From Andover to Bedford to Sharon, many public schools in Greater Boston have seen their student populations change during the past decade as more black, Chinese, Indian, Hispanic, and Middle Eastern families move in. But their teachers remain predominantly white.
From left to right: French teacher Josue Oreus, 36, of Haiti, Spanish interpreter Maria Rugeles, 47, of Colombia, and Mirlande Felissaint, 36, of Haiti, sit in the cafeteria together at Everett High School. Next
Everett, whose minority student enrollment skyrocketed from 27 percent in 2001-2002 to 60 percent a decade later, has struggled to attract more diverse teachers. According to data from the state’s Department of Elementary and Seconday Education, 4.4 percent of Everett’s teachers were minority in the 2011-2012 school year. In only a handful of suburban districts does the number of minority teachers exceed 10 percent.
At Everett High School, math teacher Long Le, who is Vietnamese, helped launch an Asian Student Group four years ago, soon after he was hired. The group tries to help students who are recent immigrants and those who were born here manage academic expectations and make social connections, Le said.
Le, 32, teaches Algebra at Everett High School. Next
The diversity gap is a statewide issue, with nonwhite students in Massachusetts accounting for 33 percent of enrollment in the 2011-2012 school year, while the share of minority teachers was 7 percent.
School superintendents and personnel officials point to several reasons for the low number of minority teachers, most significantly that the pool of ethnically-diverse teachers is still relatively small.
“We go to the job fairs and they’re lily white,” said Thomas Stella, an assistant superintendent at Everett.
From left to right: Biology teacher Sunghwa Chang, 27, of Everett, Class Master Alex Naumann, 38, of Everett, and English language teacher Elaine Chung, 30, of Hong Kong, sit in the cafeteria together at Everett High School. Next
Some districts trying to recruit a more diverse faculty say they are fighting a perception that their schools are entirely white, their students well-heeled, and their parents pushy.
“I don’t know if people really think of the diversity of suburban schools,” said Henry Turner, the principal of Bedford High School. Turner is black.
Christopher Zellner is one of the few teachers of color at Bedford High School. He is talking with student Hemant Acharya. Next
But with suburban school districts facing the same stubborn achievement gap between black and white students as their urban counterparts, it is just as important to get teachers of color in the classroom, Turner said.
Minority teachers in classrooms can serve as role models, but can also help develop new ways to connect with diverse students and make them feel part of the school community, by starting a step squad, gospel choir, or a minority scholars program, Turner said.
From left to right: Athletic trainer Christie Belfort, 28, of Michigan, Vice Principal Omar Easy, 34 of Jamaica, and Algebra teacher Long Le, 32, of Vietnam, sit in the cafeteria together at Everett High School. Next
Parent Tahera Sajid said a teacher’s race is not necessarily the determining factor in whether a child has a good experience in school. Sajid, whose family moved from Pakistan to Sharon four years ago, said that while most of the teachers and staff in the schools have been white, they have also been sensitive to cultural differences and helpful with the transition to a new country.
“Although it would make some people more comfortable” to have more minority teachers, Sajid said, “I have never had a problem with that. They do seem to understand that our concerns and point of reference may be different.”
Sajid, formerly of Islamabad, Pakistan, in her Sharon home in December. Back to the beginning
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