Ore. project aims to add more minority teachers

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Associated Press

Posted on November 10, 2013 at 10:01 PM

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. (AP) — Every day for four years, Yareli Montaño came home from work and was miserable.

The 23-year-old from Merrill, just south of Klamath Falls, worked at two retail clothing stores at Valley River Center. The hours were long, Montaño said, and the work was unrewarding.

She remained in retail for a year after earning her bachelor's degree in Spanish and ethnic studies at the University of Oregon and didn't see a way out. Then, through a friend, Montaño heard that the Springfield School District needed a full-time after-school coordinator at Hamlin Middle School this year. The district offered her the job.

She now wants to become a teacher for the school district not only for the fulfilling work, but also to be a role model for the growing number of Latino students in Springfield whose teachers remain overwhelmingly white.

"For me, at their age, I would have loved somebody to help me out, or just be there for me," Montaño said about growing up as a bilingual Latina in Oregon schools.

She will be part of a statewide program called TeachOregon to help districts hire minority teachers to reflect changing student demographics.

About a third of Springfield's students are minorities, but its teaching staff is more than 90 percent white.

TeachOregon, an initiative by the nonprofit education advocacy group Chalkboard Project, is designed to help districts hire and retain qualified — and diverse — teachers.

Springfield district officials say the program, set to begin next fall, will give students who want to become teachers practical experience in Springfield schools and cover the cost — for those like Montaño who need financial help — to earn a teaching license.

"This makes me believe they actually want to change things," said Montaño, who was the first in her family to graduate from high school, let alone college.

The program, though, isn't cheap.

The total price tag for five years is an estimated $1.34 million to help about 125 students earn a teaching certificate.

Ultimately, the district wants to have 50 teaching candidates in the program each year, with half of those students being a minority.

The district has already received $700,000 in grants and will look to partner with other districts and the state to create a more stable funding source.

District officials say the program will eventually pay for itself using a "pay forward, pay back" model, where a portion of the new teachers' salaries will be withheld for five years. The district will then pool the leftover teacher salary money together each year to pay for the program.

The Springfield district partnered with Lane Community College, the University of Oregon and Pacific University's Eugene campus to help students earn scholarships to pay for four years of college. TeachOregon will then help those students earn a teaching license to work in Springfield schools.

The district next year will create a high school "teacher prep" program for students interested in a teaching career. That program will allow the district to draw from its own diverse student population to gradually have staff mirror the demographic makeup of its students.

"It's a big idea," Springfield Assistant Superintendent Matt Coleman said. "Three or four years from now, we will have a pipeline for diverse educators, and we'll work with them from high school through the teaching license."

The percentage of Latino students in the Springfield School District since 2000 has nearly tripled, from 6.6 percent of the student population to 19.1 percent during the last school year.

Bethel and Eugene school districts saw similar jumps in Latino students during the last 13 years. In Bethel, Latino students made up 5.6 percent of the student population in 2000. During the last school year, 16.6 percent of students were Latino.

In the Eugene district last year, 13.3 percent of students were Latino, compared to 5.3 percent in 2000.

The districts' staff, however, has been slow to adapt to the student demographic change.

Statewide, 8 percent of teachers compared to 34 percent of students are from minority populations, according to the Chalkboard Project.

During this year's Legislative session, lawmakers passed a bill that requires school districts to increase the number of minority teachers and administrators — including Latinos, Asians and African-Americans — they employ by 10 percent in two years. The law also requires universities to increase the number of minority teaching candidates enrolled in education programs by 10 percent by 2015.

During the last school year, just 2 percent of Springfield's staff — which includes administrators, teachers and classified staff — were Latino. In Bethel, 3 percent of staff were Latino, and in the Eugene district, 5 percent of staff were Latino.

"We've got work to do," Coleman said. "We've done some but not near enough. We're looking at things in a much more specific way."

The state is expected to see a significant teacher shortage in the next few years, Chalkboard reported. Schools statewide will need to hire more than 16,000 teachers, or about a third of the current teaching workforce, by 2020.

TeachOregon will help Springfield hire more minority teachers during the expected teacher turnover, Coleman said.

In three years, the district hopes to increase the number of minority teachers, counselors and school psychologists to 171, compared to the current 32.

"It's an aspirational goal, but it is reachable," Coleman said.

The Eugene and Bethel school districts typically post job applications to national websites that target minority educators.

The Eugene district says this method has worked. During the last school year, 85.68 percent of staff were white, compared to 88.22 percent in 2009.

Coleman said the Springfield district has hired out-of-state minority teachers from California or Texas, but he said those teachers don't stay in Oregon for long.

"That has been a strategy," Coleman said. "It doesn't work, though. There's a draw to where you grew up."

Teachers hired by Springfield after going through the TeachOregon program will receive 75 percent of their $34,866 starting salary. The other 25 percent, or $8,716, will go to the district to pay for the program. With 25 teaching candidates in the program annually, the district anticipates earning $217,900 from teachers after the first year of the program.

That number will continue to increase as more candidates go through the program, Coleman said. By the fifth year of working, teachers will receive 100 percent of their salary, which would be $40,398 after factoring in annual "step" increases triggered by levels of education and seniority. Teachers will have generated enough money after five years for the district to pay for the program without grant funding, Coleman said.

Students are tentatively required to commit to working in Springfield for three years after earning their teaching certificate, he said, but that may change depending on the number of teaching opportunities available at schools.

If the district doesn't have enough job opportunities for those teachers, the district will work with neighboring districts to help the teacher find a job.

Montaño, whose family immigrated from Mexico, will likely attend the University of Oregon or Pacific University next year to begin working on her teaching license.

The district has two other Latino students, who are freshman at the UO, interested in participating in the program.

The students, Leah Barrera and Jackie Ochoa, started working alongside Montaño at Hamlin Middle School's after-school programs earlier this week.

Barrera, 18, and Ochoa, 19, are graduates of North Eugene High School and both say they want to become teachers.

"Growing up, it would have been nice to have (a teacher) of a different race," Ochoa said.

Students like Montaño who earned scholarships and took out loans to pay for college often don't have the financial means to pay for another year or two of school, Coleman said.

"It's built around the idea of creating access," Coleman said of the program.

"We've got to do something like this for first generation (college-educated) families and folks who come from economically disadvantaged homes. A lot of folks will go through their undergraduate years and utilize all their federal financial support.

"We're helping them take that next step for a teaching license."

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Information from: The Register-Guard, http://www.registerguard.com

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