Portland Public Schools is one of eight New England school communities to be selected for an eight-month program to expand educator diversity and close the diversity gap between students and staff.

The Driving Toward Diversity in the Educator Workforce program, run by the Barr Foundation and The New Teacher Project, provides school districts with support to analyze current talent systems, practices and system needs while also taking input from students, teachers, school leaders, families and the broader community through June 2022. It also comes with a $25,000 grant.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to take a more data-informed look at our current state, how we got here and the best next steps for continuing to accelerate our diversity staff work,” Barbara Stoddard, the executive director of human resources for Portland Public Schools, said in a news release from the Barr Foundation.

“The research is clear that all students benefit from staff who look like them. Responding to this call to action is critical to the success of our (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) students and is critical to the retention and engagement of our BIPOC staff.”

Nationally, about 53 percent of students in the U.S. identify as people of color, while 80 percent of teachers are white and 40 percent of school districts do not have a single teacher of color, according to the National Center for Education Statistics and the Barr Foundation.

In Portland Public Schools, about 49 percent of the 6,500 students identify as people of color and about 11 percent of staff do, the release said. The district has made diversifying staff a priority, but Superintendent Xavier Botana told the school board in March that much more work is needed to have the district’s workforce better mirror student demographics.

As part of that effort, the district included $400,000 in this year’s budget to establish a human resources position to operationalize recruitment and support for educators of color, compensate diverse staff for linguistic and identity-based work and to create career development pathways for diverse staff.

Botana did not respond to a phone message or email about the new program Friday afternoon and a district spokeswoman also did not respond to an email.

Research shows students of color who learn from teachers of color are more likely to complete high school, go onto college, face fewer suspensions and disciplinary action and be referred to gifted-and-talented programs. But hiring and recruiting more educators of color can be a challenge.

Teacher certification processes pose barriers. Implicit bias in recruiting, hiring and managing can interfere. College and university programs preparing teachers often lack diversity in their student bodies and have a range of outcomes for supporting students of color to succeed in the licensure process, the release said.

Through the Driving Toward Diversity program, grantees will take part in planning sessions, analysis and data collection and will receive recommendations from The New Teacher Project. Other school systems to be selected include districts in Stamford, Conn.; Winooski, Vermont; and several in Massachusetts, including in the communities of Salem, Fitchburg and Lowell.

“We have over 20 years of experience working with school districts and educators to close achievement gaps, improve classroom instruction and develop talented, diverse teaching staffs,” said Arlene Sukran, vice president of The New Teacher Project in the northeast. “We hope this new effort will go a long way in making much-needed improvements for both students and teachers. It’s exciting to be part of the solution.”

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