School Committee member Mervan Osborne was among those agreeing Tuesday that the district needed a plan to meet a 30 percent hiring goal for people of color.

School Committee member Mervan Osborne was among those agreeing Tuesday that the district needed a plan to meet a 30 percent hiring goal for people of color.

After years of turbulence resulting from budget squeezes, a new superintendent and the restructuring of schools under the rubric of the Innovation Agenda, the city’s school district has reached what one official dubs approvingly “the Year of Staffing Stability” – a sign that things are settling  down.

“All of us will welcome a year in which there’s not so much churn and we can really start to be institutionalizing and solidifying our culture,” said Barbara J. Allen, executive director of human resources.

She and district affirmative action officer Kahris McLaughlin sat together Tuesday to present a newly combined, wide-ranging Human Resources Update to School Committee members at their first regular meeting of the school year.

“I was looking at lots of data and lots of numbers and pulling lots of reports and it struck me that a pattern was emerging of something I wasn’t really familiar with here in Cambridge – and that was that it looks like we have reached the point of what I’m calling the Year of Staffing Stability,” Allen said, citing “some very interesting trends that bode well for all of us.”

bullet-gray-smallFor the first school year in recent memory, all principals and heads of schools stayed in place, Allen noted. At this time last year the district was busy trying to hire nine administrators.

bullet-gray-smallThe teacher population has also stabilized, with hiring plummeting to about 50 teachers this school year (culled from as many as 3,000 applicants) from about 120 five years ago, making for a total of 503 hired over the past five years, Allen said. And while the workforce still ranges from hires fresh out of college to long-time teachers with 41 years of experience in the district, the average teacher is now 42 years old with nine years of experience in the classroom. Of the 830 full- and part-time instructors, 82 percent are women. Eighty-five percent of the teachers have a master’s degree, and 3 percent have a doctorate.

“Our teachers are staying longer and the workforce is changing,” Allen said. Even though the recession forced more teachers to stay on the job when they might have planned to retire, “the baby boomer generation is lessening as part of our population. We’re into Gen X and Gen Y – the MTV generation and the generation that doesn’t know life before the Internet.”

Among the hires for this school year, the average age is 34 and there is an average six years of experience in the classroom.

For the district, the major change being locked in this year is the introduction of four upper schools to the district. The schools give kids in the middle-school years their own facilities for the first time in the city’s history, a move radical enough when introduced that many parents threatened to abandon the district – a threat district figures showed to be ultimately unfounded, even as the student population is projected to keep growing.

Diversity hiring goals elusive

090413i minority hiringIn a district where the student population is about 60 percent nonwhite, seven of the teacher hires for this year are people of color, for a 14 percent rate that keeps the rate of diversity among teachers at 19 percent – flat again for the third straight year along with diversity hiring in three other categories of nine; another two show no increases from last year, with the remaining three showing modest increases.

Still, the “stretch goal” of 30 percent diversity hires – boosted from 25 percent in 2009 – is met and exceeded in five of the nine categories: paraprofessionals and aides are at 31 percent, as are service workers; principals and heads of schools are at 36 percent; and technicians are at 38 percent. Assistant principals and deans are at 58 percent.

Among nonwhite teachers starting out in the district, an averaged 27 percent weren’t kept on within the past three years, compared with an overall churn rate of 16 percent for all races, McLaughlin said.

“What do you need to change that number on teacher hires?” committee member Marc McGovern asked, noting that the budgeting process is coming up fast. “If it’s a priority, you put money behind it.”

McLaughlin mentioned administrative internships, stipends for staff who would serve as affirmative action advocates and counselors within schools, and scholarships and other aid to help teachers and paraprofessionals pass the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure. That would move more of the district into the “highly qualified” standard. While 97 percent of Cambridge teachers are “highly qualified,” Allen said in response to a question from committee member Alice Turkel, that figure is still beaten by plenty of suburban districts with a more homogenous student population.

McGovern and Turkel asked Allen and McLaughlin for a plan of action that would let the members keep Superintendent Jeffrey Young accountable for meeting the 30 percent stretch goal, and member Mervan Osborne said he looked forward to treating it “as a serious budget issue.”

“If we can crack this, we can do something about our numbers,” Osborne said, referring to a persistent student achievement gap, with white and Asian students faring better in academic scores than blacks and hispanics. “This could move the needle.”

Member Richard Harding said he also looked forward to seeing an action plan on meeting the 30 percent goal, noting that “17 of 18 of our schools are at least half black and brown,” and that “Anywhere else in America there would be a clarion call for an action plan that our staff reflects the people they’re serving.”

But he also had a warning that looked at the setting of the goal in the first place:

It was admirable to go to 30 percent. But I’ll just say this: We should be leery of setting these high goals. Usually when you set a goal you meet the goal and you set it again. We didn’t meet the last goal when we decided to put it higher. I think it’s admirable, don’t get me wrong, but oftentimes when that happens, you’re going to be stuck in a place where it looks like you’re not making progress.

This story was updated Sept. 5, 2013, to attribute two quotes to McLaughlin and note the context of Allen’s comment about “highly qualified” teachers.