Tuesday, July 16, 2024

The administrators at Cambridge’s Martin Luther King Jr. School are an example of diversity in hiring. The school, where 84 percent of the student body is nonwhite, is led by Assistant Principle Cheryl Haynes and Principal Gerald Yung. (Photo: Marc Levy)

The year’s report on the diversity of school staff sounded much like last year’s in some ways, including the district’s mixed results and explanations of why the hiring is important and why it is difficult. In its first meeting of the academic year, the School Committee again met the report with suggestions for improvement.

Overall, the district has 1,196 employees and 270 are people of color, a 23 percent total that is both 3 percentage points higher than a year ago and yet 7 percent short of its goal, according to figures presented to the committee Tuesday by district recruiter Kahris McLaughlin and its executive director for human resources, Barbara J. Allen. But 60 percent of the students the workers serve are nonwhite, and unfortunately hiring is going in the wrong direction: Of the 100 staff hired this year, Allen said, 17 are nonwhite.

The fault doesn’t lie with Cambridge, which is “a very attractive school district,” as McLaughlin puts it, and has a more aggressive diversity goal than most and seeks out educators and staff of color at least as intently as other urban districts. All seek great hires who will ensure their nonwhite students get role models and that white students see faces reflecting the wider world. The problem lies in the small pool of potential hires.

“We need to figure out how to increase that pool,” McLaughlin said. “This is a problem as our demographics grow throughout the state. We’re going to be recruiting for a tighter and tighter pool. In the last school year, when I went to teacher recruitment fairs at Boston College and Boston University — your big local fairs — what I found is that we were only seeing 10 percent that were people of color.”

Committee members strove to be helpful, with vice chairman Marc McGovern suggesting trying to send school aides to Cambridge’s education-focused Leslie University, for instance, to become full-fledged teachers, since “we do have people of color in the district who are probably qualified and already work in education.” But he was reminded by Allen that a program of tuition reductions and scholarships has already been tried, that Leslie students already have full-time internships in the district — and that many district paraprofessionals and aides already have their master’s degrees and move up to become teachers here.

“We don’t want people to think the district isn’t promoting,” Allen said.

Carrot and stick

Amid a flurry of other ideas, committee member Fred Fantini wondered (without endorsing the idea) if there could be “consequences” for schools that didn’t reach goals in diversity hiring, but also stressed the importance of a encouraging Cambridge students to become teachers in their hometown — as Mayor David Maher said the city had achieved with youth and social workers — and hiring them early when they pursued that path.

It prompted responses from the year’s student representatives, junior Grant Baker and senior Naomi Tsegaye.

As a part of Breakthrough Cambridge, an academic support program in which students teach other students, Tsegaye said she was considering a career as an educator. Baker thought she might be an exception, though.

“I do think you can influence [future] teachers, and I think that should start at the high school level. I know if I asked all of my friends right now, I’d be surprised if even one said they wanted to be a teacher when they grew up. At the elementary school level you probably see a lot of kids who say they want to be a teacher, but they don’t realize that’s six years of school and you’re not going to make the same salary that your investment banker or lawyer or doctor will make,” Baker said. “You need to inspire kids … maybe have assemblies at the high school where you have teachers talk about their stories and what made them want to teach. Even if you make eight kids in the audience want to teach, that’s eight more kids than wanted to teach before.”

Maher had also been contemplating a sort of Future Teachers Club, he said.

Apples to apples

Other suggestions had to do with the diversity reports themselves, with committee members Alice Turkel asking for an overall rating showing the district’s general progress, which the reports  lack, and Patty Nolan asking again for three-year historical data in graphic form and for more meaningful comparisons between Cambridge and other large, urban school districts in addition to comparisons of Cambridge and the state. “The state’s student population is very different from ours,” Nolan said.

When compared with the state, Cambridge hiring looks especially good: 3 percent of teaches statewide are black, for instance, but 9 percent of Cambridge’s teachers; 1 percent statewide are Asian, but 4 percent in Cambridge; 2 percent statewide are Hispanic, but 5 percent in Cambridge, and so on, Allen said.

Still, Nolan noted that of the 14 schools and school programs in the report, only three had reached diversity goals across the board and four didn’t reach parity in any of the goals. The most racially diverse schools and programs are The Fletcher/Maynard School, where the student body is 85 percent black, Asian, Hispanic, multiracial, Native American, Hawaiian or Pacific Islander; The Martin Luther King Jr. School (84 percent); and the High School Extension Program (80 percent as of last spring). Both elementary schools have reached their diversity hiring goals.

The school lagging the most in diverse hiring, the report suggests, is Kennedy Longfellow, followed closely by the Baldwin and Haggerty schools.