DeKalb District 428 schools use workforce diversity to help students feel more seen

School officials say hiring challenges complicate efforts to promote workforce diversity across departments

DeKalb School District 428 Education Center in DeKalb, IL on Thursday, May 13, 2021.

DeKALB – DeKalb School District 428 schools have faced their share of hiring challenges as have many industries in the era of COVID-19 that school officials say complicate efforts to promote workforce diversity.

Deetra Sallis, the district’s director of human resources, said she doesn’t believe she’s had to deal with the type of hiring challenges that she’s still facing with the district.

“Before, we would even get applications from people that weren’t [qualified], but now we’re getting no applications,” Sallis said. “It is really tough. I would say working in education since 2008, I’ve never seen it this tight. It has been different times where it’s been tight, but not this tight.”

Sallis said diversity is important because of who the district serves.

“We serve a diverse community that has diverse students that come out into our schools,” Sallis said. “There are opportunities to see themselves reflected in our employees is a benefit to them as students. It helps them work toward achieving goals, work toward seeing themselves reflected when they grow up. It’s a motivator. It builds self-confidence. It sustains a lot of different intrinsic values that people possess. In addition to that, we want our workforce to resemble our community and our student demographics because we want to prepare our students for the world that is diverse, whether it’s in language, race, gender, whatever area.”

In 2021, data shows that the racial/ethnic makeup of DeKalb School District 428 students was 38.3% white, 24.7% Black, 29.2% hispanic, 6.1% multiethnic/multiracial, 1.4% asian and 0.3% American Indian, according to the Illinois School Report Card.

Students head into the school Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022, for their first day at Tyler Elementary in DeKalb.

Billy Hueramo, the district’s elementary curriculum coordinator, said the district understands the importance of having a diverse workforce, especially considering “we have a lot more diverse community” and how the curriculum needs to be up-to-date and responsive to needs.

Sallis said the district employs a variety of means hoping to cast a wide net in its hiring.

“We do some targeting recruitment through our position postings, so we post with different groups or organizations that might be associated with diversity in some form or fashion,” Sallis said. “We also do the same type of posting with professional organizations. So, we do a variety of targeted postings. When there are opportunities for recruitment events, we will attend. Because of [COVID-19] though – I’ve only worked here during the time of [COVID-19] – we have not done any extensive traveling.”

Job fairs often are held virtually, she said, although the district isn’t opposed to traveling to seek out candidates.

Sallis emphasized that hiring has been a struggle across the board but said there has been some success.

“We have become more diverse organically throughout our administrative staff and some positions throughout the district,” Sallis said. “We haven’t seen a lot of growth in our [DeKalb Classroom Teachers’ Association] teaching group, but we’re working on that. With the shortage, there’s a struggle with recruiting in general.”

In 2021, data shows that the racial/ethnic makeup of DeKalb School District 428 administrators was 79.7% white, 10.1% Black, 7.6% hispanic and 2.5% multiethnic/multiracial, according to the Illinois School Report Card.

The same year, data shows that the racial/ethnic makeup of DeKalb School District 428 teachers was 89.5% white, 2.6% Black, 5.7% hispanic, 1.5% multiethnic/multiracial, 0.5% asian and 0.2% American Indian, according to the Illinois School Report Card.

Deetra Sallis delivers a report at the Sept. 20, 2022 meeting of the DeKalb District 428 school board. Sallis is the district's director of human resources.

Sarah Montgomery, the district’s secondary curriculum coordinator, negated the idea that it may be a balancing act for the district having to grapple with ensuring students feel more seen in today’s politically-charged world where some people question how money is spent on books and resources.

“Students have a choice in access to different things,” Montgomery said. “We’re always making sure things are age-appropriate.”

Hueramo agreed.

“You always as a parent have the choice to opt your student out, and then we just have to provide an alternative curriculum to that student while they’re maybe in the media center while we’re doing a read-aloud lesson in the classroom,” Hueramo said.

The district makes it a priority to examine inclusiveness and diversity of materials for core curriculum, officials said.

Montgomery said the district’s end goal is simple.

“We encourage our children no matter what level to be thinkers, to be analytical just as their parents want as a common goal that we work together for,” Montgomery said. “Parents, as we’ve engaged in different conversations, are appreciative of that once they understand the ‘why’ of what we’re doing. We’re not looking to indoctrinate any students. We want them to be well-versed in a diverse selection of material and to be self-thinkers.”

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