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Wis. District Steps Up Response to Growing Minority Enrollment

By Lesli A. Maxwell — November 01, 2007 2 min read
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Responding to concerns that minority students in Green Bay, Wis., lag academically behind their white peers and lack teachers they can identify with, school officials have pledged to focus on closing the achievement gap and recruiting and hiring nonwhite faculty members.

The school district’s pledge is part of a nonbinding agreement, announced late last month, between Green Bay civic leaders and representatives of the city’s growing minority communities that is meant to improve race relations in city government, the police department, and the public schools.

Prompted by complaints in 2005 from the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People that the city’s police and fire departments had no black employees, the U.S. Department of Justice sent a “conciliation specialist” to Green Bay to help broker the agreement.

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See other stories on education issues in Wisconsin. See data on Wisconsin’s public school system.

For more stories on this topic read Diversity.

“Our concern was initially with the police department and fire department, but we also kept hearing from some of our students that they felt isolated at school and didn’t have teachers they felt they could turn to or would understand them,” said the Rev. L.C. Green, the pastor of the Divine Temple Church of God in Christ and the president of the Green Bay NAACP. “We needed black counselors and teachers.”

Mr. Green brought in local Hispanic, Hmong, and Native American leaders to work with black leaders to push for more minority representation in Green Bay’s public agencies.

Demographic Shift

Superintendent Daniel A. Nerad, said minority parents voiced “some very heartfelt concerns that their kids had not found their place with us, and that we weren’t making connections with them.”

“We’ve become a more diverse school district in a pretty short period of time,” he said. “It’s a real asset for the school district, but yet there are challenges associated with it as well, like recruiting, hiring, and retaining staff members of color.”

In the 20,000-student school district, 37 percent of students are from racial and ethnic minority groups, an increase of 3 percentage points from the 2006-07 school year, while the vast majority of the district’s teachers and other staff members are white, Mr. Nerad said.

Hispanic students now make up more than 17 percent of the district’s total enrollment. Asian-American students, many of them Hmong, make up roughly 8 percent, followed by African-Americans at roughly 7 percent, and Native Americans at 5 percent.

Mr. Nerad said the first and most important goal the district has agreed to target is closing the achievement gap between the district’s nonwhite and white students. Part of the strategy for doing so involves recruiting and hiring more minority teachers and drawing on the Minority Student Achievement Network, an association of 25 midsize suburban districts that serve large populations of minority students.

The district will also provide cultural-competency training for all staff members, and will devise new discipline and truancy strategies to help prevent a disproportionate number of minority students from being suspended or referred to special education programs.

“Even though it’s a voluntary agreement, the schools seem fully committed to this,” Mr. Green said.

A version of this article appeared in the November 07, 2007 edition of Education Week as Wis. District Steps Up Response to Growing Minority Enrollment

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