TUSD spending $550,000 to recruit highly qualified, minority teachers
Arizona Daily Star
Oct. 13, 2008


By Chelsey Killebrew

For the Arizona Daily Star

Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/education/262102

Marivel Roybal speaks the same language her Hispanic first-graders hear at home, which she says instantly creates a bond between them.

Roybal, who teaches at Ochoa Elementary School, 101 W. 25th St., helps her students transition from home to school with comfort, she said. Instead of being told to "leave your culture at home," students should feel encouraged to be themselves in the classroom, she said.

And sometimes, speaking the language they feel familiar with dissolves their fears, she said.

Tucson Unified School District officials hope that kind of connection through culture will help them reach other students, too.

The district has launched a $550,000 effort to recruit highly qualified and minority teachers, hoping to diversify its staff and give minority students a better chance of seeing themselves as part of the education system.

Experts say the feeling of belonging translates into long-term success for students, an important goal for a district whose minority students traditionally trail Anglo counterparts in academic achievement.

The numbers clearly show a disconnect with population rates.

More than 40 percent of Tucson's population is Hispanic, according to 2005 U.S. Census Bureau numbers, the most recent available. That year, about 24 percent of TUSD teachers were Hispanic. Last year, the number fell to about 21 percent.

TUSD employed 1,009 high school teachers last year, and five were American Indian. There were two Asian teachers in all middle schools combined. Anglo teachers made up 74 percent of the teaching staff.

Experts tend to support the idea that schools should reflect the populations they serve.

Children need role models, said Sylvia Olivas, an assistant clinical professor at the University of Arizona and a bilingual-education teacher in TUSD.

"I never had a minority teacher until I reached high school," Olivas said. "So I always thought it was something not for me."

Thirty years ago, parents of minority students took TUSD to court over the district's ethnic imbalances between students and faculty members, among other issues. The district is trying to emerge from the case this year, and is working on a plan to ensure desegregation in schools. In the spring, the district created the recruiting position to diversify the faculty, as well as to attract highly qualified teachers.

"Teacher populations across the states tend to be white," said Carol Evans, a UA associate professor in teaching and teacher education. But she said a diverse staff means students can connect to teachers with shared cultural backgrounds.

"Teachers have to know how to get information out of the children to build on it," Evans said. Miscommunication can arise between ethnicities because of different cultural upbringings, she said.

"We tend to ask questions based on what we already know," Evans said. For example, "the Anglo middle class assumes kids should know certain things. If you share the same background, you'll be less likely to draw conclusions on what kids should already know."

Also, children begin to associate achievement in school with a certain ethnicity when they don't have teachers of the same ethnicity to look up to, Evans said. School needs to represent a place where all people can excel, she added.

The benefits aren't just for minority students, either, Evans said. A diverse faculty "helps European-American kids realize they have something to learn. . . . We need to build on each other's knowledge."

Richard Foster heads the TUSD effort, and he will travel to other cities and states in search of minority teachers.

His recruiting strategies include attending job fairs, participating in educational-diversity fairs, visiting historically black colleges and urban areas with large black populations, and reaching out to American Indian and Hispanic communities.

TUSD also will use the Internet as an advertising tool to gain national exposure, Foster said.

"We're not only trying to get them to come to TUSD, but trying to get them to come to Tucson," Foster said.

In an attempt to "sell" the city, Foster has helped to develop an advisory committee of community and district members, which meets quarterly.

"Besides the sunshine," Foster said, he tells potential TUSD employees of the perks of living in Tucson from a geographical perspective. A four-hour drive delivers skiing in the mountains or sunbathing on Mexican beaches, and in two hours you can be at a lake or on top of Mount Lemmon, he said.

The $550,00 budget for the new recruitment position covers salary and benefit expenses, supplies and travel costs, said Alyson Nielson, the district's director of employment services. After stipends are established, TUSD plans to use the money to offer incentives to highly qualified and minority teachers.

"We're trying to build that diversity," Nielson said.

"If everyone's the same, they're not going to learn a whole lot from others," she said.

Still, Ceasar Martinez, a freshman at Howenstine High Magnet School, 555 S. Tucson Blvd., said there are more important factors than race when it comes to teachers. He believes the best qualities are attitude and effectiveness.

"It doesn't really matter," Martinez said about teachers' ethnicity, "as long as they know how to teach."

● Chelsey Killebrew is a University of Arizona journalism student who is apprenticing at the Star. Contact her at 573-4176 or at starapprentice@azstarnet.com.