R.I. Foundation raises $3.1M to help Providence school district recruit minority teachers

PROVIDENCE – In an effort to address equity gaps among teachers in the city’s school system, the Rhode Island Foundation and local donors have raised a seven-figure amount to help the Providence Public School District recruit minority teachers.

The foundation announced Monday that $3.1 million has been raised to assist the state’s largest school district to hire more than 125 minority teachers over the next five years, starting with 25 for the 2021-22 academic year, including helping the new teachers pay off student-loan debt. Rhode Island Foundation CEO and President Neil D. Steinberg told Providence Business News that this latest initiative is in conjunction with the foundation’s 10-year plan to improve public education in Rhode Island, as well as its $8.5 million commitment to address racial inequity in the state.

Steinberg said this new initiative is in three phases. First, PPSD will use a $220,000 grant over the next couple years from the foundation to hire a diversity and pipeline design specialist to recruit minority teachers, as well as develop supports for teacher retention. According to the foundation, only 20% of all teachers in the district are of minority groups while students of color represent 80% of the district’s total enrollment.

Additionally, PPSD Superintendent Harrison Peters tweeted April 22 that 35% of Rhode Island Teach for America members identify as teachers of color.

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“The reality is that we need teachers – especially teachers of color,” Peters tweeted. Peters told PBN that the district hopes to increase the percentage of minority teachers in the district to 33% by 2025.

Steinberg said a shortage of minority teachers in the classroom has been a longtime challenge. He also noted that research has shown that children respond and are inspired by people who “look like them.”

“Having more teachers that represent the [minority] community [works], especially in the district that is majority students of color,” Steinberg said, also noting that the foundation could expand this initiative to other communities if it is successful in Providence.

New minority teachers, through this program, will also be offered a college-loan repayment incentive totaling up to $25,000 over the first three years they are employed in the district. New teachers in year one are eligible to have up to $6,000 of their college loan debt paid off, the foundation said; up to $8,500 in year two; and up to $10,500 in year three.

Full-time teachers who identify as Black, Asian, Indigenous, Latino or multi-racial are eligible for the loan repayment program, the foundation said, and they must be newly hired by PPSD.

Also, the Equity Institute received $125,000 in funding from the foundation to help get a diverse group of teacher assistants in the school district state certified, Steinberg said.

Along with the foundation, Judith and William Braden, Nancy and Charlie Dunn, Ruth and Jonathan Fain, Bhikhaji Maneckji, the Papitto Opportunity Connection, the Partnership for Rhode Island, The Stonehouse Mountain Family Fund and Jyothi and Shivan Subramaniam all donated to help out PPSD, the foundation said.

“This was all the result of understanding the need and we had some very generous donors initially saying ‘we would like to be part of this solution,” Steinberg said. “That’s when we put the fund together.”

This investment will allow more students of color to see greater possibilities for themselves in the classroom and beyond,” R.I. Education Commissioner Angelica Infante-Green said in a statement. “We’re deeply appreciative of the Rhode Island’s Foundation’s partnership and the generosity of donors in helping to attract more educators of color to serve Providence’s diverse student population.”

In a statement, Peters said closing the diversity gap isone of the most impactful ways we can support student achievement and make our schools more equitable.”

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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