A diverse staff is a boon for all students
By Xavier Botana
When I became superintendent of the Portland Public Schools, Maine’s largest and most diverse school district, one consistent message I heard from students, parents and members of the school board and community was that they wanted our faculty and staff to better reflect the diversity of our students. That’s why we made staff diversity a key part of the People goal in our Portland Promise, the district’s strategic plan.
This is the last of four monthly columns I’m dedicating to discussing important investments in the Portland Public Schools’ 2019-2020 budget. The initiatives embody our Portland Promise goals of Equity, Whole Student, Achievement and People. I’ve previously discussed our pre-kindergarten expansion initiative, our behavioral health continuum and our efforts to strengthen our core curriculum. This column focuses on our work to realize our People goal by attracting, supporting and retaining talented and diverse staff.
The data is clear: Having teachers of color is very good for students of color. It also shows that staff diversity benefits ALL students.
An article in the April 2019 issue of Educational Leadership, a publication of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), focuses on data analyses showing that “having even a single black teacher in elementary school can make a tremendous difference” for black K–12 students, “improving a student's trajectory far beyond the elementary years.” http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr19/vol76/num07/The-Impact-of-Teacher-Diversity.aspx
The article says: “Being taught by a black educator is so salient that it can affect whether or not a student of color not only finishes high school, but enrolls in college.”
Other students also benefit from learning from diverse teachers. According to a
Scientific American article: “Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working.” https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/how-diversity-makes-us-smarter/
When launching our Portland Promise in October 2017, we set a People goal target of having 10 percent of our staff be persons of color within five years. Just 6.7 percent of our staff met that definition in the 2016-2017 school year. Last school year, the number had climbed to 7.5 percent. We hope to continue to make gains toward our goal.
Here are some steps we’re taking to increase staff diversity:
· The summer of 2019 marked the third year of our educator diversity program, called TeachPortland. The program provides high school, college students and adults in our community interested in teaching the opportunity to gain classroom experience and relevant professional development. We had 44 participants in the program this year, and ultimately hired five participants this fall.
· In January 2019, we launched the Education Academy at The New Mainers Resource Center at Portland Adult Education (PAE). The Education Academy assists new Mainers trained as teachers in other countries to become licensed educators here. We had 11 Education Academy graduates this spring and most are working in our schools – three as teachers; three as educational technicians; and one as an AmericaCorps/Vista staff assistant at Riverton. Another volunteers at King Middle School while awaiting work authorization. This year, we have 11 more students enrolled in Education Academy programs.
· Just last month, PAE and Southern Maine Community College agreed to partner in a new initiative called Building the Pipeline to enhance workforce training and educational opportunities for new Mainers.
All of these initiatives will aid us in building a workforce that better reflects the wonderful diversity of our student body. I firmly believe that we will only be as good as our talented and diverse staff. I’m proud of the work that we’ve done and look forward to continuing these efforts.