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ESE creates plan to boost educator diversity in Massachusetts

In an effort to expand racial and ethnic variety among educators, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education presented an educator diversity action plan Tuesday to encourage greater faculty diversity among all schools in the Commonwealth.

Mitchell Chester, ESE commissioner, prepared the initiative for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Produced by the Massachusetts Advocates for Diversity in Education task force, the plan proposes changes to increase racial and ethnic diversity while decreasing the disproportionate number of students of color suspended and expelled from schools.

“The capacity of educators and school administrators to effectively promote academic and social success for all students will rest upon their ability to succeed in meeting the academic and social needs of a diverse student population,” Chester said in a preliminary letter to the board members.

Of the state’s 857,297 public school students enrolled in the 2011-12 school year, black students had a 15.1 percent suspension rate, and Hispanic students had a suspension rate of 14.1 percent. During the same school year in Boston, 7 percent of the city’s publically enrolled black students received suspensions, while 3.1 percent of Hispanic students faced similar punishment.

The City of Boston created a three-year Teacher Diversity Action Plan in focus on workplace diversity, workplace inclusion and sustainability and decrease the high number of suspensions among students of color and increase diversity among BPS faculty. According to a January report titled “Workplace Diversity,” the percentage of black teachers in BPS dropped to 21 percent this year, 1 percent less than the 2012-13 school year.

Many public and private educational institutions are taking note of these numbers and creating programs that will encourage racially diverse students to pursue careers in education. One of these schools is Worcester State University, the number-one feeder of educators to public schools in Worcester.

The Latino Education Institute at WSU created a program three years ago that pays students $1,000 a semester to shadow students and help teachers in local schools. The students involved in the program often break cultural and language barriers between the parents and administrators, said Mary Jo Marión, the institute’s executive director.

“Urban parents want good schools, and good schools are those that are orderly and will keep students engaged,” she said. “If people believe that connecting families to schools is important, particularly in low income areas, you have to have connections in the schools to that community. When you have a staffing structure that doesn’t accomplish that, there isn’t that engagement.”

Several residents said the ESE’s new plans to enhance diversity in Massachusetts schools have the potential to make a large-scale difference.

Sashi Leff, 25, of Mission Hill, said she went to school in the United Kingdom for several years, and the diversity in schools there is vastly different.

“Racial development is important,” she said. “Academia can be very stuffy. You can get a lot of white, old men, which isn’t fair because academia is about expanding your mindset. You can’t get a cultured education if you’re only hearing from one kind of person.”

Justin Gibson, 22, Allston, works as a custodian at Joseph Lee Elementary School in Dorchester. He said he notices that most of the faculty is white, and the ESE’s initiative may be the first step toward improving diversity.

“I would like to see this project make a change, but I don’t know whether or not that will actually happen,” he said. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”

Meg Reidy, 23, of Brighton, said she went to a private school in Rhode Island with very little diversity, and public schools need to take advantage of the opportunity increase diversity.

“It [diversity] is an issue in schools, especially city schools, because students aren’t going to feel like they can relate to someone who is different from them,” she said. “Students want to be able to relate to their teachers. That’s an important part of learning.”

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