Local school districts look to diversify teaching workforce
As the state works toward a goal of recruiting more teachers of color, several local districts, including Groton, Ledyard, Norwich, and Waterford, plan to participate in a program aimed at diversifying the teacher workforce in southeastern Connecticut.
The 18-month Teacher Residency Program provides “an alternate route to elementary certification focused on increasing teachers of color across the state of Connecticut,” according to a program description. Resident candidates will work in a school setting, earning a salary and benefits, while pursuing coursework to become certified as a teacher, Ryan Donlon, LEARN’s associate executive director, said in a phone interview.
Applications from potential candidates, who must have a bachelor's degree and “demonstrate a strong commitment to children,” are due March 5, according to LEARN.
Donlon said the program is an effort to contribute to the state’s goal of adding 1,000 teachers of color by this year.
“Data demonstrates that Connecticut has a significant gap between the number of students of color and teachers of color,” LEARN said in the news release, citing state data that nearly 44% of public school students in Connecticut are students of color, while 8.4% of teachers are teachers of color.
LEARN worked with Capitol Region Education Council to bring the certification program to the region. Groton, Ledyard, Norwich, Waterford and LEARN are among those that have already signed up for the program, and LEARN is working to recruit more districts to participate, Donlon said. He said the hope is to have 12 to 15 candidates across southeastern Connecticut. Participants who become certified are then eligible to be hired as teachers by the school districts where they were working during the program, according to the news release.
Local school districts sponsoring candidates
Groton Superintendent Susan Austin said in a statement that an “integral component of Groton Public Schools’ mission is to cultivate an environment of diversity, equity, and inclusiveness. As a response, we strive to foster culturally responsive teaching and learning practices to ensure all groups feel valued, actively engaged, and empowered.”
Following nationwide calls for racial justice in response to the killing of George Floyd, Groton started this summer a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee. Among its goals, the committee is working to diversify the teaching staff in the school district, where about 48% of the student body are students of color and about 9% of its teachers are people of color.
Groton plans to sponsor two candidates at a cost of about $60,000 each. The candidates will work in the school district, for example as a paraprofessional or academic tutor, while pursuing their certification, and the district’s goal is to hire them as teachers once they complete their certification.
Groton Middle School Assistant Principal Jemal Davis said he and administrators Nadine Macklin and Ada Allen put together the DEI task force this summer to look at how the school district could diversify its workforce and also promote diversity and inclusion. The committee, with more than 100 members, then developed a five-year plan, and the district plans to roll out a series of conversations that will be open to the community.
Davis said the overall goal of the initiatives is to develop an “equity mindset” at the district level, from looking at board policies to ensure they are instituted in a way that is equitable for everyone, to looking at principals’ decision-making and school plans so, for example, teachers are supported if they need more books that are representative of students of color.
The Ledyard school district, where about 4.5% of staff and about 28% of students are of color, is also sponsoring two residents through the program, according to Superintendent Jay Hartling.
“This is a great opportunity to work with a diverse, highly motivated group of future teachers,” Hartling said in an email. "We are committed to increasing the diversity of our team, and believe it is important for our students and community. There are many gaps in the teacher pipeline from training to recruitment that create barriers for teachers of color. As a profession we have to ensure we don't miss out on amazing teachers of color because of the systemic failures. This program offers us a recruitment and training program that is challenging, if not impossible for a smaller district like Ledyard to create on its own."
In Waterford, increasing the diversity of staff to be more representative of the makeup of the student body is a priority, said Superintendent Thomas W. Giard III. In 2018-19, 22.7% of the student body and 3.6% of all staff in Waterford Public Schools represented people of color.
“Waterford’s population has grown increasingly more diverse over the last decade or more with about 15 languages spoken in our schools each day,” he said by email. “Our English Learners population has steadily increased as well. Minority staff recruitment remains important to the Waterford Public Schools.”
He said the district hopes to implement the program in the next couple of years, if not sooner. Since the spring of 2020, the district has also taken several steps to promote diversity including the start of a “District Equity Understanding and Action Team” and the participation of administrators in a year-long professional development course.
Having served on the state’s Minority Staff Recruitment Taskforce for two years in a previous position, Giard noted that “the number of minority candidates in teacher preparation programs remains well below minority representation in Connecticut as a whole.” He said minorities represent 7 to 8% of candidates in colleges preparing to work in schools. He said one of the main strategies the state Department of Education is pursuing is to increase the number of minorities in the college programs and strengthen its ties with historically Black colleges and universities.
Waterford was an early adopter of the Teach CT program several years ago to recruit “teachers who represent the breadth of backgrounds, experiences and cultures of our students,” he said. He also supports strengthening ties with local minority community organizations to solicit referrals of qualified minority candidates.
The Norwich school district plans to sponsor four candidates, who will hopefully begin by the start of next school year, Assistant Superintendent Tamara Gloster previously told The Day. According to state data from 2019-20, 4.6% of Norwich Public School educators are people of color.
Donlon said candidates for the Teacher Residency Program will be matched with a mentor teacher who will support the candidates in learning practical aspects of being a classroom educator and in helping them pass state requirements. The candidates will work in the school district, while taking courses in the summer and night that LEARN helps to facilitate. The group of new teachers will continue to receive support, such as seminars, for their first full year of teaching.
“It’s not meant to replace existing certification programs,” Donlon added. “It’s meant to add another layer of eliminating the barriers that sometimes prevent folks from seeking certification when they would otherwise make great teachers.”
LEARN is contributing $45,000 to bring the program to the region, while the districts will pay for the salary and benefits of the future teachers, plus contribute toward subsidizing the coursework and the certification process, Donlon said.
LEARN is a regional service center that supports member school districts and also operates magnet schools. Donlon said LEARN has seen in its magnet schools how when kids come together from diverse backgrounds they learn from and with each other very well, and the same holds true for adults.
“When we diversify our teaching staff all kids benefit from the unique perspectives and life experiences that come together in a school,” he said.
People can find more information about the program at www.crec.org/c/trp. The link for applicants is: https://www.applitrack.com/crec/onlineapp/JobPostings/view.asp?FromAdmin=true&AppliTrackJobId=8944&AppliTrackLayoutMode=detail&AppliTrackViewPosting=1.
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