School districts agree with grand jury that they would benefit from more diverse teaching staff

Jefferson Union High School District schools like Oceana High School are still working to make staff more diverse to better reflect the current student population. / Tribune file photo

Both local school districts responded to a San Mateo County grand jury request to diversify teaching staff to better match the student population, and both agreed to non-binding recommendations.

The Pacifica School District board approved a Sept. 22 response to the 2020-21 San Mateo County civil grand jury report entitled, “Building a Racially and Ethnically Diverse Teaching Workforce: A Challenge for Our Schools.”

PSD Superintendent Heather Olsen signed the district’s letter. Such responses are required by law following grand jury reports.

The grand jury noted the ethnic diversity of teachers in San Mateo County does not closely mirror that of the students they teach. The second finding states teachers frequently leave schools in San Mateo County for higher pay in other districts to the detriment of the students. PSD agreed with both findings.

The grand jury also found that school districts in San Mateo County compete nationally for a limited number of teacher candidates, which makes diversity difficult.

PSD agreed with the fourth finding that cost of living and housing affordability in San Mateo County are two major barriers that continue to impede the school district’s ability to attract, recruit and retain a diverse teacher workforce.

PSD further agreed that public school districts in the county are not permitted by state law to consider race, sex, color and ethnicity or national origin in hiring. It is common practice for districts to interview all candidates who meet the qualifications for an open teaching position, further complicating hiring to meet diversity goals.

PSD agreed, too, that San Mateo County Office of Education has an opportunity to articulate and guide an educational vision for the entire county to the benefit of the school districts. The district agreed with the seventh finding, that teacher residency and internship programs take time to produce but school districts could benefit by increased participation in those programs.

PSD said it did not have enough information to fully agree with the eighth finding. It nonetheless accepted the grand jury’s finding that school districts invest varying degrees of effort into the process of recruiting a diverse teacher pool. While some rely on traditional strategies, others have found creative solutions to increase diversity in the teaching workforce.

PSD didn’t research it, but accepts the grand jury’s suggestion that San Mateo County School Boards Association Equity Network, created in 2019-20, limited opportunities to work collaboratively to help build capacity for thoughtful, equity-driven decisions. As of January 2021, its ability to identify and deliver on stated outcomes has been limited. The district also agreed that students of color benefit from having educators who look like them.

PSD implemented the grand jury’s recommendation on June 9. That reads, by June 30, 2022, school districts should include a commitment to teacher diversity in strategic plans, goals and objectives using the strategic plan developed by San Mateo County Office of Education as a guide. These documents should be publicly and prominently displayed on their websites.

Jefferson Union High School District Superintendent Toni Presta said in an email to the Tribune that her district agrees with many of the findings in the grand jury report as well.

“As mentioned in our district’s equity statement, JUHSD commits to engaging, educating and empowering all students, with an intentional focus on those under-served, inadequately served or disenfranchised by educational institutions and systems, eliminating disparities in educational outcomes,” she wrote. “Through the findings of inequalities within the district, JUHSD agreed that with a diminishing employee candidate pool resulting in limited teacher diversity, the district needed to quickly address the ways in which these concerns are positively changed, providing staff with the tools to embrace inclusion and sensitivity.”

Presta said JUHSD wants to hire a workforce that reflects the student population. She said it had engaged “Work Wider,” a diverse professional community, in an effort to attract candidates it might have missed in the past.

Jane Northrop has covered Pacifica for the Pacifica Tribune since 1996. She has won first place John Swett Awards from the California Teachers Association for her coverage of education.

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