Denver’s newest group of teachers is its most diverse ever

4 min. read
Books in the new library in Montbello High School’s old building.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

By Melanie Asmar,  Chalkbeat 

Thirty percent of the nearly 750 new teachers who will join the Denver school district this fall are teachers of color, making this year’s class of recruits the most diverse in recent history.

Hiring more teachers of color has long been a goal for the urban district, where 76 percent of the 92,000 students last year were students of color but 73 percent of teachers were white.

The district’s newest hires bring that percentage down to 71.7 percent, district data shows. The change is slight, but it represents progress for a district that last year did not move the needle on the percentage of teachers of color, despite significant efforts to recruit diverse candidates.

Paige Harris is one of the 736 new teachers hired thus far by Denver Public Schools to teach in 2018-19 (the district is still filling some open positions), and one of 222 new teachers of color. She moved from California to take a job as a third-grade teacher at the Montclair School of Academics and Enrichment, an elementary school that serves many refugee students.

A Google search led Harris to Denver. She said it was important to her to work for a district that honors diversity, and when she came across a joint statement from the superintendent and the mayor welcoming refugee students to the district, “I knew I wanted to teach here.”

“I never had a teacher who looked like me,” said Harris, who is black. “It’s so important to see people of color in leadership roles. … That’s so powerful. That’s going to change the city.”

Research shows students of color benefit when they’re taught by teachers who share the same background. A recent study found black students from low-income families who have even one black teacher in elementary school are more likely to graduate high school.

District officials celebrated the diversity of the new hires Monday at a welcome event for teachers new to Denver Public Schools. About a third of the new teachers are brand-new to teaching and about two-thirds are experienced educators, officials said.

Of the 222 new teachers of color, 143 are Hispanic, 28 are black, 25 identify as two or more races, 21 are Asian, and 5 are Native American, according to district data.

“You all, this class of new teachers, is the most diverse class of new teachers ever in the Denver Public Schools,” Superintendent Tom Boasberg told a downtown theater filled with new teachers. “We worked very, very hard to recruit both nationally and grow our own folks locally.”

The district has used a variety of strategies to diversify its teacher workforce, including making recruiting trips to colleges and universities across the country that graduate high numbers of teachers of color, and launching a program that pays for teacher’s aides, most of whom are people of color, to earn a bachelor’s degree and a teaching license.

This year, district officials said recruiters made personal contact with prospective candidates earlier than ever before. The district also honed its messaging around why Denver Public Schools would be a great place to work, they said, including that Denver teachers get “deep professional support” through a program that has standout teachers coach their peers.

“The team personally engaged with candidates to help them realize what their potential and impact could be,” said Katie Clymer, the district’s director of talent acquisition.

The city of Denver has also taken an interest in recruiting more black and Latino teachers. A joint effort between Denver Public Schools and the city, called Make Your Mark, has resulted in a website that offers testimonials from current teachers of color, as well as information about living in Denver. Interested educators can upload their resumes right to the site.

“Teachers are one of the very few professionals who actually touch eternity,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, a Denver Public Schools graduate, told the teachers assembled in the theater Monday. “If I asked you to tell me about your first-grade teacher, I bet you could do it.”

Joseph Rojas Cascante is another of the district’s new teachers. He is from Costa Rica and will soon begin a job teaching English language learners at Kepner Beacon Middle School.

Rojas Cascante said that in his home country, he was simply seen as a teacher. Here in the United States, he said, he’s viewed as a teacher of color. He said he wants to represent the Hispanic community and serve as a role model, especially for young Hispanic boys.

“I want to lead by example,” Rojas Cascante said.

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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