Shelby County Public Schools: Diversity of leadership surpasses state, nation

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Neihof: District recruiting to develop candidates

By Todd Martin

With five vacant principal positions to fill — including at least one at each of the elementary, middle and high school levels — Shelby County Public Schools officials say they hope to add some diversity to those ranks.

And although Shelby County is at or better than the state averages for minority personnel in positions that work with students, it still lags the diversity of its student population.

However, finding and hiring minority candidates is much easier said than done for school districts in Shelby County, Kentucky and the nation.

A study for 2007-08, the most recent data available, by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that the number of minority teachers in America is increasing but is doing so very slowly – up just 1.7 percent since 1999-2000 to 17.1 percent overall. Nearly all that growth is in the Hispanic demographic.

Across the commonwealth, those numbers fall drastically.

According to the Kentucky Department of Education’s Certified Staff Ethnic-Gender Count for 2011-12, only 4.5 percent of all certified personnel — which would include teachers, counselors and principals but not food service, secretaries, bus drivers, custodians, etc. — are minorities. If you remove the state’s two largest metro districts, Jefferson and Fayette, then the numbers decline by nearly half, to just 2.4 percent minority.

Shelby County’s diversity performance is certainly an improvement, with 5.3 percent of its 528 certified staff members being minority.

Principals have a slightly better number across the state, with 6.7 percent of 2,223 principals, including assistants, being minorities and, but that number drops to 2.7 percent when the Fayette and Jefferson districts are removed.

Although Shelby County has a very solid 8.3 percent minorities in principal positions, that number can be deceiving because there are only two minority assistant principals — Myron Montgomery at East Middle and Henry Robbins at Shelby County High School — and no minority principals.

The district has had two other minority principals, and Kim Rice, the first ever hired by the district, remains technically employed by the district while on loan to KDE, although she is not part of the 8.3 percent.

Of course, Shelby County also made a big splash when it hired Elaine Farris as superintendent in 2004. Farris was the first African-American superintendent in the state.

“We really like to take a grow-your-own approach with producing leaders,” Superintendent James Neihof said. “We try to support and encourage our teachers with an interest in administration, and several hold the proper certification, but they haven’t applied because it might not be the right time.”

Both Montgomery and Robbins were teachers in the district before becoming assistant principals.

Neihof said the district also has set out to recruit, hitting several colleges with strong education programs and large minority populations.

“We went to Morehouse [College] this year, which we have not done in the past, and it’s one of the most prestigious historically black colleges,” Neihof said. “We’re trying to generate more interest in the minority population, letting them know that Shelby County is looking for strong candidates and [that] we want our staff to mirror our student population.”

Neihof said the district has also gone on recruiting trips to the Xavier and Cincinnati universities, Eastern and Western Kentucky, the universities of Kentucky and Louisville and Kentucky State University. They also recruit for positions at the Ohio Valley Educational Center’s job fair.

Neihof said he’s also sent E-mails to other superintendents, tried to work with Farris, who’s now the superintendent for Clark County, mined relationships elsewhere, all trying to find qualified minority candidates.

“We have a pattern in Shelby County of seeking minority administrators, starting with Mrs. Farris,” he said. “We have a commitment from our board to seek minority candidates, and our search has not ended.”

The state offers the Minority Education Recruitment and Retention Scholarship, which was authorized in 1992 by the General Assembly, and the Minority Superintendent Internship Program.

Both are aimed at helping minorities get the proper education, certifications and positions across the commonwealth.

And Neihof noted that the district would take any help it could find in locating qualified personnel.

“Any assistance that community leaders can give us, share the word with other districts or anyone you might know,” he said.

How principals are hired

  • Principals at schools are hired by the Site-based Decision Making Council at each school, which when hiring a new principal has the superintendent, or their designee, appointed chair.
  • Each council is composed of two parents, three teachers and the principal or administrator. The membership may be increased proportionately. Schools with eight percent or more minority students enrolled must have at least one minority member.
  • If a minority member is not elected, a special election must be called to add a minority member.
  • The principal also must allow one minority teacher to serve on the council, and if there is not a minority teacher in the building, another teacher must be selected.
  • The superintendent is charged with providing the council access to all the applications of qualified applicants.
  • The new principal is then elected on a majority vote, with the chair having one vote.