With a small but growing body of research showing that teachers of color can help students of color perform better academically, suburban districts are trying to boost the diversity of their faculty. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education also plans to launch a diversity task force next year.
Some districts are shelving the old methods of recruitment and testing new approaches.
Andover, for example, has cut down on trips to Atlanta and other Southern cities to recruit minority teachers. Teacher salaries in the South are now competitive, while the cost of living in Massachusetts is still high and fewer teachers are interested in moving away from their home communities, said Hall, Andover’s human resources director.
Instead, Andover is among several area districts, including Arlington, Brookline and Lexington, trying to develop their own teachers. All four joined Today’s Students Tomorrow’s Teachers last year, and are spending about $3,000 annually on each of the five students from their district participating in the program.
The high school students in the program shadow teachers, participate in summer internships, attend college and SAT preparation classes, and can qualify for scholarships to participating colleges. When the students graduate from college, the hope is that they return to teach in their former school districts.
While only a quarter of the students who start the program complete it, those who stay continue teaching long after, said Bob Harris, the assistant superintendent of human resources in Lexington.
“We think it holds a lot of promise, given the environment that we have in terms of recruiting teachers of color,” Harris said.
In Newton, school officials are discussing whether to hire a recruiter to find minority teachers, or to expand the network of colleges it works with for student teachers, many of whom eventually end up with permanent positions in the district.
“I think it’s worth looking at what we’ve done and how we can enhance that,” said Heather Richards, the Newton district’s human resources director.
The renewed focus on diversifying the faculty comes as some Newton officials complain that the city has lost momentum in attracting minority teachers even as its nonwhite population has grown. In the 1970s and 1980s, when the district’s student population was much more white, Newton aggressively recruited minority teachers, aiming to create a more diverse workplace and expose students to different people and ideas, said Sam Turner, who was Newton’s first black principal and has since retired.
“I don’t know if there’s been enough of a strong effort,” said Turner, who recalls traveling to Southern states as well as Ohio and Pennsylvania to recruit teachers of color. “Back in the day, it was go and do this and don’t worry about the cost.”
Between 2001-2002 and the current school year, the district’s proportion of minority personnel grew by just 1 percentage point, to 10 percent of all school staff in Newton, and that was because more teacher’s aides of color were hired, according to district affirmative-action reports. The number of minority principals dropped from four to one.
Yet during the same decade, the proportion of students of color grew from 19 percent to 33 percent of enrollment.
“I think it fell off the radar,” Angela Pitter-Wright, a Newton School Committee member and parent, said of the minority hiring effort. “I think with the last couple of years with budget cuts, it’s been so difficult that the focus just wasn’t there.”
Recruitment is not the only problem, Pitter-Wright said. Districts must retain teachers of color by providing strong mentorships and encouraging their input in school decisions.
Newton parent Lisa Bibuld said she wants to see a more diverse staff in the schools .
Earlier this year, her middle-school daughter had questions about her decision to wear her hair naturally and how it would be perceived at school. Bibuld suggested her daughter chat with the guidance counselor, who is also black; it helped, she said. “It made me wonder, would there have been opportunities for her to talk about it sooner if there were other teachers of color,” Bibuld said.
Xonatia Lee, a sophomore at Andover High who is participating in the Today’s Students Tomorrow’s Teachers program, said a more diverse teaching force would help minority students feel less isolated.
“I feel like it’s hard to be in an environment to be the only one,” said Lee, who was born in Jamaica. “You try to adapt, but it’s hard, because you still stand out.” Continued...