In response to a San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury report which outlines a lack of diversity in school faculty that matches student demographics, school districts across the county have begun offering responses with the bodies largely agreeing with the findings and promising to improve hiring practices.

“It’s a really important issue in our county and our community and really digs into what that looks like here specifically,” San Mateo-Foster City School District Trustee Noelia Corzo said during an Oct. 7 meeting.

The civil grand jury, an independent investigative body made of up 19 county residents, surveyed 19 of the county’s 23 school districts on each jurisdiction’s hiring practices, knowledge of the San Mateo County Office of Education’s workforce diversity goal and challenges and strategies for hiring diverse teachers. Officials of three other school districts were interviewed.

Through their study, “Building a Racially and Ethically Diverse Teaching Workforce: A Challenge for Our Schools,” they found that that while about 72% of public school students enrolled in the 2018-19 school year came from non-white families, only 25.8% of credentialed teachers had similar ethnic groups, according to date provided by the county Office of Education.

Of the 6,082 teachers employed across the county in the 2018-2019 school year, more than 69% of them identified as white. The next largest demographic were Latino and Hispanic teachers who accounted for 10.14% of the total number, followed by Asian teachers with 8.45%.

Comparatively, white students only made up about 25% of the student body that same year, surpassed by Latino and Hispanic students who accounted for nearly 38% and followed by Asian students with 15.7%.

In response to the major divide, the grand jury made three recommendations. The body called for districts to include a commitment to teacher diversity within their strategic plans or objectives in alignment with the SMCOE’s plan as a guide and to make the document publicly accessible.

The report also recommended that the SMCOE routinely sponsor teacher diversity forums for top district officials to touch on recruitment challenges faced by the industry. Regionally, districts have struggled to recruit staff during a shortage the grand jury said has been exacerbated by a high cost of living, tough housing market and strained teacher pipeline.

“Recruiting teachers, specifically teachers of color, who reflect the diversity of students enrolled, is a formidable task according to interviews with school district representatives. School districts across California and the nation experience these same challenges,” read the report which also asked that SMCOE share demographic data with school districts once it’s gathered.

Districts are legally required to respond to the report in a letter in which they note the points they agree or disagree with. While some districts have yet to respond, others have drafted and approved their letters with little discussion.

Before approving the letters though, some school board members took issue with the grand jury’s criticism of an online Equity Network program hosted by the San Mateo County Board of Education in 2020. Given that the 20-hour program was held online due to the pandemic, the grand jury asserted it was limited in its ability to facilitate “thoughtful, equity-driven decisions.”

But Ken Chin, president of the San Mateo-Foster City School District Board of Trustees, said he found the program very helpful. Carrie Du Bois, vice president of the Sequoia Union High School District Board of Trustees, shared disappointment that the group would single out the program, noting the Board of Education is only one of many advocacy arms conducting equity work.

“I’m surprised the grand jury would point that out. I do feel that the work is ongoing,” Du Bois said during an Oct. 13 meeting. “I don’t believe that the pandemic disrupted that work.”

Still, the letters were approved and largely mirror each other in agreeing that districts could do better, declining to agree or disagree in areas where studies are referenced, noting what work has already been done in each respective district and acknowledging more must be done.

Such comments were made by John Baker, a member of the South San Francisco Unified School District board, during an Oct. 8 meeting in which he noted that while the language in the letter is “boiler plate” the district still recognizes there’s room for much improvement.

“While this is not clearly defined, what the grand jury is saying, we do need to do better,” Baker said. “And we do recognize that and the way that it’s stated in the response may not necessarily reflect that but I do want to let the public who follows us know that we are aware of the issue.”

Sue Wieser, San Mateo-Foster City School District assistant superintendent for Human Resource, said that the district is committed to implementing the recommendations in the report by June 30, the deadline set by the grand jury.

“What we’re hoping is that we’ll be able to continue work in the district around increasing workforce diversity and that perhaps it will be incorporated into the strategic plan,” Wieser said.

Much of the work the district’s Equity Taskforce has conducted has overlapped with the grand jury’s recommendations, noted Trustee Shara Watkins.

Corzo shared appreciation for the grand jury’s work. She also noted that while the district has already begun some of the work called for in the report, she would like to see the board and district administrators continue to investigate the matter.

“There’s a lot here but I also think that our district has been making moves on a lot of these issues internally already,” Corzo said. “So while we have to respond legally to this grand jury finding and we have, I hope that we continue to dig into these issues.”

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(2) comments

Lou

(1) Another reason for school choice.

(2) How about hiring for competency, rather than race or color?

Terence Y

Okay, we have a divide, which will always be the case since we can continue to subdivide racial categories and then percentages. But is this issue really a matter of racism or is a matter of non-whites not wanting to get into the teaching profession? If anything, shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that all these white folks continue to teach all demographics? Or is this study also saying that white teachers don’t want to teach other races? Or students only want to learn from teachers who look like them? Using racism to address racism is not a winning proposition. In fact, it only perpetuates division.

I would think the Civil Grand Jury has more important matters to attend to, such as violent crime, corruption in state government, corruption in politics, etc. Is there even an issue with student performance due to not having teachers that “look like them”? If there is, it isn’t addressed in this article. Or is this just another “woke” issue burning up time and resources which will not result in better test scores or better educated kids?

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