BELLEVILLE — Union School Principal Lori Taylor has watched Belleville's face change.
Taylor said diversity makes Belleville a better place to live and her school a better place to learn.
In the late 1960s and early '70s, when Taylor was a student, Belleville Elementary District 118 had a handful of black students. When she became Union's principal in 2003, about a quarter of the district's students were black.
Now, the racial mix of the 420 students in her school is about 51 percent white and 49 percent black, but then, who's counting?
"We don't see races here, we see kiddos," Taylor said. "I know it sounds cliche, but it's true."
Union School second grade teacher Veeta Jackson is one of nine black teachers out of 262 in District 118.
"I graduated from high school in East St. Louis in 1978, and we only had 12 white kids in the building," Jackson said. "Back then in the cafeteria at lunch time, the black kids and the white kids split up. Today, if you look in our cafeteria, it's salt and pepper. Everyone is mixed together."
The change spread from the students to the parents.
"I see black families picking up white kids after school and driving them home, and I see white families picking up black kids and driving them home," Jackson said. "These kids are all part of the same family. They're all part of the same team, no matter what their color. We all cry and we all bleed. We share our sorrows and we share our happiness."
U.S. Census Bureau data released Tuesday showed one in four Belleville residents is black -- 11,314 out of 44,478 residents counted in the 2010 Census.
And as predicted, the migration to the east and away from the urban, industrial Mississippi River corridor and to the rural areas and suburbs above the bluffs was borne out in the metro-east by the 2010 Census.
Centreville, Madison, Washington Park and East St. Louis all saw losses of 10 percent or more. Cahokia lost 7 percent of its population, and black residents became the majority.
For Matt Hawkins, who is running for a seat on the East St. Louis City Council, the big population losses in East St. Louis present new opportunities for candidates running outside the traditional Democratic Party apparatus.
"We'll see more independents and Republicans successfully contend for office," said Hawkins, who co-founded a political party called Alliance4Change.
"For me, it definitely diminishes the Democratic lock on St. Clair County," Hawkins said.
Robert Sprague, chairman of the St. Clair County Democratic Central Committee, could not be reached for comment.
The migration has made blufftop, bedroom communities larger and more diverse.
Fairview Heights grew 13.6 percent; Glen Carbon 24.1 percent; Swansea 26.9 percent; O'Fallon 29.10 percent; Mascoutah 32.2 percent; Maryville 61 percent and Shiloh 65.5 percent.
The metro-east's most populous counties both grew. St. Clair County gained 5.45 percent since 2000, pushing its total to 270,056. It edged out Madison County, which saw its population grow by 4 percent, to 269,282.
St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern attributed the county's growth to its communities' good schools and the expansion of Scott Air Force Base
"In general, I think Scott Air Force Base has led to growth beyond the gates," Kern said. "With $2.3 billion pumped into the local economy, it certainly helps us."
St. Clair County's percentage of white residents rose 0.3 percent, to 64.3 percent of the total population. The black population rose 11 percent, to 30.5 percent of the county population. Hispanic residents rose nearly 57 percent, to 3.3 percent.
Madison County's percentage of whites rose 1.7 percent since 2000, to 88 percent of the county population. Madison County's black population rose 12.1 percent, to nearly 8 percent of the total. The Hispanic population rose 86.3 percent, to 2.7 percent of the total.
Monroe County continued drawing residents during the decade, growing 19.3 percent to 32,957 residents. Columbia grew 22.5 percent, and Waterloo grew 28.9 percent.
As far as whether Belleville grew or shrank, that's open for interpretation.
The 2000 Census recorded 41,410 Belleville residents. City leaders said that tally was off and got a new count, which found 45,506 residents. Yet the Census Bureau still lists Belleville's 2000 population at 41,410.
So the city gained 7.4 percent in a decade from the "official" count. But it lost 2.2 percent from the "real" count. Go figure.
Diversity is clearer.
Belleville experienced a 76-percent boost in its black population since the 2000 Census. Its Hispanic population jumped nearly 72 percent, to 1,163 or about 2.3 percent of the total.
Those are significant changes for a city that in the early 1990s profiled black motorists on the city's west end, had never hired a black worker and then was forced into a federal consent decree to end discrimination.
Belleville Elementary District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said the changes is his district's student population present a hiring challenge.
The district's racial makeup has shifted from 70 percent white in 2000 to 55 percent in 2010. About 33 percent of its students are black, another 7.6 percent are bi-racial, with small percentages of Hispanic and Asian students, he said.
"We would like our teaching staff to reflect our student population," Klosterman said. "But we have been unable to find African-American educators."
Nine of the 262 certified teachers are black, while seven are Hispanic.
"We've tried to reach out at recruitment seminars and we have made contact with Harris-Stowe University," Klosterman said. "The important thing is to have the best teachers we can get, regardless of race. But it is important, also, to have teachers who reflect the student population ... who understand the culture and the background of the kids."