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Few Minority Teachers in O.C., Educators Say : Diversity: High schools face stiff competition for the small pool of instructors available, administrators say.

September 18, 1993|MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

FULLERTON — In the wake of a student protest demanding greater ethnic representation among teachers, high school educators acknowledged Friday they have failed to develop faculties that reflect the county's increasingly diverse student bodies.

But it's not for a lack of trying, educators said. The greatest obstacle, they said, is the limited number of qualified bilingual and minority teachers and an intense competition among school districts for those people.

"We've been very aggressive over the past five years to make teachers look like our student body," said Allen Brase, director of human resources for Anaheim Union High School District. "We can't hire enough bilingual and minority teachers (because) there aren't enough out there."

To address the problem, several districts have developed programs to cultivate minority teachers by putting them through credential programs with an understanding that they'll teach for the district.

"We grow our own," said Brase, who said it is difficult to keep pace with the changing ethnicity of the student population.

According to 1992 statistics for Orange County, minorities made up 51% of the student population in grades K through 12, while whites accounted for 49%. Meanwhile, 90% of teachers in the county are white, with just 5% Latino.

Latino students are the largest ethnic group, representing 34% of the student body countywide, while Asians make up 12.4%. In some districts, ethnic minorities represent a much larger portion of the student population, such as in Santa Ana where 86% of the students are Latino.

In the face of those disparities, a couple of hundred Latino students staged a walkout Thursday at several county high schools, particularly Anaheim High in Anaheim and Sonora High in La Habra. The students then marched to Fullerton College to hold a rally with college students. Police said the protest grew unruly and they dispersed the crowd with pepper spray. More than 20 students were slightly injured during the confrontation and six people were arrested.

Although the demand for an increase in ethnic studies programs and the hiring of more minorities has grown louder in recent months on college campuses, Thursday's protest was one of the most dramatic displays of concern among high school students.

Many school officials, however, said they believed the high school students who participated in the walkouts were manipulated by college students.

"I don't believe any of the (high school) kids understood what it was all about," Brase said. "They just saw it as an opportunity to get out of class without retaliation."

Ron Anderson, assistant to the superintendent of Fullerton Joint Union High School District, said he believed most students had to be "persuaded by adults" to go to the rally.

Nonetheless, the educators agree that the issue of minority hiring is an important one.

Several district officials said there was a push this summer to fill teaching vacancies with minorities. At the Fullerton high school district, where Latinos represent 42% of the student body, 23% of the new teachers hired were Latino. In Anaheim's high school district, where 61% of the students are minority, 17 of 87 new teachers hired were minorities.

To correct the imbalance, the Anaheim Union, Anaheim City, Orange Unified and Santa Ana Unified districts entered into a program with Chapman University four years ago to train and hire their own minority teachers. The university, through a financial grant from the Philip Morris Co., gives the candidates full scholarships. In return, the candidates agree to work for the district.

"We should start seeing the benefits real soon," Brase said. "It's a wonderful program."

At Santa Ana Unified, district officials are encouraging students to develop an interest in teaching while they are still in school. The district sponsors a "Future Teachers of America" where the students work with teachers in preparing lesson plans.

But despite efforts in recruitment, the percentage of minority teachers statewide has actually increased only slightly over the past decade. In 1981, for example, 5.9% of the state's teachers were Latino and 3.4% were Asian compared to 8.3% Latino and 3.5% Asian last year.

Anderson said the unimpressive statistics might be attributed to qualified candidates choosing to pursue better-paying careers in the private sector.

"If it's a choice between AT&T and a high school, many go to AT&T where the money is better," he said.

In addition to concerns over the lack of minority teachers, the students Thursday were demanding that districts add classes on Chicano studies.

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