Housing Partnership Hears Proposal for Housing First-Year Teachers

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At its November 25 meeting, the Bedford Housing Partnership welcomed Superintendent of Schools Jon Sills, who presented an innovative idea he felt would give Bedford a strong advantage in hiring and retaining teachers of color. Sills, who said he had the support of Town Manager Sarah Stanton,  proposed designating a Bedford-owned property to serve as a shared residence for first-year African-American and Latinx educators, with subsidized rent. He envisions a living arrangement in which new teachers would support each other by sharing a home. The arrangement would apply to new hires, for a one-year period.

In his introduction, Sills outlined the difficulties Bedford-and neighboring towns-face in recruiting teachers of color.  Despite decades-long efforts and deep commitment to diversity on the part of the schools and the town, Bedford still faces challenges in meeting the needs of its varied school population.

He presented a snapshot of Bedford school data:  In the system, 6.2%  of students are African-American; 17.1% are Asian, 5.8% are Hispanic, and 5.5% are multi-racial, for a total of 34.7% non-white students.  African-American educators are represented at an “abysmally low” 0.39% although, as he said, we have several administrators of color and we have the Metco Director and Assistant Director who are African-American, on-site.

Sill stated that research shows 13% of non-white eighth-grade students are more likely to enroll in college if they have just one black educator in their school; that number rises to 32% if there are two black educators in the student’s school.

Housing Partnership members expressed interest in Sills’ proposal, acknowledging there are many questions to be considered before such a program could become a reality. Legal issues, financial, availability of a property, etc. are all on the table.  One member asked if Sills knew of any other school system that has tried offering housing as an inducement to attract new teachers. He did not know of any but said if Bedford could do this, it would be “the gold standard.”

In response to a question of whether the State would provide some assistance, Sills said he is discussing the proposal with the Department of Secondary and Elementary Education (DESE), which is keenly concerned with workforce issues, including recruitment of educators of color. DESE’s website says, “Recruiting and retaining a diverse and effective educator workforce is one of the Department’s priority strategies to address educational inequity. “ A Brief on the website states, “Quantitative and qualitative research has shown that all students benefit from exposure to diverse teachers. The outcomes for students of color who learn from educators of color have been found to include higher reading and math test scores, higher graduation rates, lower dropout and discipline rates, and higher enrollment in advanced courses.[1] A more diverse teacher workforce also has positive impacts for students of all races.”

The Housing Partnership took no formal action on Sills’ proposal but agreed to continue discussions. Sills said he would research the legalities and talk with TM Stanton to see if any properties were available. “We surfaced a lot of ideas and I thank you for that,” he concluded.

[1] Egalite, A.J., Kisida, B., and Winters, M.A. (2015) Representation in the classroom: The effect of own-race teachers on student Demographic Representation on Student Attendance and Suspensions. IZA Discussion Paper No. 9554.; Villegas, A.M. and Irvine, J.J. (2010). Diversifying the Teaching Force: An Examination of Major Arguments. Urban Review, 42: 175-192.

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