LIMA — Kaleb Russell has had less than five black teachers in his nearly 12 years as a student in Lima schools.
He believes a bond forms when you have a teacher that looks like yourself. It gives students a potential role model they can look up to, he said.
“It may be discouraging to people who look at someone and can’t see themselves doing what they do because they can’t relate as much,” Russell said. “It’s very important we have a diverse group of role models to follow and people we can look up to.”
Of the 616 contracted staff members at Lima schools, just under 50 are minorities. Of those, just 26 are black teachers, administrators or part of a Lima City Schools’ program called Closing the Achievement Gap, or CTAG.
Lima schools Superintendent Jill Ackerman said finding black teachers is difficult because they simply “are not out there.” The problem extends nationally, but Ackerman said it may be even be more difficult to bring black teachers to Lima because of cold weather and a nightlife that does not compare to larger cities such as Toledo or Dayton.
Rev. Ronald Fails, president of the Lima NAACP, said Lima’s lack of nightlife is not an excuse for the district’s inability to hire more black teachers.
“It’s not an issue for single, white professionals who go off to school and come back here to work in the district, so why wouldn’t they move to another city if it’s all about nightlife?” Fails asked. “Many white educators come back because it’s home, it’s family, it’s where they were raised. African-Americans are the same way.”
Bryan Miller is director of the CTAG program, which works with at-risk students. He is a former president of the Lima chapter of the NAACP and has had children of his own in Lima schools. He too says it’s important to have black teachers, but noted Lima schools has “white staff members who give their hearts to these kids, and that is just as effective as if we have a black staff member.”
Lima Senior student Jaytoria McWay agreed. She only had two or three black teachers in her 11 years of schooling, but that doesn’t bother her much.
“As long as they’re helping me get good grades, I’m OK,” McWay said.
Miller said Lima Senior graduates who pursue an education degree often do not return to Lima.
“If you’re 22 and you’re going to college in Toledo, are you going to stay there because there’s so many things to do, or are you gonna come back to a rural, almost farming community like Lima?” he asked. “Then you combat that with the social issues in Lima, especially for blacks. It gets hard to recruit people here.”
Ackerman speaks to students at local universities such as Ohio State-Lima and attends career fairs in order to recruit teachers, both black and white. She said she also keeps in touch with Lima Senior graduates pursuing education, sometimes bringing them back for student-teaching jobs.
Though she recognizes the importance of minority teachers, Ackerman said she won’t hire someone just because they’re a minority.
“Yes, of course we’re interested in African-American candidates, but if you can’t be a part of our culture and truly be invested, you won’t be successful here regardless of race,” she said.
Ackerman also said that when she looks over a teacher’s resume, she does not know if they are black or white. She said she is pursing teachers based solely on merit and their ability to become part of the “culture” of Lima schools.
Fails said the fact that Ackerman does not try to determine an applicant’s race when checking their resume is part of the problem in hiring more black teachers.
“You’ll never achieve diversity if you don’t have a system to measure who is applying,” he said. “If I’m Jill Ackerman and I say I want diversity in my institution, I’m at least going to interview (minorities) to see if they have the qualities I’m looking for.
“I’m not saying to hire people who are not qualified, but to not seek minority applicants or provide opportunities for interviews while at the same time saying, ‘I want diversity,’ that’s ignorant.”
At Bluffton and Ohio Northern universities, administrators said black students pursuing education are few and far between. They could not determine an exact cause, but said it may be that more black students are pursuing degrees that lead to higher-paying jobs such as law and medicine.
LaShonda Gurley, the director of multicultural development at Ohio Northern, said the more black teachers a school has now, the more success it will have in recruiting more in the future.
“When you come into a classroom and you can identify with who’s at the helm, whether that’s a student-teacher, teacher or principal, that’s helpful,” she said. “That way, you can ask them how they got to where they are, and that educator can share their experience, both challenges and successes.”
Reach John Bush at 567-242-0456 or on Twitter @bush_lima