Community Foundation Boosts Five Colleges-Led Effort for Teacher Diversity

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Increasing the number of black and Latino K-12 teachers in Western Massachusetts is the focus of a $50,000 planning grant awarded to the Five College Schools Partnership by the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

The grant, from a competitive innovation fund newly initiated by the Community Foundation, was awarded to just seven of 47 applicants. It will fund an effort by a partnership-led coalition of 25 organizations that includes school districts, educator unions, teacher preparation programs, workforce development groups and other organizations to identify barriers to classroom paraprofessionals becoming teachers.

The coalition will convene focus groups and conduct interviews with a wide range of educators and community members, ultimately recommending a course of action that could be carried out through cooperative agreements and additional start-up funding.

Once we identify the barriers to paraprofessionals becoming teachers, we will develop strategies to help people overcome these barriers,” says Marla Solomon, director of the Five College Schools Partnership. “Our emphasis is on ‘grow your own’ approaches. We have a diverse group of paraprofessionals who reside in the communities they’re working in and already have experience working with the children of their communities in schools.”

Members of the coalition include school districts and unions in Amherst, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield, partnering with Springfield College, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Mount Holyoke College, Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College. The Regional Employment Boards of Hampden and Franklin-Hampshire are also engaged, along with community organizations such as the New North Citizens Council in Springfield.

“There’s a lot of interest in putting supports in place to help people in a wide variety of situations,” says Solomon. “But to do this well enough to have a regional impact, we have to collaborate.” One possible strategy, she notes, is identifying and communicating the financial supports that already exist.

The first round of data will be analyzed in June, launching a strategy design process the coalition will undertake in July and August, further testing the ideas with potential users when school re-opens in September. The final pathways design will be proposed at the end of the planning grant period in October.

The Five College Schools Partnership has been creating professional development opportunities for K-12 educators since 1984. Recent projects have included developing and coordinating professional learning communities of mathematics teachers and professors from throughout western Massachusetts, hosting a summer institute on Native American histories and working with educators to create web-based global literacy resources.

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