SIOUX CITY | The Sioux City school district is among many in the state struggling to diversify its workforce, especially as Iowa’s demographics continue to shift.
Despite efforts to recruit and retain a diverse workforce, 96 percent of Sioux City’s teaching corps is white, a percentage that has remained stubbornly high. Black, Hispanic, Native American and biracial teachers make up about one more percentage point each.
Superintendent Paul Gausman said the lack of diversity raises concerns, especially in a district where 56 percent of the student population is white, followed by Hispanic students at 29 percent.
“It’s not that we have a diverse candidate pool, and we are only hiring Caucasians,” Gausman said. “Our candidate pool does not have the diversity we would like to make choices.”
Head Counselor Jennifer Gomez said staff diversity is crucial for creating positive role models and building connections with students.
“We can learn from one another. We all have different strengths,” Gomez said. “For me, as a Hispanic woman, I feel I serve as a role model. I can show there are opportunities out there.”
Sioux City is not alone in its challenge.
Isaiah McGee, an equity consultant with the Iowa Department of Education, said districts across the state struggle to diversify their workforce in a manner that reflects the communities they serve.
In the 2000-2001 school year, 1.4 percent of Iowa's 33,610 teachers were minorities, according to the state Department of Education. That number rose to 2.2 percent for the 33,938 teachers working in 2011-2012.
The issue is often pointed out during the state’s accreditation process. Districts such as Sioux City are often asked to make a concerted effort to hire minority teachers and support staff.
“We are not going to cite them or put them in a negative position, but there is an expectation that an effort is taken,” McGee said. “We know it is difficult and there are barriers in Iowa.”
A key problem is that the percentage of minority students pursuing education as a career does not match up with the general population’s diversity.
That has prompted the Sioux City district to take matters into its own hands.
District officials hope a career clusters program will get more Sioux City students interested in education as a career. The goal is that those students will then go to college and return to Sioux City to teach.
The program exposes students to different career fields that include engineering, medicine and technology.
Gomez said the program will benefit the whole community if more people are training for jobs in Sioux City.
“That’s one of our goals – to help students see what jobs are in our community and to help our community grow,” she said.