By Tanya R. DeVaughn, NDG Contributing Writer
The Irving Independent School District (Irving ISD) appears on track to make important strides under the leadership of Dr. Dana Bedden according to his supporters and even detractors.
Earlier this fall, in our Oct. 18 story entitled Irving ISD’s new 5-2 voting plan symptom of a larger problem, we focused on the redistricting plan for Irving ISD. The story also spotlighted the concerns of community leaders regarding the new 5-2 voting plan. This month we are looking at the efforts of Irving ISD to increase diversity among teachers, principals and administrative-level personnel; efforts to increase male role models; and the state of the district’s supplier diversity efforts. We are also taking a look at how Dr. Dana Bedden is doing as Irving ISD’s superintendent.
A chart provided by the Irving ISD shows the district’s progress in increasing minority hires. Both the minority teaching staff and professional staff have increased since 2011-12.
While there were no previous years to compare, the second chart (below) shows the percentage representation of minorities as principals, senior cabinet and cabinet for 2012-13.
As a candidate for the superintendent position, Dr. Bedden pledged to increase minority candidates for positions in the district if he was hired. While the current numbers for both professional staff and teachers are lower than the 50.6 percent seen in 2010-11, they are higher than the 32 percent and 33 percent seen in 2011-12.
Dr. Bedden wants to increase the minority staff, however he points out the district must hire the “best candidate for the position.” When asked about increasing the hiring of Hispanics, he acknowledged the majority of the student population is Hispanic at 71 percent. Dr. Bedden indicated if he hired Hispanic teachers to match the current student population, then nearly seven out of ten teachers hired would be Hispanic. Under current hiring guidelines, the district cannot hire such a large number of Hispanics. Additionally, when you take into account the candidate’s education, state certification and other employment requirements, the teacher candidate pool becomes smaller.
Along with increasing minority staff, there is a concern regarding if the district has enough male role models in Irving ISD. In response to this concern, Irving ISD provided the following statement: “We strive to employ a diverse and inspiring professional staff, recruiting from the same pool of qualified applicants as our local counterparts. Our first priority is always to hire the best-qualified candidate and to adhere to Title VII and other legal requirements that govern employment practices. Historically, the teaching profession shows that more females than males become teachers. In the past few years, the state of Texas has averaged approximately 77 percent females in the profession. Irving ISD, for the past 4 years has averaged approximately 79.5 percent female.”
The Irving ISD staff is utilizing new innovative approaches through the use of technology in their efforts to recruit minority candidates. Budget constraints present challenges when candidates must be flown in for interviews, and relocation costs can also be an issue. In sensitivity to the budget, Dr. Bedden shared the fact the hiring mangers often use Skype to interview potential candidates. The district also advertises in larger markets outside of Texas, and Dr. Bedden holds his team accountable for who they interview to ensure a diverse pool of qualified candidates.
While Irving ISD appears to be accomplishing its goals of hiring minority candidates, several people were interviewed by NDG who expressed concerns, however they emphasized their wish to remain anonymous.
One individual, a former staff member, believes the reason they were not promoted to a higher position was due to a lack of consistency and objectivity when evaluating candidates based on the expectations communicated to those pursuing higher level positions. As a result, expectations became a ‘constantly moving target.’ They felt some candidates had an unfair advantage because of their ‘connections’ within the district. This individual does not believe it was racially motivated, but feels there is a pattern of identifying ‘select’ minorities already in the district to either appoint them or groom them for higher-level positions.
Another anonymous source mentioned the lack of male role models in Irving ISD, but is pleased with the progress Irving ISD has made in addressing male mentoring, especially among Afr-ican-American students.
Regarding Irving ISD’s supplier diversity efforts, their goal is to have 10 percent participation of minority vendors and they have outlined procedures to accomplish this goal. Irving ISD confirmed to the North Dallas Gazette that more than 15 percent of their discretionary spending is with Minority/Women Business Enterprise-Historically Underutilized Business (M/WBE-HUB) vendors. In fact, Irving ISD officials believe the total spend will actually increase to 18 percent. It is important to note the district’s current MWBE-HUB policy was developed over the last two years under Dr. Bedden’s leadership.
Dr. Dana Bedden was hired as Irving ISD’s superintendent in 2010. As with any leader, Dr. Bedden may have his naysayers, but there are others who think Dr. Bedden is serving the students of Irving well.
This includes René Martinez, the director of the League of United Latin American Citizens’ (LU-LAC) District 3. Perhaps not surprisingly, Martinez does not feel there is adequate Hispanic representation in top administrative positions. However, Martinez indicated overall Dr. Bedden has been responsive to the Hispanic community. He was especially impressed with the handling of a situation at F.M. Gilbert Elementary School where the student population is majority Hispanic and the principal, who was white, was allegedly insensitive to the needs of Hispanic students.
“Regarding how the situation at Gilbert Elementary was handled, I’d give Dr. Bedden a score of 9 out of 10,” says Martinez. “I would also defend him on how he’s handling the bilingual program.” Gilbert Elementary now has a new principal, a Hispanic female. According to Martinez, the school’s bilingual program is working very well, and they are recruiting bilingual teachers.
A source, wishing to remain anonymous, says Dr. Bedden works hard to appear unbiased to others, and at times this can ruffle feathers because outwardly he appears biased against African-Americans. However, they give him high marks on his management during the recent financial crisis while maintaining growth in school technology programs. Several schools have been recognized for achievement in technology. Overall, the individual believes Dr. Bedden has done a good job.
Anthony Bond, chair of the Irving Education Coalition, does feel Irving ISD is moving too slowly in becoming a district whose overall staff represents the ethnic make-up of the Irving community. Bond is also a proponent of single member districts.
However, Bond believes Dr. Bedden is a knowledgeable and intelligent leader for the district. When asked about Dr. Bedden’s overall performance Bond says, “I would give him an A- rating at this point.”