“You’re either part of the solution, or part of the problem,” said a member of the Winona Area Public Schools (WAPS) diversity advisory board at the June 20 School Board meeting. This opening statement was in regard to the need for diversity among WAPS teachers and staff.
The district diversity advisory board has been meeting since 2006. Staff, students, and family members have been an integral part of the committee’s meetings. Testimonials were given by parents, students, and teachers. “Those testimonials suggest that nonwhite students are slipping through the cracks,” said Laura Hill, teacher at Winona High School, and advisor to the Fortitude student club. Fortitude promotes acceptance and understanding of diversity among students and the community.
The goals of the diversity committee are to stress the importance of hiring nonwhite staff and assisting District 861 in closing the achievement gap between white and nonwhite students.
The current district-wide breakdown of student ethnicities was presented as follows: 86.07 percent of students are “White,” 5.42 percent are “Black,” 3.31 percent are “Hispanic,” 4.48 percent are “Asian,” and 0.73 percent are “Indian/Alaskan.” The rate for nonwhite teachers, however, is much smaller than the nonwhite student population.
The committee has received input from Thomas Harris, assistant director of UW-La Crosse’s Multicultural Student Services program. Through these meetings with guests like Harris, the committee hopes to find ways to reduce the education gap between ethnicities.
Winona State University’s (WSU) goal is to increase diversity among students in its education department to eight percent. Current enrollment figures show nonwhite teachers may be harder to find in the region. In the 2011-2012 school year, 2.97 percent (9 of 303) students admitted to the WSU teacher education program were students of color. For the 2012/2013 school year, 5.33 percent (16 of 300) new enrollees were students of color. These numbers are strictly the new students enrolled in the program year, not the total number of students of color in the entire education program.
WAPS Superintendent Scott Hannon explained the district is always interested in hiring minorities. “We welcome, certainly, people of different cultures and backgrounds to apply,” he explained. “We certainly don’t discriminate. We have a growing, diverse population and we’d like to have more minorities employed with us at any level.” The newly-hired principal at Jefferson Elementary is of a nonwhite ethnicity, Hannon noted.
The WAPS Diversity Advisory Board has arranged for Julie Landsman, a Twin Cities author, to speak at a teachers’ workshop about the education gap between ethnicities on August 27 at 1 p.m.
WAPS School Board Chairperson Mohamed Elhindi noted that the School Board welcomes the WAPS diversity advisory board and its goals. “This is a very welcoming community and the work you do will enhance that.”