When Sam Hosey attended East Lansing Public Schools in the 1980s and 1990s, he had eight Black and three Latinx teachers.
But when recently reflecting on his sons’ experiences in ELPS, he noted that the soon-to-retire Mr. Vincent Watson was the “only black male in-class teacher my sons ever had.”
“I think East Lansing is a good place with great people, but to be blunt, the lack of diversity among its teachers is disturbing,” Hosey told ELi. (Disclosure: Hosey is the volunteer President of ELi’s Board of Directors.)
According to the State of Michigan, during the 2019-2020 school year, ELPS has had 3,705 students, of whom:
- 19 are Native American or Alaska Native (0.51% of the student body)
- 254 are Asian (6.84%)
- 615 are African American (16.57%)
- 374 are Hispanic/Latino (10.08%)
- 351 identify as two or more races (9.46%)
- 2,092 are white (56.37%)
The makeup of the faculty at ELPS does not mirror the makeup of the student body. According to 2016 data from the State of Michigan, of the 224 teachers in the school district, 7 were African Americans (3.1%). The district also employed 1 Asian (0.44%) and 3 Hispanic teachers (1.33%).
When ELi asked ELPS for more current data, Kelly Hocquard, Assistant to the Superintendent and Board of Education, stated that ELPS now has a total of 228 teachers:
- 1 teacher is Asian (0.4% of the faculty)
- 8 are Black (3.5%)
- 219 are white (96%)
Hocquard explained that those who do not record their race or ethnicity on their personnel forms “are coded as White/Non Latino.”
In 2016, of 18 administrators, 2 were African-American and 16 were white. Hocquard says that today, ELPS now has 17 administrators – 1 Black and 16 white.
Calls for Diversity in Hiring
Lynette Long, an African-American woman whose two high schoolers attend ELPS, wants to see more people of color hired.
“ELPS is a very diverse school district and it is imperative they do a better job,” she told ELi. “There has to be an intentional effort placed on diversity recruiting.”
Karry Smith, a father of three ELPS students, said East Lansing is a great district that builds an inclusive environment, but “there is always room to grow.”
When asked about his experience being one of a few people of color teaching at ELPS, Vincent Watson told ELi that, while he reached out to all students, he realized his presence might carry extra importance for non-white students. He stated he had discussed hiring more people of color with several superintendents.
School Board President Erin Graham, Vice President Terah Chambers, and Secretary Chris Martin all expressed their support for Superintendent Dori Leyko’s efforts to improve equity and diversity in ELPS.
In recent years, the School Board has made equity a priority by reflecting commitment to equity in its district goals and passing “resolutions aimed at creating more equitable and actively inclusive schools,” according to Graham.
The Board’s Policy Committee, chaired by Chambers, is developing an Equity Policy for the district, and now requires all applicants for new positions to submit an equity and inclusion statement.
But the Board’s role in hiring is limited. It sets policies for the district, while interviews and screening of applicants are conducted at the building level. The Board only provides their consent for the selected candidate.
Board Vice President is looking for more action
Chambers specifically applauded Marble Elementary School, its principal Josh Robertson, and the Marble Equity Team for its commitment to diversity, which she hopes can serve as models for other schools in the district. (The Marble Equity Team will meet this Wednesday.)
Chambers, who is a professor at MSU’s College of Education, expressed concern over the lack of people of color in the education hiring pipeline since being a teacher has historically been valued in the black community.
She explained that following the Brown decision, students populations were desegregated while Black teachers and administrators were often fired or demoted, having lasting impacts on the hiring pipeline.
Chambers also explained that building a diverse faculty at ELPS or any school district requires more than putting black bodies in classrooms. Parents and students have to afford teachers or color the same respect and embrace their methods of teaching and perspectives. “We need to have a welcoming culture.” East Lansing needs to be a place where Black teachers want to live and work.
Many see benefits with a diverse faculty
Chambers’ son has had two Black teachers since starting school at Glencairn, but both have since left the district. She stated that these teachers “had a profound impact on his confidence and excitement for school.” Chambers, who did not have Black teachers growing up, says it is important for kids to see that Black people can be teachers.
Anaiis Rios-Kasoga, an ELPS rising senior and reporter and Board member with ELi, told us that, “teachers are guides for their students, and it is so immensely important for them to be able to relate to struggles unique to students of color.”
In her experience, she has found it easier to reach out to teachers who faced similar experiences.
Fellow ELPS rising senior Liyu Mesay echoed Rios-Kasoga, saying a diverse faculty “provides students with a confidence to the outside world regarding race in America. It allows students to form deeper connections about education, family and just daily life.”
Efe Scott-Emuakpor attended ELPS and currently coaches football there. He sees mentorship of students of color as an important aspect of his work. He believes having more people of color creates comfort for students of color.
Scott-Emuakpor told ELi that while white teachers may try to understand the backgrounds and struggles of their students of color, it takes them a bit longer to break through.
Brian Bertsch is a white business-owner and an alumnus of ELPS. His two daughters graduated from and his son currently attends ELHS. Reflecting on the importance of diversity during his time in the U.S. Army and after, he told ELi, “I have always found surrounding yourself in a diverse environment yields greater reward and results…It is the best learning and work environment you can be part of.”
Similarly, Hosey told ELi that, “having real life examples of brilliant, thoughtful, and talented black people leading the classroom everyday would leave an indelible impression that would change many perspectives to a favorable one.”
In short, a general community consensus about the need to have a more diverse faculty in ELPS appears to exist.