STERLING — In public comments, a former member of the board of education challenged Sterling Public Schools to develop a plan to increase the number of Latino teachers, and thus, better represent the student population.
Gonzalo Reyes said his appearance at Wednesday’s meeting was prompted by information contained in the October release of the Illinois Report Card.
The report compiled by the Illinois State Board of Education shows that broken down by ethnicity, Sterling’s teaching staff is 7% Hispanic and has no Black teachers. Another 1.5% are teachers with more than one ethnicity.
The student population is 35.1% Hispanic and 2.1% Black. Another 6.4% are students with more than one ethnicity.
“That is unacceptable,” Reyes said.
As a percentage, the Latino representation among teachers in Sterling schools is in decline. It was 11% in 2016 and 2017, and has fallen each year since.
Reyes proposed a “grow your own” approach to providing tuition assistance to minority students interested in a career in education as a means of bringing back students to the district.
“We need to provide role models for Latino and African American kids,” Reyes said.
It is not board practice to respond to public comments, although Reyes invited them to do so.
Superintendent Tad Everett said after the meeting that he had spoken with Reyes about this issue earlier.
“Teacher recruitment in general is a real issue for us, most definitely minority recruitment,” Everett said.
Everett said the starting place is the Community Relations Committee: “Our goal is to start having conversations about ‘growing our own’ program. And so most definitely, there’s validity to that – and value.”
Reyes teaches art at Newman High School and was formerly an art teacher at Challand Middle School, where he was that school’s 2012 teacher of the year.
Reyes served nine years on the board of education, including a term as vice president. He resigned so he could take the Challand position. In 2021, he ran unsuccessfully for a return to the board. He is a Sterling High School graduate with degrees from Sauk Valley Community College, Southern Illinois University-Carbondale and the University of Notre Dame.
By percentage, Sterling Public Schools’ Hispanic population is greater than the state average, which is about 27.2%.