Montgomery County’s schools chief announced a new initiative to increase diversity in the teacher workforce, seeking to bring more educators of color into a school system where 76 percent of teachers are white.
The initiative, detailed at a school board meeting this week, comes less than three months after a county legislative oversight report drew broad attention to the racial and ethnic mismatch between students and educators in Montgomery.
Montgomery school officials said the report was one of several factors that underscored the urgency of a long-recognized problem in the school district, in which a majority of the students are minorities. The most recent district figures show 31 percent of students are white, 28.3 percent are Hispanic, 21.5 percent are African American and 14.2 percent are Asian.
“There is great value in having our children see teachers who look like them, who may have grown up in the same circumstances, who can serve as role models and who they can connect with in deep and meaningful ways,” Superintendent Joshua P. Starr told the school board.
The initiative includes four critical areas — recruitment, selection, retention and internal talent development — and outlines multiple strategies intended to broaden diversity on many levels, including race, ethnicity, teacher backgrounds and language abilities. Some already are in motion, and others will take longer to get started.
A new effort, for example, enlists Montgomery teachers as ambassadors to help recruit teachers at colleges they attended. Another would offer tuition help to Montgomery students who pursue teaching and return to work in Montgomery.
The initiative includes a marketing campaign, an audit of the hiring process, and mandated professional learning about cultural proficiency for all employees.
Teachers and principals would help evaluate candidates, and there also would be an accelerated timeline for teacher selection; many applicants would get offers in January through April, rather than in late spring and summer.
“We think it makes us much more competitive for the best teachers available,” said Andrew Zuckerman, the school system’s chief of staff and leader of the diversity effort.
Montgomery officials say the district’s diversity problems are similar to those in many large suburban school systems and note that nationally about 82 percent of teachers are white.
In the past 10 years, Montgomery has made little progress in spurring change. In the 2004 fiscal year, 80.4 percent of teachers were white. Last fiscal year, 76.7 percent were.
“We’re looking to be much more bold than we’ve been in the past,” Zuckerman said.
Starr said the changing demographics of Montgomery’s students add to the need.
“As our student population has grown more diverse and continues its growth, it has created an urgency that we need to respond to if we are to serve our students and our community well,” he said.
Doug Prouty, president of the county’s teachers union, said his organization welcomes the changes. “I think it’s promising,” he said. “We have to work out the details of the plan, and quickly, but it’s promising and it’s going to require ours and the board’s and everyone’s effort to make sure the implementation is what it should be.”
Board Member Christopher Barclay asked at Tuesday’s board meeting what would be different from past efforts. “We’ve talked about this for a long time, and I guess the issue is going to be how do we make it for real?” he said.
Starr said the initiative is a priority that will receive significant attention, and Zuckerman said the initiative includes 18 strategies that will be monitored on a regular basis, with some areas, such as recruitment and selection, monitored weekly.
“We want to make sure we are course-correcting if we need to,” he said.