Most students in the Austin Independent School District returning to school today are minorities, but many of those students won’t see a minority teacher in front of the classroom. State data show there's a large diversity gap between teachers and students in all Austin high schools and middle schools.
Every single Austin middle and high school has more white teachers than teachers of any other ethnicity. Individually, schools have teaching staffs that are anywhere from 46 to 87 percent white. Last year, 25 percent of the district's middle and high school students were white.
"Is it important to have diversity? Absolutely," says Kristen Hilsabeck, who works in Austin ISD's Human Resources department. "But what we need to be reminded of is [that] we're not going to hit that at every one of our campuses."
Austin ISD district employees say they want teacher demographics at every school to mirror the demographics of the student population district-wide (8 percent African American, 60 percent Hispanic and 25 percent white). But Hilsabeck says other teacher shortages take priority when hiring. The district has a hard time finding teachers with special certifications, such as bilingual certification, special education and career and technical training. There are shortages in those areas statewide.
In Austin schools with more minority students, the percentage of minority teachers is higher, but not by much. LBJ High School has the smallest percentage of white teachers among high schools: 52 percent. Still, the majority of teachers at LBJ are white.
Interactive map: Teacher ethnicities at Austin ISD's middle and high schools
Principal Sheila Henry says more diversity among teachers builds trust when students see teachers who look like them.
“Kids don’t perform as well when they don’t really trust you care enough to get that done," Henry said in an interview in her office before the first day of school. "And I was thinking, sometimes it’s difficult for kids when you’re white and I’m black and I have my own set of values and morals and you have your own set.”
Henry says sometimes those differences cause a breakdown in communication between teachers and students. But not everyone agrees. Crockett High School Principal Craig Shapiro sees things differently.
“That gets into a slippery slope: the question of someone who looks like me. Kids are going to attach themselves to the adult that responds to them. And many times, it's not about race or financial or background or socioeconomic status. It's about, 'I made a connection, and I have a relationship with this person.'"
Eighty-two percent of teachers at Crockett High School are white.