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A Sense of Urgency is Needed: Recruitment and Retention of Teachers of Color

We Need to Hire Earlier: Recruitment and Retention of Teachers of Color in BUSD

The following speech was given at the January 24, 2018 Board of Education meeting by BFT Teachers of Color Network Facilitators Shannon Erby and Sarah Moreno.

Good evening Board Members and Superintendent Evans,

My name is Shannon Erby.  I teach at Berkeley High School.  And my name is Sarah Moreno, I teach at Thousand Oaks.  We are two of five Co-Facilitators of the BFT Teachers of Color Network. Tonight we’d like to present a number of focal points regarding the recruitment and retention of teachers of color in our district.

As you may recall, the Teachers of Color Network spoke to you at the November 15, 2017 board meeting.  At this meeting, we brought up these important points:

1. Berkeley Unified School District prides itself on our values of diversity and inclusion.   This means that there should not be one majority racial or ethnic identity on our campuses.  Instead, there are multiple races, cultures, religions, genders, and ethnicities.  The diversity includes not only students, but also the adults--both classified and certificated--who contribute to their learning environment.   However, this is the goal, not the current reality.  In order for this goal to come to fruition, there needs to be a concerted effort on the recruitment and retention of teachers and staff of color.

2. The second point we discussed in November is the Classified Pathways program. BUSD needs to make Classified Pathways both a priority and long-term commitment. BUSD received a grant from the California Classified School Employee teacher training program to support 12 aspiring teachers through the CTC program, and we applaud these efforts. And as stated in the grant, we ask that BFT is involved and informed about the recruitment plan.  In addition, we ask for more support for the LCAP-funded Classified tuition support program.

3. Lastly, the Teacher of Color Network asked you to move up the hiring timeline in order to higher more qualified teachers of color.  

Let’s take a moment to emphasize the hiring timeline.  Surrounding districts, such as Oakland Unified and San Francisco Unified begins actively recruiting at universities, and interviewing teachers as early as January.  West Contra Costa is well into their hiring process for next year NOW.   This means there is a larger pool of candidates to choose from.  But Berkeley Unified typically begins the process too late.  The most qualified teachers of color have already interviewed and in many cases been offered jobs by the time Berkeley is ready to start interviewing.  

This delayed hiring process has had adverse effects on our ability to diversity our teaching corps.  For example, for the past three years I have served as the cooperating teacher for student teachers of color at Mills College.  Two years ago, one applied at BHS, but was not immediately given an interview.  Though he wanted to teach in Berkeley, he needed to secure a job and could not wait for Berkeley High to grant him an interview. By the time he was asked to interview, he had already been offered two teaching positions in Oakland.  Another student teacher of color was never even invited to interview, and she accepted a job in a neighboring district.  This is a problem.  Student teachers who train with our teachers receive excellent mentoring and guidance and are well positioned to become effective teachers.  If Berkeley Unified had only initiated the recruitment process earlier in the year, they could have gained qualified teachers of color, already familiar with the school.  This is why the timeline is so critical.

I am currently the cooperating teacher for a black student teacher at Mills.  I have already been approached by BHS administration about observing her teach early in the second semester.   I am hopeful that this early, proactive recruitment is a new standard for our school and our district.   

Prioritizing recruiting and retaining educators of color is reducing the achievement gap.  Students of color, and especially low-income students of color have performed grade levels behind their white peers.   According to the National Statistics for Education Data 2016-2017 annual report (, the average reading scale score for white, Hispanic, and Asian/Pacific Islander students in grade 12 did not measurably change from 1992-2013; black students actually scored lower in 2013 than in 1992.  This is significant because not only does it show that there is still a notable gap in the achievement of white students and students of color, it also shows that for some students--black students--the gap is widening.  These are national statistics, but even here in Berkeley the equity gap persists.  

This gap is systematic, and caused by a variety of factors, most notably racist and classist government policy.   But just because we are working within a biased system does not mean we have to accept it, or that we should not be active participants in dismantling it.   As educators, we are the ones who interact with our students and their families daily, for years, and sometimes even for generations.   We have a tremendous amount of power that influences student learning, and we have a responsibility to use this power wisely.   

Dr. Sonia Nieto, a professor and scholar of culturally responsive teaching, researched the importance of who is actually teaching children of color, and she explains that “School policies and practices—specifically, curriculum, pedagogy, tracking, testing, discipline, and hiring—can also either promote or hinder learning among students of different backgrounds...Although all educators—teachers, administrators, curriculum coordinators, and others—need to develop the attitudes and skills to be effective with our increasingly diverse student population, we need a concerted effort to recruit a more diverse faculty” (Educational Leadership: Equity and Opportunity: Profoundly Multicultural Questions).  Dr. Nieto asserts that diverse teachers positively affect the learning environment of students of color, and she suggests that if schools want to interrupt the achievement gap, it is critical that they consider diversity in their hiring practices.

BUSD has invested resources into addressing the achievement gap through our LCAP plan and funds, and the Teachers of Color Network implores the district not to overlook the value of hiring diverse teaching staff as a priority measure in this effort.

It is imperative that the recruitment and retention of teachers of color become a greater priority in BUSD.  The work of Kacy Robinson, our consultant, is critical in this effort.  We recommend that every site work with Kacy this winter and early spring.  Moving up the hiring timeline is urgent in this effort.  This includes moving up critical deadlines, such as the deadline for Site Plans, and establishing eligibility pools by early next month.  Interview panels at each site should include a diverse body of administrators, teachers, and when appropriate, students or classified staff like Instructional Assistants.   Lastly, a central hiring pool can and should conduct initial screenings or even interviews with a rubric, perhaps specific to grade level or subject area, which assesses the same criteria of each candidate.   We are confident that such a rubric exists.

Lastly, we urge BUSD to prioritize exit interviews in the hopes that the information learned from them can and will be used to inform retention strategies.   Otherwise, we are speculating about why educators of color leave our district.  Without concrete answers, we can only speculate about how to retain them.    This is an inefficient and ineffective practice.  Our consultant Kacy Robinson has expertise in managing exit interviews, and she is an invaluable resource in retaining staff of color.  

Thank you for your time.

In Lak’ech.

The following speeches were given at the January 24, 2018 Board of Education meeting by BFT members Amina Sheikh (BHS), Amanda Cardno (King Middle) and Dana Moran (BHS).

Amina Sheikh, AC Teacher Leader at BHS

Initially, I struggled to come up with what to say, and I realized that’s because for me, the necessity of recruiting and retaining teachers of color is obvious.  We know we’re not doing as well by our kids of color as we should be.  We know representation matters.  Of course our teaching staff should reflect our student body.  I would hope that we’re all in agreement about why this is important.  So instead of focusing on the why, I’m going to outline one suggestion for improving our hiring process.

In addition to TOCN’s recommendation about hiring earlier, we also need to establish a standardized holistic interview process: 

(current process has been different in the two years I’ve been involved and for each candidate, and is inconsistent across departments and learning communities, and I believe favors white applicants.)

-We need to establish a hiring committee that includes students/families of color, at least at middle and high schools; students and are incredibly attuned to power     dynamics with adults and likely to pick up on things that adults won’t

-Include classified staff and counselors: in addition to being the majority of our black and Latino staff, they work with students when they’re going through the most difficult parts of their experience at school and know which kinds of teachers are best able to support kids at these times

-Have hiring committee members trained to recognize their own implicit biases and how this plays out in interviewing and hiring candidates: without this training, we are more likely to hire people who reflect the current teaching staff, rather than the staff we want to become

-Include a mandatory demo lesson in a classroom with students, and a debrief afterwards with the teacher as well as the class, to get a read on how the teacher interacts with young people as well as what they notice about the teacher

-Use a rubric to evaluate candidates, and norming our interpretations of this rubric.

-Make sure to follow up quickly with applicants, particularly applicants of color who may not be as persistent about using competing offers to pressure the district to hire.

-Make sure the process is clearly outlined so that when there is staff turnover new hiring committees don’t have to redesign it from scratch.

Amanda Cardno, Teacher at King Middle School

I would like to address the board on a matter that is very near and dear to my heart, the importance of hiring and retaining teachers of color.

As a young girl growing up in Berkeley I can remember some of the influential teachers and coaches of color that I had, who connected on a community level. Our force represents a sea of white faces in a district that is still, for the moment, a makeup of many cultures of color.

As a person of multi-racial background and parent of children of color in BUSD, I see and feel the struggle of our students of color, who don’t feel understood or represented.

As a teacher and a parent in BUSD I see the racial divide and it is more apparent than ever in our student and teacher makeup. We need to create a program that encourages and promotes the hiring and retention of teachers of color to help our students of color feel accepted and understood. Retaining teachers of color starts with finding out why teachers of color are leaving? And what we need to do to keep more of us around?

The students of color in this district are in need of a teaching force that looks, speaks, and represents everything that they hold valuable and that is who they are!  I am so thankful for the people, teachers, and coaches who helped me face school every day, as a child with a “rough” upbringing in a biracial household. The special people that I had really impacted my future and made me become the teacher and person I am today.

Thank you for your time.

Dana Moran, Teacher at BHS

Greetings members of the Board,

I am speaking before you tonight as a parent, teacher and graduate of BUSD.  My siblings, parents, grandparents, and my three children are all graduates of Berkeley High. Fifty years ago, I was entering Kindergarten in the same year that Berkeley led the nation by voluntarily integrating its schools.  My years at Jefferson, Franklin, King and Berkeley High were absolutely formative in the way I view the world and my ability to make a difference in it.  

At Franklin elementary school, I was enrolled in what was probably the only Asian American studies program in an elementary school anywhere in the country.  All my teachers at Franklin were strong Asian women (thank you Susan Tanisawa, Cheryl Aoyagi and Chiyo Masuda), and I am certain that their guidance and role modeling was instrumental in my own decision to become a teacher.  

When I was hired at BHS 25 years ago, it was to teach the new Ethnic Studies class that was a requirement for graduation, again one of the first schools in the nation to have such a requirement.  If BUSD is going to continue to lead the nation, and maintain our commitment to issues of race and diversity, we absolutely MUST do a better job of recruiting and retaining teachers of color.

Yesterday, I asked my seniors to show me with their fingers the number of teachers of color they had in four years at Berkeley High, including me.  I’m sorry to say that not a single one of those students needed more than one hand.  

Tonight I want to share with you what those students said about why they think it is important to have more teachers of color:

“As a Latino male, I think that it should be more diverse in school because I haven’t had 1 Latino teacher in all 12 years I’ve been in school.”

“Most of my classes there are not a lot of black male teachers.”

“Having more teachers of color would be a good idea because I feel like I can’t connect to some of my teachers [be]cause they don’t understand me.”

“ We need role models in a world that is telling us we can’t succeed!”

“How can you pride yourself in having diverse schools, if the teachers, who are part of the school, aren’t diverse?”

“If you want kids to learn about diversity, we need to experience it first hand.”

“It is important to have role models that look like us.”

“We need more world views from people of color because people of different colors have different experiences of the same situation.”

“Kids associate teachers with smart.  If there are no teachers of color, kids will think only white people can be smart.”

“Having a diverse staff also opens the door for important conversations about race and the American experience.”

“Faculty, teachers and people of authority should be able to reflect, represent, and relate to the people under them in ALL fields.  But especially when students are trying to grow and learn about where they fit in the world.  Representation matters!!”

“I think it’s good so everyone is able to be inspired.”

Gloria Munoz-Hughes, Teacher at Willard and TOCN Co-Facilitator

Tonight I would like to bring to your attention the importance of not only recruiting but also retaining teachers of color in our district.

As a district we are lacking in the number of teachers of color, as you know.  Statistics have proven that one of the reasons teachers of color leave a district is due to the feeling of isolation, as well as lack of support from administration and parents. It is imperative that we make an effort to retain our teachers of color not only for the benefit of our students but also for our staff. Several teachers of color have reported feeling like their every move is questioned as well as the need to justify strategies, ideas and schedules, while their white counterparts go about their business without debate. Some teachers of color have left BUSD for neighboring districts that offer a more diverse teaching staff.

No teacher should feel like they are on trial for simply doing their job. It is this sort of institutionalized racism that we need eliminate from our district. What we need are equitable necessary supports as demonstrated by cultural competency academies required for all teachers, trainings for principals and site level mentoring.  These types of supports will not only help our district retain teachers of color; they will also help lead to more positive school climate for staff and students, which research has shown leads to higher student achievement. If BUSD is truly committed to closing the race based achievement gap amongst our students then we need to start with the diversity gap in our teaching staff.

Lucero Lupercio, Teacher at LeConte Elementary and TOCN Co-Facilitator

On November 11, 2017 the Teachers of Color Network asked to be involved and informed about the recruitment plan for classified staff. Thank you for informing us and giving us updates on both the grant from the California Classified School Employee teacher and the LCAP pilot. I would like to encourage the board to continue the work with supporting our classified employees with the pathways currently available to them in order to become certificated classroom teachers.

Through the work and the research of Kacy Robinson, Berkeley Unified School District received a grant from the California Classified School Employee teacher training program to support 12 aspiring teachers. There are 22-25 applicants!

When the opportunity arises to re apply for this grant we ask that BUSD apply in order to allow for 12 more Berkeley Unified employees some extra support and encouragement to become classroom teachers.

In November I addressed the LCAP Pilot and I urged you to reconfigure it in order to include more classified staff. I had stated that only two candidates qualified and now, there is only 1 person who will most likely receive this support.

Can we configure the LCAP pilot to provide support for more aspiring classroom teachers?