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WMU Conference Targets Teacher Diversity

A student at a high school in Waterbury, Conn. in 2019. While students in the Waterbury district are predominantly black and Hispanic, the vast majority of its educators, as in school districts across the country, are white.
Credit Jessica Hill / AP Photo

The Kalamazoo Public Schools doesn’t have enough black teachers. But the district hopes a conference at Western Michigan University will help change that. Kalamazoo School Board President Patti Sholler-Barber says finding minority teachers isn’t easy, adding that previous recruiting efforts have come up short, “It isn’t that we’re choosing not to. There aren’t any.”

Only 13-percent of KPS teachers are minorities. That’s a lot lower than the number for the district’s minority students. Assistant KPS Superintendent for Human Resources Sheila Dorsey-Smith says that’s even though it has twice the statewide average for black teachers. She says raising that number is important.

“Because all the research shows that when students see people who look like them before them, student achievement goes up, their career path increases, things just get better all the way around. And not just for students of color. When diversity happens in the classroom, non-students of color benefit from that as well because the world is not just black or white and it brings us together to see different experiences and experience different cultural ways of life, and that has to be a benefits when that happens.”

Dorsey-Smith says the “Inspiring Future Teachers of Color” conference at WMU will focus on high school and college students.

“And if we’re all working toward the same goal, and we have pipelines in place from the middle school, the high school, and the university, we can predict the outcome that, hopefully, we have more African-American teachers. The other piece is that an alliance can work work together to influence policy at the state level.”

She says the idea is to encourage them to consider teaching carrers. But she says fixing the problem will also take changes at the state level.

“Sometimes to get more you need to do something different. Other states are doing this; Michigan is not. So, what we’re hoping is that, through a collective effort, we can impact some of the changes that are necessary to effect this pipeline of African-American teachers.”

Dorsey-Smith says that includes things like forgiving student loans and scholarships. The conference was organized by the student group Future Teachers of Color. It’s also sponsored by WMU’s College of Education and the Kalamazoo Promise.

(WMUK correspondent John McNeill contributed to the reporting of this story.)

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