JCPS central office

VanHoose Education Center | Photo by Olivia Krauth

This article has been updated.

Jefferson County Public Schools hopes to boost minority hires in the district through a new partnership with Simmons College.

This fall, Simmons College will offer a yearlong “Transition to Teaching” course to help Simmons students and anyone with a bachelor’s degree learn about teaching and the different paths into the profession.

It isn’t a quick teaching certification, officials stressed, but an introduction to the field with clinical-style visits to JCPS classrooms. From there, JCPS hopes to create a pipeline of teachers of color into the district’s classrooms where the majority of students are a racial or ethnic minority.

One retired JCPS administrator will help co-teach the course with a Simmons professor — the only cost to the district, JCPS spokeswoman Renee Murphy said. She was unsure how large the first cohort will be, but said 10 students would be a strong turnout.

The partnership, coming a week ahead of a school board meeting on multiple other new diversity initiatives, signals a systemic change to tackle the district’s racial equity goals.

“And all we’ve done in the past, quite frankly, is hope that we get more candidates, we’ve hoped that more come out of universities and we’ve hoped that we are the district that they choose to come teach for,” JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said. “And we all know hope is not a good strategy.”

Months after approving the partnership alongside a racial equity plan, JCPS and Simmons officials formally introduced the program Monday afternoon.

In a crowded room on Simmons’ campus, a crowd of young, predominantly African American children sat in blue summer camp shirts, squirming silently behind a row of TV cameras. Official after official said the program is designed to help students of color just like them.

Research links having at least one minority teacher to increased student achievement for all students, but especially for students of color. Black students having black teachers can lead to lower dropout and suspension rates, a sense of belonging in school and higher test scores, research shows.

But the diversity of the district’s teachers do not match the diversity of its student body. While 36% of students are African American, only 13% of teachers identify as such, according to JCPS. The issue worsens when other racial minorities are added in — 56% of JCPS students identify as a minority, but only 16% of teachers are.

“Research is very clear about the impact of a minority student, an African American student, having at least one teacher that looks like them and the impact that has on student achievement,” JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said. “We can see right now that, according to research, will not happen with only 15% of our staff being African American.”

Recruiting and retaining teachers of color is one of the district’s top goals in its racial equity plan. By 2020, JCPS wants to have 2% more teachers of color and 5% more administrators of color.

From January 2018 to the end of the 2018-19 school year, 22% of new teachers hired were teachers of color, according to JCPS. Over half of new principals and 37% of administrators are also minorities, the district said.

Additional diversity-driven initiatives are expected to be presented at the July 16 school board meeting, according to the meeting agenda.

A new teacher residency program will aim to find and support minority teachers, then place them in “strategic area schools for immediate impact,” a school board document says. For administrators, there is a new slating process for principals to ensure a balance of race and gender in the applicant pool.

Trades, a new program to be presented next week, is designed to attract and retain minority workers in skilled trades in the district. The program creates a series of tiers for trades in the district, like electricians and maintenance, to fund training and promote employees when they reach certain skill sets.

Additionally, a new minority and woman-owned business purchasing policy sets a goal of 15% of the district’s purchases to come from minority-owned businesses — up from the current 3%.