July 13th, 2020
This is my opinion alone and does not represent the entire School Committee.
There has been a lot of talk recently about the need for Somerville Public Schools to diversify it’s staff. I couldn’t agree more, but I sense that many people don’t realize how difficult a process this is (I certainly didn’t before being on the School Committee). I write this, not as an excuse, but simply to let you know where we are, how we ended up here and how to move forward.
Historically, Somerville has had an overwhelming majority white teaching staff and in any given year, there is limited turnover and only a few positions to fill. Also, keep in mind that every school district in the greater Boston area is also trying to diversify their teaching staff right now.
“In 1988, 87 percent of public school teachers were white. By 2016, 80 percent were, according to federal data. Nonetheless, the racial gap between teachers and students has widened as more young people of color have enrolled each year. In 1994, two-thirds of public school students were white; by 2016, fewer than half were.” Read more here.
To give you an idea of our current demographic and the racial teacher:student gap we have:
Students 9.4% Black, 6.4% Asian, 41.7% Hispanic, 38.4% White
Teachers: 5.3% Black, 1.6% Asian, 10.6% Hispanic, 81% White.
(These statistics, along with those for every district in the state, can be found here).
Some of the things we are doing (but they can be painfully slow):
- The School Committee passed the Workforce Diversity Policy in February 2019 (Find that here. It’s on page 3) which requires all hiring administrators to include at least two candidates who identify as an underrepresented racial or ethnic minority and meeting the minimum qualifications for a posted position in the applicant pool for each position
- The District is a member of the Diversity Network spearheaded by The State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to create best practices for administrators during the hiring processes. Right now we are in the process of creating a set of questions to be asked by all hiring administrators across the district so that we could ensure equity to all candidates.
- The District was awarded a grant from DESE for our efforts to diversify, that allowed us to provide vouchers for The Massachusetts Test for Educator’s Licensure (MTEL) workshops to our paraprofessionals going into the educational field. It also allowed us to create affinity groups for our educators of color to support and help to retain them in our district. (you can see SPS statistics on retention here).
- The District is a member of the Massachusetts Partnership for Diverse Education (MPDE) which is made up of a group of districts who work together to strategize on how to diversify staff.
- The District is now offering stipends for equity work, so that when our teachers of color are doing extra work around equity in their schools, there is the potential to get paid for it.
If you’d like to take a deeper dive into what the District is doing this was presented to the School Committee back in November.
What can you do?:
- Contact your state legislators and encourage them to change MTEL state requirements. (And tell your friends in other parts of the state). From https://www.brandeis.edu/now/2019/december/teacher-pipeline-diversity-study.html. “The study examined data of all people who took the state’s initial teacher licensure exam (the Communications and Literacy MTEL, or Comm/Lit) between 2007 and 2013. While 34 percent of four-year college students in Massachusetts identified as a race other than white, only 13 percent of those who took the state’s initial exam were not white. Candidates of color were also less likely to pass the exam on the first attempt, and less likely to retake the exam than their white peers, according to the study.”
- Hiring committees are a great time to show potential hires what a welcoming and diverse community we are. If you are a parent of color, please consider getting involved (contact your principal). If you are a white parent, consider stepping back and encouraging BIPOC parents to get involved (maybe even offering to watch their children or support them in other ways so they can participate).
- Teach your children to be anti-rascist. The more we create a welcoming community, the more teachers of color will want to teach in Somerville. I’m not suggesting this is easy. I don’t have a magic link to simply click and make this happen. But there are a lot of resources out there, including https://tryingtogether.org/community-resources/anti-racism-tools/ and https://centerracialjustice.org/resources/resources-for-talking-about-race-racism-and-racialized-violence-with-kids/
- Support existing staff of color: Until we better diversify, their jobs are harder--a kind word and a little patience can make being here easier.
There is a lot more work to be done. I commit to doing whatever I can to affect real change in the Somerville Public Schools. Ideas? As always, I’d love to hear them. This won’t be easy. This won’t be quick, but it is necessary.