Step 3: District Spotlight
Question and change recruitment practices to identify additional qualified applicants of color.
Buffalo Public Schools Superintendent Kriner Cash continues to recruit educators of color by welcoming college and university education students into the district’s classrooms even before they finish their teacher preparation program.
The district has a strong partnership with Medgar Evers College in New York City through a My Brother’s Keeper grant, and part of the arrangement is that the college sends a group of students to complete their teaching residency in Buffalo.
“We have a cadre of high-potential teachers who come here as part of their program,” Cash said.
Buffalo is also starting new residency programs for both teachers and administrators in partnership with the University at Buffalo that will allow candidates to spend a year immersing themselves in the district and getting to know its schools, its students, and its culture.
Although the residency programs are open to all students in the UB program, both Cash and the college see them as an avenue for recruiting more educators of color into the Buffalo schools.
The teaching residency offers college students what is essentially a longer version of their required student teaching, providing them an opportunity to get more in-the-classroom experience while at the same time developing a relationship with the district.
The administrative residency largely targets Buffalo teachers who are interested in taking the next step in their career.
Along with these efforts, Buffalo was selected to pilot a new pipeline program that offers support for school-based employees of color interested in pursuing their teaching certificate.
The teaching assistants and teaching aides will be able to receive financial aid and other support in completing the educational requirements to become teachers. The pool of school-based employees is far more diverse than that of teachers, so Cash said it presents an opportunity to recruit from within the district.
“It’s a very interesting stratification in our system,” Cash said. “We turned that into an opportunity. The teachers and the principals have already said these are really good assistants. That’s a potential group that, if given an effective and affordable pipeline, could be great teachers.”
Along with these efforts, the district has traveled to Puerto Rico and various HBCUs to recruit teachers of color, and started an innovative high school “grow your own” program at McKinley High School in partnership with Buffalo State College.
The district has also developed a strong partnership with Teach For America Buffalo, which Cash credits as a key driver in helping diversify the district’s teacher corps. “Teach For America has been single-handedly the most productive in providing diversity,” Cash said. “Almost half of the recruits that come through TFA are teachers of color. And they help us fill very hard-to-fill positions, as well.”
Moving forward, the district is working with TNTP to develop a tiered approach to recruiting and retaining teachers of color.
“We’re working in all of these spaces with great intentionality,” Cash said.
Valley Stream 13 School District on Long Island is focused not just on recruiting applicants of color but supporting them throughout the hiring process.
The human resources department keeps data on the diversity of the candidate pool for each round of the interview process, and administrators have worked over the past several years to identify practices in the hiring process that create barriers to hiring diverse candidates, said Judith LaRocca, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
“This is where the rubber meets the road, so to speak,” she said.
Valley Stream 13 is trying a variety of strategies to make sure it does not lose candidates of color during the hiring process for factors unrelated to talent.
The district’s hiring committees are themselves diverse, with members who understand the importance of hiring diverse candidates and indicating to applicants that diversity is valued in the district.
They also screen candidates in a way that is not exclusionary, meaning that there are no automatic cut-offs for things such as years of experience, GPA, or number of certifications. Instead, staff that review resumes focus more on evidence that demonstrates traits like a growth mindset, intrinsic motivation, and cultural awareness.
The district has groups of staff members who write interview questions that capture the district’s values around diversity and create rubrics for interview committee members to keep the process as structured and standardized—and not subjective—as possible.
Interview teams give those questions to candidates when they come to interview to help alleviate nerves and demonstrate that the district cares about their success.
And finally, Valley Stream 13 leverages technology as a way to remove potential barriers for candidates. For example, the district conducts first-round interviews over live video so candidates do not have to take off from work, which can be a significant barrier for diverse candidates.
“Our administrative team has really been working hard at this, and we are making progress,” said LaRocca.
“To accomplish this work requires a great deal of organizational reflection and change in processes.”
Like in many other school districts, Newburgh public school teachers have been less diverse than their students for as long as administrators Michael McLymore and Pedro Roman can remember.
Now, instead of waiting for qualified applicants of color to come to them, Newburgh is going to the candidates. The goal, said McLymore, an assistant superintendent, is to “change what our staff look like to better reflect the student population.”
The boldest step Newburgh officials have taken is holding a recruitment fair in Puerto Rico. Newburgh has an acute need for bilingual staff, so the district collaborated with the Buffalo Public Schools to travel to the island, conduct interviews with local media, and meet potential candidates.
The school district also launched a partnership with nearby Mount Saint Mary College to get its high school students thinking about college and a post-college career in the classroom. Starting in 10th-grade, Newburgh students visit Mount Saint Mary to grow more familiar with the college experience, hear from guest speakers, and participate in a mentoring program.
Roman, the district’s executive director for human resources, and McLymore said the district is also revamping its hiring process by developing a video to curb interview committee members’ biases and to ensure every candidate is asked at least one interview question about diversity.
“The trend across the nation is that not a lot of folks are getting into the teaching profession,” said Roman, “so if we are going to increase diversity within the district we really need to have varying recruitment strategies to tackle this challenge.”
At the University of Rochester Educational Partnership at East, Superintendent Shaun Nelms and his team start looking for their next generation of teachers in their own middle school classrooms.
They do that work through the Teaching and Learning Institute, which in recent years has grown from an elective course to one the school’s core career pathways.
East serves students in grades 6-12, and Nelms and his team meet with all of the middle schoolers to make sure the students are aware of their career pathway options and to help them make decisions about what area they want to pursue.
Those who choose the Teaching and Learning Institute spend three years learning a range of soft and hard skills. There’s also an emphasis on social justice.
“Kids need to understand social justice issues in order to be successful, especially in urban settings,” Nelms said.
Today, one administrator and three teachers at East are graduates of the Teaching and Learning Institute, and more than a dozen others serve throughout the district.
The teaching program has become so successful that Nelms is now in discussions with the Rochester City School District about expanding enrollment to students from other schools.
In addition to serving as superintendent, Nelms also serves as an associate professor at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education, which offers a program customized for current Rochester educators. The program focuses on an urban context and tends to attract educators of color, Nelms said.
When it comes to current and future educators, he said both programs share a common goal: “It’s really to grow our own.”