“Georgia Schools Lay Unequal Foundations for College”: A Response

Classroom with Students

On November 18, 2012, The Atlanta Journal Constitution published an article entitled, “Georgia Schools Lay Unequal Foundations for College.”  One of the authors of the piece who visited Wilcox County High School in Rochelle, Georgia to cover this story, Jamie Sarrio, failed to discuss the lack of faculty diversity at Wilcox County High School, which significantly contributes to the academic underachievement at this high school—especially among the large Black student population.  Currently, Wilcox County High School only has one minority teacher: a Black female English teacher.  Last year, the school had only two minority teachers: a Hispanic female Spanish teacher and an African American male English teacher.  Both of those teachers were fired.  The Black male English teacher, who the current Black female English teacher replaced, was terminated due to Superintendent Steve Smith’s bias against him because he was an outspoken voice against practices and policies employed at the school that have a devastating impact on the academic achievement of all students, especially Black students.

About 50% percent of the student population at Wilcox County High School is Black.  Again, the school only has one minority teacher and this teacher was only hired as an attempt to camouflage the unjust termination of the previous Black male English teacher.

During Jamie Sarrio’s observations and interviews with students and teachers at Wilcox County High School, one would think that she would see something wrong with the reality that this school has about a 50% percent Black student population and only one Black teacher.  Superintendent Steve Smith established parameters for her school visit geared toward painting a rosy picture and that would avoid allowing a substantive investigation of a serious issue like the lack of faculty diversity at the school.  One has to, therefore, give Jamie Sarrio the benefit of the doubt about why she left out a discussion of the lack of a diverse faculty at the institution.  While doing her journalistic work for this story, Jamie Sarrio did have knowledge about the lack of faculty diversity at the school, considering she saw it absent firsthand and knew about the following article published in The Cordele Dispatch: “Citizens Want Teacher Back Next Year.”

As long as Superintendent Steve Smith continues to fail to address the lack of faculty diversity at Wilcox County High School, the school will continue to be considered a failing school and will produce students who perform at the bottom at the state and national level.  Yes, Wilcox County High School has economic issues that schools in metro-Atlanta and Atlanta don’t have to face.    Superintendent Steve Smith, however, cannot blame his failure to hire a diverse faculty on where he’s located, especially when the school is located about 50 miles from Albany State University, a prestigious historically Black university in Albany, Georgia.

Minority students need to benefit from a diverse faculty to aid them emotionally, socially, professionally and academically.  When minority students are able to have a minority teacher in the classroom, they are much more likely to relate to that teacher and, more importantly, it’s more likely that the teacher is going to employ culturally relevant pedagogy, which not only leads to success for minority students but also White students.

Reread and/or rethink “Georgia Schools Lay Unequal Foundations for College” with the lack of faculty diversity in mind and see how differently it makes you think about the problems Wilcox County High School and other schools without a diverse faculty face.  One will discover that the problems at Wilcox County High School are much more about race than they are about economics.

Antonio Maurice Daniels

University of Wisconsin-Madison               

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