BAYONNE, NJ - Bayonne school officials said they are in the process of seeking qualified teachers of color, but it will take time to make up for the historic disparity in local classrooms.

Earlier this month, local residents, and businesswomen, Shawnda Jacobs and Ortavia Jackson, founders of Black in Bayonne, questioned why the school district had so few African American teachers. Currently the District, the largest employer in the city, has only 19 Black teachers, the local activist group pointed out.

Board Vice President Christopher Munoz said the District is actively seeking qualified teachers and others to help remedy that. 

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In 2018, the board established a committee that included Munoz and Assistant Superintendent Kenneth Kopacz and was tasked with creating a Diversity and Inclusion plan.

“I was on the committee along with Gene Woods – head of the teachers’ union and a number of teachers,” Munoz said. “It is an amazing plan and we decided if people aren’t applying, then we will go out and find them. But it is a slow process.”

Over the last two years, the district has hired more than 100 people of color for various positions. And more than half of those hired in recent months are African American or Hispanic, school officials said, with Munoz adding that the team has been attending job fairs at state schools and traditional black colleges seeking to recruit minority candidates.

During an interview with TAPinto Bayonne earlier this month Rev. Dorothy Patterson of Wallace Temple AME Zion Church said she was very concerned about what she perceives as a built-in prejudice that has kept Blacks from getting jobs in the district, noting that she has recommended qualified people who were later rejected.

Black activists have been pushing for the immediate hiring of as many as 20 teachers over the next three months, something local officials say is not possible.

“There are only a certain number of positions that come open,” Munoz said. “And not all of the applications fit the positions that are open. We are working to deal with the situation, but it will take time.”

Munoz said efforts have already showed results, including the promotion of Ben Gamble as boys’ basketball coach. Gamble, who grew up in Jersey City, was more than qualified for the position, but might have been overlooked in the past.

“This is not just a problem for Bayonne, but throughout the state,” Munoz said, noting that many qualified black teachers often go back to urban areas where they grew up to teach.

Under Governor Chris Christie the State of New Jersey changed the criteria, including increasing the grade point average necessary, to obtain a teacher’s certification, an adjustment that may have discouraged or even disqualified students coming from poorly performing school districts.

“Bayonne is changing from what it used to be, and we need to see those changes in the school district,” Munoz concluded.

* Editor's Note: Edited at 5:17 p.m Wednesday to reflect that Ben Gamble was not the first Black head basketball coach. James Turner has served as the Girl's Basketball Coach since 2007.

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