Lack of diversity in teaching staff reflects larger national trend

Many students criticize RV for lacking teachers of color, but the problem is a systemic one, not just an RV one

March 6, 2023

Rancocas Valley  strives for diversity in both their teachers and students, seen as the letter “D” in the school’s PRIDE acronym around the building. Attracting and hiring a more diverse teaching staff is a prominent priority for the school system, especially following the DVCEE’s findings in 2020. The high school goes about this using strategies such as local job fairs and the app LinkedIn.

“The nice thing about LinkedIn is when people post their profile we can recruit and encourage people to apply,” said Director of Curriculum and Instruction Tracy Matozzo. “We look for profiles to diversify our population by gender and by race to the best of our ability.”

In using a national app such as LinkedIn, RV has a much more extensive range of possible new employees, rather than trying to hire solely through a local job fair. Having access to hundreds of people searching for jobs in teaching allows RV to be able to hire more people of color and work towards diversifying the school.

“It’s a lot more competitive than it was five or six years ago because there’s so few people to fill positions in addition to so few people of color to fill positions as well,” said Mrs. Matozzo.

Post-pandemic America has seen a wave of teacher retirements and resignations. Although this causes  difficulty in growing and diversifying school staff, the diversity of the staff still did not match the diversity of the student body in years prior to the pandemic. 

The National Center for Education Statistics collected data on public school teachers’ race and ethnicity in America in 2017-2018. The data showed that a vast majority of teachers in public schools were white and non-hispanic. When the majority of students were white in a school, the majority of teachers were also white. For schools with the majority of students not being white, the majority of teachers were still white. 

The demographic composition of American school teachers in 2017-2018 (National Center for Education Statistics)

The importance of representation of both race and ethnicity within school staff is seen through the students. 

Emersynn Fair, a Junior at RV, said, “I’ve only had two teachers of color since I’ve started school.”

“Being Asian, I was wondering if there were any asian teachers in the school, because I’ve never had an asian teacher,” said junior Bea Faigal. “We claim that a key thing of RV, in PRIDE, one of the letters is diversity, which yes that is seen in our students, but not in our teachers.”

Like Faigal and Fair, many students are aware of the low numbers of teachers of color in the school system and how it affects them — but that this is also not just an RV problem. As of January 2022, nationally, only seven per cent of teachers in America identify as Black. RV currently has two classroom teachers of color in its main campus building. Two guidance counselors identify as Black, and one administrator at the RV PREP building identifies as Black.

RV has started to address this more directly with its annual Diversity Job Fair held every April. Last year, RV attracted dozens of qualified candidates to engage with districts across the south Jersey region.

“We are experiencing staffing shortages across New Jersey schools, which has compounded the challenge many of us already faced to increase minority representation in our workforce,” Superintendent Christopher Heilig told the Burlington County Times last spring. “By joining with schools across our region, we hope to raise visibility of this job fair and attract interested and qualified candidates who will help us deepen the understanding and appreciation of diversity through education.” 

RV plans on holding another Diversity Job fair for districts on the area this April, and hopes to attract even more candidates.

Another initiative the school has launched in an effort to draw more diverse candidates to the district is the formation of the Future Educators of America group, which is a club for prospective teachers to get a taste of teaching before entering higher education.

“Our hope is that with the formation of the FEA we will be able to make a prospective teaching force that looks more like our student body,” said Mrs. Sarah Sherman, the club’s adviser. “A ‘home-grown’ program can help spark interest across different demographics and encourage students to return to RV one day as a teacher.”

While much of the lack of diversity stems from national trends, RV continues to search for creative ways to attract more diverse teachers and staff from across different backgrounds and walks of life. Studies show that the more the teaching staff looks like the student body, the greater an impact it can have on student academic outcomes.

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