November 23, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
52°F
test

Diversity remains a challenge for Elyria district

ELYRIA — The layoff of Elyria High School Assistant Principal Sam Dickerson by the school board Wednesday evening eliminates the district’s only black male building administrator and lays bare the lack of diversity in the district’s staff.

Dickerson, who came to Elyria three years ago from Cleveland Schools, has set himself apart as a figure minority students can trust, and his impending dismissal had scores of students and their parents questioning the decision of the board, urging members to look beyond finances and seniority to understand Dickerson’s importance.

“There is a good number of children in that school who look up to him and need to have someone in his position that looks like they do,” said Kionna McIntosh, a mother of three teenagers. “I say this with all due respect to Mr. Jama, but the truth is there are not a whole lot of leaders that fit the description of Mr. Dickerson.”

Roughly 40 percent of students in Elyria Schools are black or minority.

At Elyria High, there is just one other black administrator — Assistant Principal Miranda Roscoe. In the district, the only other building administrator is Oakwood Elementary School Principal Aretha Dixon.

The district’s director of human resources, Gary Taylor, said increasing the number of blacks employed by the district is not easy.

“You advertise, you do some networking, you even contact colleagues in other urban districts letting them know when you have an opening,” he said. “But it’s very challenging because it’s not a new thing. It’s basically high demand and low supply.”

The last time Taylor sought data from the Ohio Department of Education about the number of minority educators in the state was a few years ago. At that time, just 5.7 percent of all licensed practicing teachers were black and 0.9 percent were Hispanic, for a total of just 6.8 percent of minority educators across the entire state.

“I don’t know what it is, but I was just at Bowling Green State University at a meet-and-greet for new graduates. I talked to 300 to 400 graduates and just four of them were minorities. This is from Bowling Green — a strong school for pumping out teachers,” Taylor said.

A standing-room-only crowd filled the board meeting at the Elyria Schools Administration Building after it was learned a day earlier that Dickerson’s administrative contract was not going to be renewed for the coming school year. His cut is part of a sweeping $3 million cost reduction plan.

Students reacted in protest earlier in the day by staging a short sit-in in the high school’s dining hall and many followed up with an appearance at the board meeting.

Also in attendance was Elyria NAACP Chapter President Betty Moody White, who said she made a personal visit to Tom Jama, Elyria High’s principal, Wednesday afternoon to learn what could be done to preserve Dickerson’s job.

“I think letting him go is a huge, huge mistake for the district,” she said. “He is more than a principal to these kids. I think the board has to know what he brings to the district that is more than academic.”

Superintendent Paul Rigda said the impassioned pleas of students and parents did not fall on deaf ears. In an unconventional move, the board voted to lay him off similarly to how they do teachers with the understanding he will be offered the first assistant principal position that opens up at the high school or middle school in the next two years.

“We heard what you said and we will do everything we can to make Elyria a place you can be proud of, including the people you love and count on,” said board member Evelyn France.

The district also stuck an extra caveat in the resolution detailing Dickerson’s contract suspension — the possibility of returning as a teacher if such a position is available until an administrator job opens up.

“We know what his value is,” Rigda said. “This was good to hear, but we were well aware of what kind of man and educator we had in Mr. Dickerson. We know that he was changing lives.”

All of the more than a dozen students who spoke on Dickerson’s behalf were black. In him, many of them — products of single-parent households and absentee fathers — found the male role model they never had.

“He is a father figure to a lot of kids at this high school,” said single mother LaKeisha Davis. “The things he does for these kids, I don’t think he does it because he is just there to get a paycheck.”

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.