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Iowa School District Struggles With Teacher Diversity

By Katherine Leal Unmuth
Latino Ed Beat

As the Latino population boomed beyond major urban centers and border states, school systems have struggled to keep up with their rapidly changing demographics — even in unexpected places such as Iowa.

The Sioux City Journal reports that in the Sioux City, Iowa, school system about 29 percent of students are Hispanic while only 1 percent of teachers are Hispanic. That gives students few adult role models of their own background to look up to. Similarly, 96 percent of all of the district’s teachers are white while only 56 percent of the students are white.

Those are not statistics that the district’s leadership is happy about, but keeping pace can be difficult when the diversity of the young population has grown so rapidly. Only about 2.2 percent of all of Iowa teachers were minorities in 2011-12. According to the 2010 Census, about 16.4 percent of Sioux City residents were Hispanic while only five percent of all Iowa residents were Hispanic.

“It’s not that we have a diverse candidate pool, and we are only hiring Caucasians,” Superintendent Paul Gausman told the newspaper. “Our candidate pool does not have the diversity we would like to make choices.”

The school district is hoping to build a grow-your-own pipeline by creating an education career cluster that will eventually result in minority graduates of the district who one day return to teach. I’m curious if they also will try tactics such as recruiting teachers from more diverse states, such as Texas or California.

In another reflection of the district’s growing diversity, the newspaper reported that the school board recently decided to prioritize lobbying efforts in the Iowa Legislature regarding English Language Learners. In particular, they’d like better funding for instructional programs for ELLs.

According to the article, the district has 2,635 ELLs, making up 18.5 percent of its enrollment. To further illustrate the rapid change, the district had only 213 ELLs in 1988-89.

Featured Photo: From left, teachers Alyssa Nienic, North High School, Erica Garcia, North Middle School, and Sandy Koch, Irving Elementary School, listen to a presentation Thursday during a training session for new Sioux City public school teachers at North Middle School. The district wants to hire more minority teachers. (Photo Credit: Tim Hynds, Sioux City Journal)

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