Wake County Superintendent Tony Tata aggressively defended his efforts to recruit more minority teachers, saying that doing so would help provide more quality educators to the district.
In an interview today on WPTF, Bill LuMaye expressed skepticism to Tata about why he was pushing so hard to recruit more minority teachers. In turn, Tata challenged LuMaye, putting him on the spot at times.
LuMaye opened things up by asking Tata why he was sending recruiters to other states to look for more minority teaching applicants.
"It's important because we want the best qualified teachers," Tata replied. "We have high standards and, if you think about it Bill, if for example the Hispanic population has been exploding throughout the country and if we're stagnant or declining and the applicant pool for these increasing numbers of Hispanic or African Americans, then by definition we're leaving talent out there on the table.
If we're stagnant or declining in applicants, yet the national and North Carolina and Wake County numbers of these groups are going up, then we're leaving talent out there."
LuMaye responded that no one would debate Tata about getting the best teachers but he said it seemed to be about getting the best minority teachers. He asked what did Tata mean about getting the right mix (reference Monday's article) and is it important for a black student to be taught by a black teacher as opposed to a Caucasian teacher.
"First of all, for me it is about the talent," Tata said. "And if we have shunted the applicant pool of minority pipelines then by definition we're not getting the best applicants across the spectrum.
To answer your second question. To me it's important to have proper role models throughout the district. I think a white teacher can teach an African-American child or an African-American teacher can teach a white child equally as well. When you look at a 50.5 percent minority student population and a 14 percent minority or 15 percent minority teacher population, I don't know if we're really thinking about it and having an honest conversation. Does that sound right to you Bill?"
LuMaye said it's "appropriate" if you're looking at colors. But he asked does that have value.
"The argument I think you're making is 86 or 85-15 is right," Tata responded. "You've got to backward map and ask the question is that right? How did we get there? We've been there for a long time and so when you've really pulled the thread on this thing and I've operated this way all my life.
A very diverse multicultural workforce to me is very important as it always has been throughout my military career and it's important to me now. I was very upfront about that in my first press conference when I got here because I think there's value in the difference of opinion, the difference of background. And for me, in getting to know individual solders or individual students throughout my career, their background is important to me whether or not they're white, Asian, Hispanic, African American, American Indian, it doesn't matter.
The other night I was meeting with the American Indian parents forum and their culture is important and so who better to represent the culture of American Indians, or Hispanics, or African Americans, or Caucasians than those that have come up through them.
LuMaye responded that he's "not going to dispute that and you may have misread what I was saying."
"I guess what I'm questioning is whether or not we are getting the very best teacher for the kids and we take a look and you know this, my goodness, you know what the graduation rate of African Americans are and some of the minority groups is horrific," LuMaye said. "If you believe, and you're certainly more qualified than I am, that a black teacher would do a better job for whatever reason to get that black child to stay in school and graduate, I'm there with you. But on the other hand if we're sacrificing overall quality just to get the right mix, that's where I guess I would question you."
"I reject the notion Bill that you make that you have to sacrifice quality to hire minority teachers," Tata responded. "I outright reject your assertion there.
I think that my first discussion point was that because we have shunted recruitment, the applicant pool of Hispanics, of African Americans, of American Indians, you can go down the line. In the past, we have not had access to the talent that is resident in those applicant pools."
LuMaye responded that "I can understand that then."
"So what you're saying is, and I just want to be clear, the race is not a priority in the sense that you are looking at qualifications above everything else and that race is important in the classroom as far as the teacher is concerned but that's not the factor, that's not why you're hiring them," LuMaye asked. "You're hiring them because they are the best qualified."
"I want access to the best qualified," Tata responded. "If our applicant pool is X but it could be Y and Y is much larger than X, by definition you're going to have more qualified applicants so that's what I'm trying to do here.
And it is important to me that our students get to see every kind of role model. We are way deficient in male teachers so we have some 90 percent, I think, female teachers and I walked into an elementary school and one of the fourth-graders said, 'Hey, it's a dude.' He had no male role model in there. He was excited to see a guy come walking into the building.
If we think about it and we care about it, then it's important to have role models from whether or not it's culture, ethnicity, race, language, gender. All those things are important in a workforce so that these children can see people from those cultures, from those races, from those languages being successful and that matters. It matters to the white child to see the success of every different walk of life and it matters to the black child and the Hispanic child."
LuMaye closed the interview by saying "I agree with that." He told Tata he's "doing an awesome job."