ARLINGTON -- A group of local civil rights leaders and parents are calling the Arlington school district's hiring practices discriminatory, saying the shortage of minority teachers and principals is hurting students' educational experience.
Of the district's 74 principals, only seven are African-American and eight are Hispanic, according to school district personnel records. Eleven campuses have either one or no African-American teachers and 15 have either one or no Hispanic teachers, district records show.
"All kids need to have role models. They need to see their kind," said Luis Castillo, president of Arlington LULAC Council 4353. "I've always said I don't want my daughter to grow up to see Hispanics only as custodians and in food service."
Parents and members of the Arlington LULAC Council criticized Superintendent Jerry McCullough and school administrators Tuesday during a news conference outside Hill Elementary, where they say the search for a new principal has drawn attention to the district's lack of diversity.
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The group said it is considering contacting the U.S. Education Department's civil rights office about racially charged comments they allege were made by two white Hill teachers on the selection committee.
According to LULAC members, the two teachers reportedly said during reviews of the three applicants that they did not want "anyone from outside the district or a black person to be our principal."
"If the staff here feels that way about minority staff, I can't imagine the way they feel about our kids," Castillo said. "Obviously there is an element of racism here."
Schools chief defended
McCullough declined to comment on the personnel matter Tuesday but strongly disagreed with charges that the district's hiring practices are discriminatory.
While increasing diversity among the teaching staff and administrators has been one of his top priorities, McCullough said the change can't happen overnight. Administrators have to wait for positions to open and, while diversity is an asset, employees are chosen based on their qualifications for the job, he said.
"When we have openings, I make sure we are looking at candidates' diversity," he said. "As I meet with principals individually, that is one of the things I ask them: 'Are you diversifying your staff?' It's been a priority for me."
Gloria Peña, the Arlington school board's first Hispanic president, pointed to the predominantly minority senior staff McCullough has selected since becoming superintendent as evidence of his dedication to increasing diversity.
"To me that is proof that Mr. McCullough is doing the right thing for the right reasons and he is ensuring our students are getting the best," Pena said.
Instead of choosing from the three candidates -- which included two African-Americans and a Caucasian -- McCullough appointed Turning Point Principal Lloyd Day, a former elementary school principal, as Hill's interim principal for the next year.
LULAC officials said they are disappointed that McCullough did not appoint a minority as interim principal.
The group has joined with local chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference to raise awareness about district diversity.
Bridgett Davis, whose daughter attends an Arlington school, was one of the parents gathered who said students need to see more minorities in leadership roles both in the classroom and in the front office.
"My heart hurts for the children here," Davis said. "We're not going to tolerate what Hill Elementary has done in the face of our children and in the face of our community. We will fight until justice prevails."
SUSAN SCHROCK, 817-390-7639