A group of roughly two dozen parents and residents gathered at the District 24 Board of Education meeting on Oct. 21 to denounce what they said was a lack of diversity among district teachers, and to ask for greater inclusivity.
District 24 parent Cristina Arroyo led the calls, demanding reform in the administration’s teacher-hiring process in a district where 86 percent of the children are students of color and 95 percent of the teachers are white.
“Your diversity recruitment initiatives are not enough . . . We need to see outcomes. We need to see results,” said Arroyo, who has two children in the district.
She called on the administration to take concrete steps to address the disparity, including the formation of a task force of people within the district, but outside the administration, to bring in new perspectives and suggestions.
“We understand that lack of diversity in teaching staff is not necessarily the fault of any one individual. This is ingrained. This is history,” she said. “Therefore, you need new blood, new faces and new experts to address this.”
Other attendees echoed a similar sentiment. Trisha Williams, citing her corporate background, suggested the district establish hiring benchmarks and timelines to meet them, acknowledging how without such measures, diversity initiatives can falter.
“What happens all too often is they just become talking points,” she said.
Another resident, William Blair, was careful to note that his complaints were not directed at any one individual, but a system that has produced clear disparities.
“Nobody is talking about racists, but for you to have no Black teachers in the district, there has to be a problem,” he said. “Even if you’re saying Black people do not want to apply, then something is wrong with the system. You have to look at the system.”
Another resident, Michael Belfiore, suggested the district establish a hiring committee.
Prior to the comment, the school board and administration gave a video presentation illustrating student diversity in the district. After the comments, Schools Superintendent Dr. Don Sturz, breaking with district policy of responding to residents’ comments via email, addressed the group directly.
“I care deeply about the children, the families and the staff who work here, and diversity inclusion is a real issue that this district has been looking at, talking about and doing something about,” he said. “When it comes to just the issue of teacher diversity, it’s not a simple solution . . . It will take years . . . probably decades to get to that place.”
Sturz additionally noted the various teacher diversity initiatives that the district has had in place.
“We have partnered with Nassau BOCES Diversity Project as a mechanism to reach candidates of color through recruitment from colleges,” he said. “I also reached out to the New York State Council of School Superintendents Diversity and Inclusion Commission, and I have some very close friends on that commission who I have asked for guidance from as to how we can continue and expand in this area.”
He also noted the challenges of increasing diversity among the teaching staff.
“One of things that get in the way of teacher diversity happening is the availability of positions, and another is the number of applicants who represent people of color,” he said. “I can’t make this happen magically. I can’t make this happen tomorrow. I can’t make it happen next year, and I can’t make it happen in a few years. I have to do what I can do with what I have.”
Also during the meeting, District 24 officials announced 12 new teacher and staff hires, almost all of whom were white, except one English as a New Language teacher, who was Hispanic.
Not an isolated issue
Valley Stream 24 is not the only school district on Long Island struggling with a lack of teacher diversity relative to its student body.
According to a 2019 study authored by Hofstra University sociology professor William Mangino and Hofstra Executive Dean of Suburban Studies Lawrence Levy, drawing on NYSED and school district statistics, districts across the region have not been hiring teachers of color amid a change of demographics across Long Island.
Their analysis found that 61 percent of Long Island’s 642 public schools do not have a single Black teacher, while 43 percent lack a single Hispanic teacher. Island-wide, white teachers outnumber Hispanic students 75 to 1, Asian students 67 to 1 and Black students 48 to 1. This is compared to Long Island’s student population, which as of 2017 was nearly 45 percent non-white. Only 8 percent of teachers, however, are non-white, which is about half of state and national percentages, according to the study.
“The minority population continues to rise; however, there is little effort — within districts and the region as a whole — to create a more robust pipeline of educators in what are well-paying public sector jobs supported by their own tax dollars,” Mangino and Levy said.
The researchers pointed to the tangible benefits of having teachers of color in the classroom, not just for students of color, who, they said, perform better in school and have fewer suspensions when taught by teachers who look like them, but also the student body in general, helping to reduce prejudice among white students and adding their voices when crafting curricula.
As part of the study, Mangino and Levy also interviewed dozens of minority teachers and administrators to better understand the data, and help identify factors behind the disparities and give suggestions to lessen them.
Many of the interviewees, according to the study, said districts “lack effective efforts to recruit and retain minority teachers,” with hiring typically influenced by the candidates whom district teachers and administrators know personally. They suggested state-mandated training for administrators, and establishing continuous pipelines, starting as early as middle school, to encourage more people of color to become educators and administrators.