Archived Story

School districts aim to hire more teachers of color

Published 10:19am Friday, August 1, 2014

By Catharine Richert

MPR News, 90.1 FM

BROOKLYN PARK— When Abdullah Kiatamba visited the Osseo Public School District office with a group of parents, there was only one thing on their minds — who came to ask district officials to hire more teachers of color.

“You have 51 percent student of color and less than 5 percent staff color,” Kiatamba said. “We want to see a full representation that allows students to see that the classroom is more welcoming and that those who stand in front of the classroom look like them.”

A more diverse teaching staff would solve a lot of problems for non-white students in the district, including a high suspension rate, said Kaitamba, executive director of African Immigrant Services, an organization that helps immigrants get involved in the community.

As Minnesota becomes a more diverse, schools in Brooklyn Park and beyond are facing a shortage of teachers of color. Some school districts want to change that, mindful that the success of their students depends on it.

Minnesota ranks just below the national average on the ratio of nonwhite teachers to nonwhite students, sometimes called the diversity gap. Only 3.5 percent the state’s public school teachers are of African-American, Hispanic, Asian American or Native American descent, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Meanwhile, nearly 30 percent of Minnesota’s students are children of color.

Recruiting more diverse teachers into the classroom, however, is easier said than done.

Fewer minorities go on to higher education than white students — and even fewer get a degree in education. Meanwhile, some teachers with culturally diverse backgrounds from other states are deterred by Minnesota’s strict teacher licensing standards.

Some Minnesota school districts are trying to overcome those challenges.

In Austin, school officials are hoping a new teaching program with Riverland Community College and Winona State University will diversify their teaching staff.

The program is open to anyone. But Austin school superintendent David Krenz said the four-year degree was crafted with the children of Sudanese and Hispanic employees of the Hormel meatpacking plant in mind. Krenz said the immigrant children don’t want to leave their close-knit families.

Given that many may not be able to afford college, an existing Hormel Foundation scholarship will sweeten the deal.

“When you look at keeping the kids here, making the program available here, it really helps support that whole feeling of ‘Do I have to leave to get my degree?’ Krenz said. “No, you can stay right here and do that.”

There’s no requirement that program graduates eventually teach in Austin. But Krenz said he hopes family ties will keep them close.

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