‘We don’t have time to waste’: Officials work to diversify West Hartford schools’ teaching staff

View of Hall High School in West Hartford, Conn., on Thursday Jan. 7, 2020.

WEST HARTFORD — Although West Hartford Public Schools saw the number of people of color on the district’s teaching staff grow this school year, there’s still a ways to go before proportional representation among educators is closer to that of the student body.

“We’ve seen a wonderful and steady increase of students of color in West Hartford,” said Roszena Haskins, the school system’s equity advancement director, this month. “But we remain plagued by the fact that teachers of racial and ethnic diversity, they remain woefully underrepresented in our schools and in our classrooms, and it’s becoming more apparent too.”

That underrepresentation has also occurred on a broader scale — a 2016 U.S. Department of Education report cited data from 2011-12 that showed teachers of color were making up just 18 percent of educators working within public schools.

More than 40 percent of WHPS students are people of color, according to district figures. Of those on the district’s teaching staff, over 10 percent are teachers of color this school year, a figure that stood at about 9 percent at the beginning of the one prior.

With those percentages in mind, Rick Ledwith, the town and school system’s human resources executive director, said this month that the gap is one “that we need to work very hard to close.”

A document provided by Ledwith that described the figures referred to the current school year as the district’s “most successful recruitment season ever in diversifying our teaching staff.” Eighteen teachers of color came on staff this academic year, per the document.

Although all students would benefit from a more diverse teaching staff, Haskins noted particular benefits for students of color including “far-reaching favorable potential in implications for achievement, access to opportunities” as well as “confidence, identity validation and a sense of belonging.”

While lacking representation is an issue beyond West Hartford, Haskins said they “remain committed to finding new ways to attract, to recruit, to support and retain teachers that represent our diverse student body.”

“In the challenge of COVID-19 and an uprise in demand for racial equity, we have this opportunity to really reimagine how we are recruiting, how we are supporting our teachers and really responding to what’s right for our students,” Haskins said.

The school district is working to make its teaching staff more representative through a variety of means, one of which is the Future Educators of Diversity program. Through that program, the school system recruits students who want to teach, helps them prepare for college and supports them while they’re going through the process, eventually leading to a promised job interview if requirements are met.

One of the colleges in the area that participates in the program — Central Connecticut State University — has had about six students who have been part of the program in the last two or three years, Haskins said. At the high school level now, 20 people are involved in the program at Hall High School and 15 are involved at Conard High School, she said.

“We’re really working hard through that program and through other recruiting and support and retention strategies to address a very leaky and flawed pipeline of talented people of color as educators here in our district,” Haskins said. “And we just feel like we don’t have time to waste.”

Connecticut Media Group