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'How do we diversify the teacher workforce?': SPS program increasing representation in classrooms

The Academy for Rising Educators aims to recruit and retain educators of color and diverse backgrounds. It says it's seeing progress.

SEATTLE — Craig Jackson served Seattle Public Schools (SPS) students for more than two decades as a youth relations coordinator and basketball coach at Franklin High School when the head of a new program called Academy for Rising Educators (ARE) asked him to recruit participants. 

"The program here was geared toward teachers of color, male teachers of color, and that's what I didn't see in the building as well and that hurt me for our kids," Jackson said. "Not being able to see people that looked like them and not only just have teachers that looked like them but somebody that's a role model - somebody that can say hey, I might want to be a teacher as well."

The program is coordinated with and funded by partners at local colleges. The City of Seattle's Department of Education and Early Learning also provides tuition, wraparound services and flexible supports for participants to earn degrees and/or certifications, with the agreement that they'll teach for SPS for at least four years. 

Jackson realized the program helped lift some of his own barriers to becoming a teacher and decided to enroll.

"They're understanding of what life was for someone my age, no doubt, working full time, with families," Jackson said. "They made it feasible for me to be in classes the time I was there, and they understood it was going to be a barrier and they helped me out with that."

Tristan Wiley, program manager for ARE, said the program began in 2019 in response to a disproportionate number of educators of color when compared to students of color. 

"So far we've hired over 120 teachers from the program, and I'm happy to say over 50% of them are teachers of color," Wiley said. "This year alone we had 60 who graduated from ARE and they're entering SPS classrooms this year."

The program connects with the district's Strategic Plan. SPS Director of Talent Management Mike Simmons said the district is also partnering with historically Black colleges and universities and local partners to increase the number of teachers of color who are in the classroom. 

"We don't just want to attract them, we want to retain them from a culture and climate standpoint so they can thrive," Simmons said. "And I can see 10 years from now someone in the program being a principal or assistant superintendent."

Jackson said he thought he might want to become a physical education teacher, in line with his coaching, when he started the program. Instead, he's been inspired to become a high school history teacher. 

"I want to teach Black history, but I don't want to teach it to just Black kids," Jackson said. "I want to teach it to all kids. I think everybody needs to learn about everybody, hopefully that makes us better people and a better society."

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