Minority teachers

Paul Vang, a secondary education student at UW-Madison, works with eighth-graders Antonio Fernandez, left, and Richard Ballard in a science class at MadBlack Hawk Middle School. Vang says being Hmong helps him connect with minority students.

Madison schools are making progress at hiring more minority principals to help serve as role models for an increasingly diverse student body.

At least a third of principals in the Madison district are now people of color, Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham said last week. That compares to only a handful two years ago.

She credited stepped up recruiting. The district also has revised its screening and selection process.

But diversifying the teaching ranks has been a slower process.

Two big changes should help in the coming years.

Madison no longer draws out its hiring process deep into July and August because of seniority rules that favored the longest-serving teachers — most of them white — to fill open positions.

Thanks to a change in the teachers union contract, the district now looks at internal and external candidates simultaneously. That means the district can offer jobs to the best and most desirable candidates earlier in the summer, making those offers more timely and competitive with other districts.

“That change has made a big difference,” Cheatham said.

Yet there’s a long way to go. About 88 percent of Madison teachers are white, compared with 44 percent of students. At the same time, less than 3 percent of teachers are black, compared to nearly a fifth of students.

Just 56 percent of black students graduate on time from the Madison School District, according to the district’s latest report. More black teachers could help inspire struggling students to succeed and expand the school culture. A more diverse teaching staff also could boost efforts to involve parents in their children’s educations.

Madison has hired more Latino teachers as its bilingual programs have rapidly grown. But those teachers with advanced language skills are becoming harder to find and attract, too.

So the district is trying to turn more of its students into teachers — a great idea that, if successful, should expand.

Nearly a dozen high school students started training this summer to become future Madison School District teachers as part of a new program called Tomorrow’s Educators for Equity in Madison, or TEEM. In exchange for encouragement and incentives including training at UW-Madison’s School of Education, participants agree to teach in the Madison district for at least two years after graduating from college.

The district also offers private scholarships to pay for tuition for district staff without teachers licenses who are working on becoming teachers. That could help diversify the teaching ranks, too.

No single or simple answer to Madison’s racial achievement gap exists. But that’s no excuse for inaction or failure.

Cheatham and the Madison School Board have wisely heightened efforts to diversify staff.

The school district deserves strong public support for TEEM and other programs and policies that are key to accomplishing this important goal.

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