The one percent

Bridget Snider, print managing editor

Of over 150 KHS teachers, administrators and staff, only two are African-Americans who teach full-time. And although more part-time teachers, administrators and support staff add to the small percentage of African-American faculty at KHS, Santee Nixon, business teacher, remains part of the 1 percent.

“When you’re by yourself in terms of ethnicity, you find yourself thinking ‘Was [I hired] only because I’m black?’” Nixon said. “I know the reality is that it’s more than just that, but that’s the way you feel, and I’ve felt that way at Kirkwood.”

Nixon began his educational career at Clayton High School as assistant athletics director, football coach and then activities director. When fellow Clayton football coach Larry Frost was offered the head coaching position at KHS, he asked Nixon to join him. Nixon then completed a second master’s degree in education, following his already acquired master’s degree in business administration, to begin his teaching career.

“As an outsider, [Kirkwood] looked to me [like a] perfect community,” Nixon said. “It reminded me of where I grew up, which was comforting to me. It also had a black community, which helped make Kirkwood appear overall to be a great place to be a part of.”

When Nixon began his teaching career at KHS in 2005, he was the only full-time African-American teacher at the high school. Although Nixon saw diversity within the Kirkwood community, he said he was surprised to see a misrepresentation of such uniqueness in the KHS staff.

“The school wasn’t matching the community that I saw when I came and visited,” Nixon said. “When I came to a Kirkwood football game, it was diverse. When I got to the high school, the student population was diverse. But the staff, the staff was not.”

Nixon has since been joined by Courtland Griffin, social studies teacher, accounting for the 1 percent of full-time African-American teachers. And students have noticed. In a recent TKC survey, over 75 percent (156/207) of KHS students said they want to see more diversity in the KHS staff.

Over 75 percent (156/207) of KHS students said they want to see more diversity in the KHS staff.”

“Students need to see diversity,” Griffin said. “They need to see different teachers from different ethnic backgrounds to help them learn from new perspectives.”

In an attempt to increase diversity at all schools, KSD has hosted a minority recruiting fair each spring since 2013. Minority applicants are able to meet KHS staff, like Nixon, and interview with administrators or KSD’ personnel. Nixon has also been asked to be a part of the hiring process for new teachers by sitting in on interviews, with the hopes of bringing a different perspective.

“I’m often asked to be a part of the hiring process because they want a diverse hiring committee, and for so long I was one of the only minority teachers on staff,” Nixon said. “I want to participate because I can bring the point of view of a minority to the process.”

The hiring process, however, is not diverse the whole way through. Teacher applications begin with administrators forwarding prospects onto department chairs, which then present applicants to hiring committees. Without minority representation at the highest levels, according to Nixon, the systematic disadvantage of minority applicants still remains.

I venture to guess that an overwhelming majority of our staff may not have many friends who are minorities.”

— Santee Nixon

“We often hire our friends or friends of our friends,” Nixon said. “If you are a white person and you don’t have any black friends, when it comes to hiring, that pool of opportunity just shrinks. Often times folks say, ‘Oh I have a black friend’ that they only associate with work or maybe at church, but I’m talking about friends outside of your work life. I venture to guess that an overwhelming majority of our staff may not have many friends who are minorities.”

The next step to increasing the diversity at KHS and throughout the district, according to Nixon and Griffin, is to diversify every possible aspect of the school district, including the superintendent, assistant superintendent and other high-level titles. Without this diversification, the system will remain flawed.

“I think we can do better than where we are now with our diversity,” Nixon said. “ I have not spoken to anyone who says otherwise, yet we’re not getting that done. When we want performance in a specific area of this school to go up, it goes up. I have never not seen us improve. But we need diverse representation, and that’s the next step only because we’ve been plugging away at this for a long time. Things still haven’t changed.”

In the classroom, Griffin hopes to continue to show students the importance that diversity can bring to their lives. His Africa to America Experience class, a social studies elective, has given him the chance to share his perspective and own racial struggles with his students, with hopes that more students will become interested in taking the class so the importance of diversity is not forgotten.

“This is a culture that has shaped America,” Griffin said. “Everyone should know this history, so that we can have these conversations and bridge those racial gaps. I think [Nixon and I] are both looking for more diversity in the teachers here at Kirkwood. We’re both Pioneers and we love it here, but we want to see more diversity to help better our school.”