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Getting Answers: Springfield schools leading in diversifying staff

There are efforts underway at the state and local level to help diversify classrooms.
Published: May. 12, 2022 at 8:43 AM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - There are efforts underway at the state and local level to help diversify classrooms. As of 2021, only nine percent of teachers were diverse across the Bay State.

Each year, the pool of diverse teachers is growing. The Springfield public school district is able to hire a wider range of educators with different ethnic backgrounds after receiving grant money through the teacher diversification pilot program launched in 2019 by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The state-funded grant program provides $2 million to local schools and districts to help diversify existing teacher recruitment and retention programs. The district received over $380,000 since 2019.

  • FY22 - $52,385
  • FY21 - $183,861
  • FY20 - $137,342
  • FY19 - $8,032

“Especially when students can see themselves and their teachers and paraprofessionals and the staff personnel that works in the building, they can see that they can make it and they too can become teachers, paraprofessionals and principals,” said Valerie Williams, senior administrator of talent and diversity for Springfield Public Schools.

Williams highlighted why it’s important for students to have equal representation among educators.

“So it gives them role models to follow and to emulate and I think just having diversity in the buildings allows everyone a well-rounded education. We get to learn about cultures,” Williams noted.

Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, echoed that message and told Western Mass News that having diversity among teachers enhances learning across the entire student body.

“For students of color, it increases their performance if they simply have one year with an educator who is from their community, but for white children, it opens up their thinking. It helps them build relationships with people that they may not have an opportunity to build relationships within their own community,” Najimy explained.

Through the grant program, Springfield Public Schools is able to provide tuition and licensure test preparation assistance. Williams told us there are student-to-teacher and paraprofessional-to-teacher pipeline programs in place.

“We start with our students in high school that are graduating, seniors that are interested in working for Springfield Public Schools, so we recruit them to be paraprofessionals for our district and then once they are paraprofessionals, we have different programs through colleges and universities to help to become licensed teachers,” Williams noted.

Some of those educational institutions include Elms College and Springfield College.

Western Mass News has broken down teacher demographics within the district over the last decade. In 2012, 7.1 percent of teachers were Black or African American. That number jumped to 12.1 percent by 2022.

In looking at the same time period, Hispanic or Latino teachers increased from 7.3 percent to 10.4 percent. Meanwhile, in those ten years, the percentage of white teachers decreased from 83-percent to 75.4 percent.

In comparing Springfield public schools diversification staff data to state numbers in 2022, Massachusetts has an average of about 4.8 percent Black or African American staff members in schools, while Springfield public schools has 16.4 percent. For Hispanic or Latino staff members, the state stands at 5.4 percent while Springfield public schools stands at 17 percent.

With regards to other initiatives on the state level, Najimy said the MTA has announced their support for ‘An Act Relative to Educator Diversity’ which aims to provide school districts with more resources to attract teachers of color.

“There is going to be much deeper work done in each local to build structure and change culture so that schools are recruiting and creating a culture where educators of color actually want to stay,” Najimy said.

If the bill does get passed, Najimy said it’s a very important first step, but it’s just the beginning. The bill has been reported favorably by the Education Committee and referred to the Committee on House Ways and Means.