Strategies for building a diverse school district

Schools want teaching staff to reflect students' racial and religious makeup
By: | November 14, 2017

Not every school considers diversity an essential even though a business case can be made for it. At the very least, a diverse workforce leads to employee innovation, increased productivity and a positive reputation.

The following districts recognize the benefits of a diverse workforce and have made it a priority. Take a look at some of their practices.

By adopting some of their strategies, and tweaking or enhancing them, you may enrich the teacher-student experience at your district.

Meriden Public Schools, Meriden, Connecticut

8,600 students (67 percent Hispanic or black)

675 teachers (5 percent Hispanic or black)

To increase diversity within its teacher ranks, the district practices “on-the-spot” hiring of minority candidates, Superintendent Mark Benigni says.

“If we meet a minority candidate who we think is good for the district, we’re going to hire them” he says. “We fast-track the interviewing process. If we wait for the school team to interview them and return information to the administration, we’ve lost the candidate.”

Five years ago, the district created two programs designed to recruit people of color: the teacher developer program and the teacher support program.

The development program attracts certified teachers for their first job. They’re offered a position as a permanent substitute teacher—which includes assisting other classroom teachers—at $500 a week and are guaranteed one interview with the district, Benigni says.

Support program participants are undergraduates who apply for a substitute certificate. They’re paid $75 per day to work with the district’s teachers and receive authentic classroom experience.

“We can give them on-site experience and make them a more viable candidate in the future” says Benigni.

The program supports nearly 30 participants and has enabled the district to shrink its diversity gap by hiring up to four minority candidates per year.

Highline School District, Burien, Washington

20,000 students (75 percent black, Hispanic and Asian)

1,350 teachers (majority white)

Two years ago, human resources created a workforce development team tasked with recruiting and retaining teachers of color, says Steve Grubb, chief talent officer at Highline. A state grant provides the district’s bilingual tutors with tuition assistance to pursue a teaching degree.

Most of the 15 graduates this year are people of color who—surprisingly—are not required to teach in the district after graduation. Likewise, a teaching academy was developed at one high school to attract students to teaching careers.

“It’s a mistake to think we’re going to diversify a school district in the Northwest by finding diverse candidates in other states and transplant them here” Grubb says. “We need homegrown strategies that build on the diversity that exists in our district and region.”

McKinney ISD, McKinney, Texas

25,000 students (nearly half Hispanic, black or Asian)

1,670 teachers (80 percent white)

The district created a committee to encourage principals to seek diverse candidates. Administrators of color also go on recruiting trips. The committee supports two subcommittees—one for recruitment and selection, and the other for retention and staff development.

“We always strive to have our teaching ranks reflect our community and student body” says Tamira Griffin, the district’s assistant superintendent and chief HR officer. “We keep that topic at the forefront of our principals’ minds.”

The district celebrates diversity as well, with several schools named after minority community leaders whose accomplishments are discussed in classrooms and published in newsletters. Teachers bring in objects from their native countries and discuss them with students, emphasizing the importance of diversity.

Teachers of color are also featured in a video promoting the district.

“All these things bring richness to the mix and conversation” says Griffin. “We all come from a different place and contribute in a great and mighty way in that overall conversation.”

Carol Patton is a Las Vegas-based writer who specializes in human resources issues.