A WXXI News investigation finds that local districts have a severe lack of diversity on teaching staffs. Five public school districts have zero African-American teachers on staff; four districts have just one, according to the numbers from the 2015-16 school year.
Candice Hudson is the only African-American teacher in the Hilton school district. All 393 of her colleagues are white. We visited Hudson to find her reading to her elementary school students; she teaches English as a New Language for grades three through six.
Hudson loves working with the kids, and they seem to share the sentiment. But occasionally, there are awkward moments.
"Living in Hilton, they don't see a lot of people of color, so they wanted to touch my skin color, make sure it wasn't rubbing off," she said. "And it was just innocence on their part. They've never seen people like me. The last thing is, 'Can I touch your hair?' I get that a lot.”
Hudson spent the first eight years of her career teaching in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, a city and a school district that are majority non-white.
"They wanted more diverse teachers, so they offered me the position my senior year of college," Hudson explained. She went to Virginia Union University, a historically black college.
When she moved to Hilton in 2008, she expected some cultural change. She did not expect that she would be the only teacher of color in the district.
"Hilton is a very small community," she said. "It's rural. But I figured there would be more, and I was kind of shocked when there was just me."
In the last eight years, Hudson says she has never been treated unfairly based on her race, but on some days, she feels isolated.
"It does bother me when I look around and see no one who looks like me, and I think most people take for granted what it's like to work in a setting where you are the only person of color," she said.
Nationally, 82 percent of public school teachers are white. In Monroe County, we found that 92 percent of teachers are white.
"Wow," Hudson said when we shared our findings with her. "That's shocking. ... That's an issue. That's sad, really."
We met Hilton students from many different backgrounds; nearly 10 percent of them are not white. They all said that school is a warm, welcoming place, but they agreed that there is something missing when almost every teacher is white.
“When it comes down to Martin Luther King month, you can have people who actually lived through it," explained sixth-grade student Mercedes Marshall, who is African-American. "Instead of someone who gets information off of books, Internet.”
Another sixth grader, Abdulwahed Shaibi, is worried about the message his district sends by having so little diversity on the teaching staff. He spoke highly of his teachers and administrators, but said, “It would be better if they have more different-colored teachers, because, when someone comes to the school, like, if they have all different colors, they could see, like, this is a good school. They’re going to treat everyone the same way and everything.”
"We want to teach all children that our world is diverse, and it shouldn't be just about color, either," Hudson said. "When I'm talking diversity, I mean color, religion, sexual orientation, gender. We lack male teachers. So it should be a true state of diversity for all of those, not just color."
WXXI asked every local district if they’re undertaking specific steps to increase the diversity in their teaching workforce. Like many districts, Hilton simply replied, “No.” Hudson said that disappoints her.
“It does, slightly," she said. "And I’m hoping this interview, once it’s released, that people who can make a change will stop and listen, and think about some changes we could make for the district.”
Until that happens, Mrs. Hudson is likely to be the only teacher her students ever have who isn’t white.
All data in this story is from the 2015-16 school year.
Degrees of Diversity is funded in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.