Part of that plan will mean hiring more minority faculty in the system, school officials say.
Like other school systems in the state, Calhoun County has yet to meet every requirement necessary to get out from under the original federal order and still requires court approval for certain decisions, such as new school construction and changing zone lines determining school attendance.
The Calhoun County Board of Education’s proposed three-year plan will lift the court order and, school officials hope, remove any lingering concerns about inequality in the county education system.
“With the court order, there is still the suggestion we’re operating a dual school system,” said Robin Andrews, attorney for the Board of Education. “If there is any aspect of that left, we want to correct that.”
During the board’s regular meeting Thursday, Andrews explained the outline of the plan, which has been in the works since December. Superintendent Judy Stiefel said work began on the plan at the urging of the Alabama Department of Education.
“We had encouragement from the state to make some concentrated effort to get out from under the court order,” Stiefel said during a phone interview Tuesday. “There are only a few systems still under the court order.”
Craig Pouncey, assistant state superintendent for finance and administration with the state Education Department, said there are about 20 school systems in the northern part of the state that have not met requirements to lift the order.
“The southern district went through this about four years ago,” Pouncey said. “A large number of school systems had to file a petition that they were willing to be reviewed. It’s kind of a costly, labor intensive process, but many of the school systems complied.”
Andrews said the purpose of the plan is to help the board meet its desegregation obligations in regards to school employees. The primary objectives of the plan include the identification, recruitment, hiring and retention of minority teachers and professional employees.
“That’s something the court wanted us to work on … expand and broaden our applicant pool,” Stiefel said.
According to Board statistics, the school system currently has 656 education-certified employees, 622 (94.8 percent) of which are white while 29 (4.4 percent) are black. The student population is currently around 14 percent black.
Andrews said the board has worked to improve minority employment during the last few years in anticipation of one day applying for removal from the court order.
Statistics indicate employment of black minorities has increased during the last three years. From 2007 to 2008, black employment in the school system was at 2.2 percent, which increased to 3.4 percent between 2008 and 2009.
To improve recruitment of minorities, the plan calls for regular participation in teacher recruitment at career fairs, including but not limited to Jacksonville State University’s career fair, Alabama A&M University’s teacher education day, Talladega College’s career day and similar events hosted by Tuskegee University, Miles College and Stillman College.
The plan also requires the use of more promotional items, including brochures, posters, newspaper advertisements and advertisements in professional and student publications, to market the school system to potential applicants.
Andrews said there was no set quota of minorities the Board had to hire to be released from the court order.
“I don’t think the court would approve of a quota,” Andrews said. “It’s more about the process and recognizing our goal … to put a more concrete system in place.”
Nikita Sherer, who is black and has been employed as a counselor at Saks High School for six years, said she is glad the school system is trying to move forward.
“I think it will be great to see a diverse population of educators,” Sherer said. “It’s a very good move.”
Retired principal and current Anniston Board of Education member William Hutchings remembers the turmoil of desegregation.
“There was so much tension here in 1971 you could cut it with a knife,” said Hutchings, who is black and taught at segregated schools in the county. “Blacks on the street and whites on the street would get to fighting.”
Hutchings is not convinced the county board will be able to meet its requirements of the court order until there is a significant increase in minority employees in the school system. However, he is encouraged that attempts are being made to improve the situation.
“It’s a good idea to move forward,” Hutchings said. “Don’t get black just to get black, but you’ve got to get a good ratio.”
The county school system is not the only one in the area trying to meet all desegregation requirements.
Jacksonville Superintendent Eric Mackey said the Jacksonville Board of Education filed its application in August to be released from the court order.
“We haven’t heard anything back yet,” Mackey said.
Unlike Calhoun, Jacksonville did not have to develop any kind of improvement plan to meet the court’s final requirements, Mackey said.
“We’re in a different situation than Calhoun County … we only have one high school and one elementary school … there is nothing else we can do … because everybody goes to the same high school and same elementary school,” he said.
Mackey said the employee makeup in the Jacksonville school system is about 10 to 15 percent black. The student population is about 22 percent black, he said.
To Mackey, being released from the court order will prove to the community what educators in Jacksonville already know.
“We don’t have any problems … we’re already a unified district,” Mackey said. “This is just a closed chapter in history.”
Contact staff writer Patrick McCreless at 256-235-3561.