BEAVERTON, Ore. — There’s a big effort underway in Washington County to hire more diverse teachers.
“Seeking future teachers in Washington County” is written in bold at the very top of a flyer that the Beaverton School District distributed it in its most recent newsletter.
“Try to get students in interested in having the career path of a teacher,” said DeMarcus Mitchell, who seeks out good candidates for the Beaverton School District.
The Washington County Future Teachers Pathway is a countywide initiative involving various school districts and higher education institutions. The goal is to get students and community members interested in pursuing a career in education in order to fill “critical shortages of linguistically and/or culturally diverse teachers," the flyer reads.
Mitchell said in the Beaverton School District, more than 50% of the population is diverse, but 80% of the teachers are white.
“[Students] not seeing as many teachers that look like you […] that is one of the things we are trying to fix,” Mitchell said.
The Pathway program offers mentoring, help getting a GED and a possible foot in the door, among other things. Mitchell said people in the program will continue to get help in their pursuit of an education-related career throughout their education.
For some parents, the effort is welcome news.
Justice Rajee has two kids. One of them attends a Beaverton high school. He said Washington County is one of the most diverse counties in the state, and it will likely stay that way. That’s why it’s imperative work be done to not only hire more diverse teachers and staff, but keep them as well.
He said more diverse staff would positively affect young people of color and could help them feel more at ease in the classroom.
“I think that it’s fantastic that there’s been some proactive efforts to plan for the future,” Rajee said.
He and Jordan Thierry are a couple of the cofounders of the Beaverton Black Parent Union.
“We know, and research suggests from the learning policy institute, that students of color actually have higher academic outcomes when they have teachers of color,” said Thierry.
Thierry said having a teacher of color may influence students of color to pursue a career in education, especially if they feel more supported and less isolated.
“Having a teacher that looks like you that comes from the same culture, that has the same first language as you, it can be very empowering and supportive for students,” Thierry said.
That story mirrors Dr. Karen Pérez-Da Silva’s experience. She’s worked in education for almost 20 years in a number of positions that have focused on equity. Currently she works for the nonprofit Education Northwest and is the vice president of the Oregon Association of Latino Administrators. Prior, she worked as equity director for the Eugene School District. Pérez-Da Silva started out as a kindergarten teacher, then years later made the leap to become an administrator after she said she saw people like her. They inspired her.
“I never saw people that looked like me. I’m a brown-skinned Latina. I didn’t see other brown-skinned people around me that were administrators. I couldn’t visualize or dream about something I didn’t know existed really,” Pérez-Da Silva said.
Both she and Rajee say hiring more diverse teachers and staff is a great first step, but they hope districts maintain a culturally accepting atmosphere at the workplace so they can keep the teachers who are hired on.
Rajee said it matters how employees of color are treated once they are hired.
“Are you gonna get supported when you raise a flag about something that you’re seeing that exists in other people’s blind spots? Are you gonna be treated with respect for your view point?” he said.
Pérez-Da Silva said culturally responsive education for students is a big part as well.
If you’re interested in the Washington County Future Teachers Pathway, there’s an informational session taking place on Zoom on Tuesday from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.
CORRECTION: A KGW push alert mistakenly said about 80% of teachers in Washington County are white. That percentage only refers to teachers within the Beaverton School District.