin Walston tried to address some of the concerns around recruitment efforts at the job fair.
Besides advertising the Diversity Job in the Star-Ledger, through local universities, on NJHire and on the district website and besides visiting job fairs and forming closer relationships with local universities such as Montclair State, Kean University, Rutgers University and NJIT, Walston said that staff had been visiting historically black colleges and forming relationships with those schools. He also reported that diversity job fairs would become more frequent.
Part of the challenge in attracting teachers of color, said Walston, is the “pipeline.” Walston said that at the Montclair State job fair, for example, the majority of candidates were not candidates of color. He said that the percentages only decreased at fairs at Kean and Seton Hall University.
Because of the smaller number of candidates of color coming from local universities, said Walston, the competition for those candidates from other diverse districts is intense.
The candidates at the job fair on Thursday were excited for the opportunity to apply for work in South Orange-Maplewood.
One applicant was a student teacher at Seth Boyden School who had come directly from her graduation at Kean University to the job fair. Another was a young woman who had recently earned her Masters degree from Rutgers.
More seasoned candidates were applying as well. John Marshall, a 7-year resident of South Orange, was applying to work in his own community for the first time. Marshall currently teaches at St. Anthony in Jersey City and the school is closing. Another candidate said he is currently teaching special education in Paterson and had heard about the job fair through a friend.
With scores of candidates moving from tables staffed by the leadership of each school to direct interviews at tables with subject leaders, Walston seemed pleased with the turnout. He noted that the last diversity job fair took place three years ago and had resulted in at least one great find: Kimberly Hutchinson, the current principal of Jefferson School. With limited job openings in the district, Walston felt that even getting three hires from the job fair would mark a success, but more work was needed.
Will the district do more fairs and more often?
“Yes!” said Walston, who said continued fairs would be part and parcel of being “intentional.”
Village Green did not take pictures that included candidates from the job fair, as some are currently employed by other districts.