City Looks Within Ranks To Groom Teachers Of Color

Christopher Peak PhotoA decade ago, Richard Cowes quit his high-paying job in the insurance industry to go into education. He started off teaching as a substitute, earning $50 a day, just to see what the profession would be like. After he completed an alternative certification program, New Haven hired him to teach math classes.

“I left a whole lot of money on the table, which I still haven’t made back yet, because I wanted to become a teacher,” said Cowes, who’s now working at the city’s Adult Education program. “I was always teaching and mentoring as a basketball coach and personal trainer. But I had a passion, I wanted to do more.”

Cowes is a rarity: a black male within a faculty that’s made up largely of white women. To boost the diversity of the school’s hires, the district is now doubling down on a strategy of training paraprofessionals to become certified teachers, just as Cowes did.

That strategy of promoting educators already within the school system was one of the ideas that a committee of alders heard at its meeting Thursday night for recruiting, training and retaining more faculty of color. The event was initiated by Alder Darryl Brackeen, Jr., a former social studies teacher at Lincoln-Bassett who said he ran into “hurdles constantly” in trying to get his certification.

During the the two-hour back-and-forth in the aldermanic chambers, the Education Committee heard about the district’s outreach to historically black colleges and recruiting trips abroad and about its work towards implementing a cultural competence curriculum. Despite those efforts, school officials said they face persistent challenges in shifting their numbers.

“There’s a conversation that needs to be had,” said Lisa Mack, the district’s human resources director. “We need to ask the question: Why aren’t other teachers of color, candidates of color interested in coming into education?”

Last school year, 73.6 percent of teachers reported that they are white. That’s a jarring mismatch with New Haven’s population of students, who are predominantly racial minorities, only 13.3 percent of whom report that they are white.

Last year, New Haven’s “racial gap” between teachers and students was among the largest in the state. Out of the 14 districts that the Connecticut State Department of Education tracks, New Haven came out ahead of only Waterbury and East Hartford, Mack said.

New Haven has received more interest from teachers of color than its numbers would suggest. Racial minorities represented 44 percent of the applicant pool last year.

Mack said she didn’t have data about how many of them had been chosen. But based on staffing levels over the past four years, it appears that the district isn’t adding more teachers of color than are leaving.

Out of the 2,056 teachers currently working in the district, there’s only 33 more Hispanics, 15 more African-Americans, 6 more Asians, and 1 more Native American on staff than four years ago. Over the same time period, there are 14 fewer white teachers.

The staffing demographics do vary across the district, but only two — Columbus Family Academy and James Hillhouse High School — had a majority of teachers of color last year.

Glen Worthy said he’d been lucky to start with a diverse faculty, when he was appointed Hillhouse’s principal in 2016. He said that he thinks the school’s numbers stay so high because of the relationships that have been built among the faculty, especially during the hourlong “professional learning” sessions that are scheduled twice a week.

“I know what I walked into and how the staff really treats each other. It’s really like a family. That’s made it easier for me to retain teachers, having them interact with each other and be able to lean on each other when there’s issues,” he said in a phone interview. “There’s more ownership of Hillhouse.”

Long ago, the district had many more teachers of color. A quarter-century ago, racial minorities made up about one-third of the teaching force. Like Reggie Mayo, who worked his way up from being a substitute teacher to the superintendent, many of those employees of color rose to administrative roles. The upper ranks of New Haven’s schools are now among the most diverse in the state, but they’re leading faculties that are much whiter.

What can be done to change the demographics?

After to a change in state law, it’s now much easier to recruit teachers from out-of-state or certify the paraprofessionals who are already in the building.

The district is also trying to reach out to local colleges, especially through New Haven Promise, Mack said. There’s a built-in pipeline from Southern Connecticut State University, thanks to state law passed in 2016 now requires state universities to offer at least one class for juniors and seniors, tuition-free, “to cultivate an interest in education as a profession.”

But Mack said she’s also looking to recruit from outside the area to lessen competition in shortage areas.

“What we found is that we’re just moving [teachers of color] from one district to another. We might move someone from New London to Hartford. The numbers weren’t changing, they’re just shifting around within Connecticut,” Mack said. “How do we diversify the district more by going outside of Connecticut state lines?”

That’s why, she added, the district brought in presidents and deans from 30 historically black colleges and universities for a symposium in 2016 to share their mission of diversifying the teaching force. That’s also why they made a recruiting trip to Puerto Rico and attracted five teachers from Spain.

Mack said that the also district relies heavily on outside programs to also train teachers.

The district actively recruits from the Teach for America corps, a program for recent graduates to teach after a summer-long training, because those teachers receive an incentive for completing their service in an urban area.

And the district also partners with Relay Graduate School of Education, a masters-degree program, because it gets teachers into the classroom right away while doing a combination of online and in-person coursework.

Commenters said the district needed to build up the pipeline even earlier.

“We meet countless people of color who, if you ask them what they want to do, say they want to work with young people. But they end up going into sociology, psychology and health. But they come back and say they want to be teachers. Then, it’s a dance of getting back into teacher prep programs,” said Kevin Walton, who works on recruiting diverse teachers at ACES. “If we start getting these people at a younger age.”

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posted by: 1644 on September 21, 2018  3:26pm

From the point of view of having role models, I expect suburban districts need dark skinned teachers more than urban districts.  Twenty-five per cent is enough that students in New Haven will see people who look like them in positions of authority, etc.  Do suburban students, both white and other, see “people of color” as teachers, as principals, etc.?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on September 21, 2018  4:08pm

Black teachers leave schools at higher rates — but why?

“The schools where Black teachers worked also had weaker principal leadership, less effective mentoring, and lower-quality professional development,” Sun writes. “The observed Black-White retention gap can be partially explained by these challenging work context and professional characteristics.”For both black and white teachers, working in a school with more black students and in higher poverty neighborhoods predicted turnover; similarly, schools where the teachers rated the professional support and leadership as worse saw more teachers leave. In general, when teachers moved schools they moved to ones with higher test scores, more white students, and better working conditions.In other words, black teachers in North Carolina aren’t necessarily more likely to switch schools or professions; they’re more likely to teach in schools that lead to higher quit rates.

The Burden of Being a Black Teacher
Many African American educators say they don’t feel respected or empowered at their schools.

NOV 7, 2016

Plus a lot of Black teachers I talk to tell me that A lot of those Blacks who are In charge have a Plantation Mentality when it comes to dealing with them.

posted by: LennyMoore24 on September 21, 2018  4:37pm

I am insulted by this article. No one should be paying attention to anyone’s race in the classroom. What you seem to be suggesting is a return to segregated schools. Ms Mack is way out of line with her comments.

posted by: WildwildWestEducator on September 21, 2018  5:45pm

Don’t believe this. They had a program years ago which took students who wanted to be teachers and send them to SCSU and they had to teach in NH for 3 years and some of them are teachers or Counselors. Why did they stop the program? Also they already had a program to put paraprofessionals through SCSU and quite a few of them are teachers now? Why did they stop? They took the money away and probably squandered it. And now they want people to think they actually care? Look and see. They recycle administrators. They really want us to think that they want to put kids first? Nope! I don’t believe it!

posted by: loquacious truth on September 21, 2018  9:19pm

Teachers serve as authority figures in their communities. And in some cases a student”s teacher may be the only highly educated person in their life. It’s important for students to see people who look like them in positions of authority. It convinces you that success is possible. New Haven however needs to fight the unfortunate generalization gripping our nation that becoming a teacher doesn’t equal success. Phrases like “those who don’t know teach” hinder our ability to promote the the profession. Poor working conditions and pay that isn’t even close to what college graduates make in most other professions is a serious deterrent for those considering the teaching profession. The cost of college has risen to the point where it is not economically feasible to invest in a profession that starts you at a very low salary, requires you to get a master degree, freezes your salary, forces you to invest in an underfunded pension(which they continue to increase the contribution), and at best provides an annual raise which is less then inflation. Oh and every contract the benefits get worse and more expensive. Go talk to a teacher Who has worked in New Haven for 15 strait years and you’ll be surprised to learn what they earn.
It’s also ridiculous for New Haven to have this conversation after laying off 26 teachers.

posted by: LennyMoore24 on September 22, 2018  10:45am

Teachers in Connecticut and New Haven, specifically, actually earn a very fair salary. For example, a teacher of 20 years with a MS or MA is earning 87;000 approximately. That is not horrible.  When you compare that to other states you will see a huge discrepancy.  So, just to answer Loquacious Truth on that score. It all depends on where you are teaching as far as living wages are concerned.

posted by: dad101 on September 22, 2018  11:27am

There is also a reality of what new Haven teachers are being paid and what they have to contend with and do for that pay check verse other communities. Why work for a city that is constantly under finacial strains and looking to undermind the work you are putting in. THe support staff is stripped away every few years for the newwest trend. Counselors, aids librarians etc are examples this go around. If you are teaching in North Haven, Stratford,Wallingford ,Amity or else where you have that support staff .You know that you PRIMARY JOB is to teachin NEW HAVEN you are not shouldered with being everything to that child with a BOSS/ADMINISTRATION) that doesn’t recognize what they are asking of you and you are making in dollars and cents significantly LESS.
The programs that were formerly offered NHPS to SCSU to job in New HAVENBOE were awesome except that once someone was trained and seasoned they realized they were valued more else where. Other towns and states offered better cost of living scenarios with less burdens so those that participated left unless there was something personal keeping them here. But lets look at this the city of NEW HAVEN as a whole is facing this in may other areas..IE police dept. yes New haven can recruit officers but can they retain them and why not??same scenarios pay difference, amount of work for pay, push back and lack of support from within community as well as city hall…

posted by: loquacious truth on September 22, 2018  4:48pm

That would be nice if it was true. You forget about a four year permanent freeze. Which unlike other Union does not give you retro active pay when the freeze comes off nor does it bump you back to your correct step. Also, every contract they take two steps off the beginning and add two more at the end making it almost impossible to reach top step. If you have been teaching in New Haven for the last 20 years strait you don’t make 87,000.00. Go check you facts! Now if you work 20 years in another district and come to New Haven you get rewarded with 87,000 because unlike other districts New Haven doesn’t cap out of town transfers. The kicker is often those loyal New Haven teacher making 20,000 less than the teachers have to mentor the out of town transfers because they lake the inner city experience.

posted by: LennyMoore24 on September 22, 2018  11:52pm

Sorry Loquacious Truth but you are wrong.  Yes, some people have been frozen for a number of years; the contract that was entered into in 2000 or thereabouts; but those , not frozen, who have been working for the 20 years do , indeed, earn 87,000 per year; heck, some get even more than that. 
There are many who have worked 20 years who are making 10-12K less due to that infamous freeze, then there are those who were able to leave and come back at the higher salary.  That might make an interesting article in itself.  If you are questioning me; just look at the list of employees and their salaries; length of service is also listed.

posted by: tmctague on September 24, 2018  12:19pm

The school I teach at was hit extra hard by the recent layoffs.  However, an unintended consequence was losing: 2 counselors of color and 2 teachers of color (one retrieved her job through a vacancy).  Out of 70+ teachers, we are left with only a handful of teachers of color in the 3rd largest high school.  Simply, the teachers should be a reflection of the student body in an ideal school.