This post is the third in a series that features testimony from a recent hearing hosted by Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson on ways to recruit and retain more teachers of color in Boston Public Schools. Read the first post, written by Councilor Jackson, here. Read the second post, written by Dr. Travis Bristol, here. And read the fourth post from Roxanne Longoria of the Boston NAACP here. Below is testimony from Samuel Acevedo, Executive Director of the Boston Higher Education Resource Center.
First, please permit me to add my own words of emphasis to what I hope would be axiomatic at this point – I am confident the City of Boston will eventually meet the standards for hiring teachers of color set forth in Judge Garrity’s decision. But that should not be the principle driver motivating us to hire more Black and Latino teachers. Few things are more critical to the socio-economic future of the City of Boston, or the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, than to see more Latino and Black youth achieve a higher education. If we care about the socio-economic future of MA, we must find ways, urgently, to see more students of color enroll in, and complete, a post-secondary education. Including, hiring more black and Latino teachers.
In 2012, the Boston Foundation warned that by 2020, 48% of workers aged 25-29 in MA will be of color, “many of them falling behind in educational achievement today”. And the labor market of the future will favor the educated. The Pew Hispanic Center warned that same year that “the highest rate of employment growth is expected in occupations that typically require a master’s degree.” That is sobering news for Boston. While a record number of Latino and black students are enrolling in college from Boston Public Schools – few are graduating from college. Less than 32% of the Latino and black students who graduate from BPS non-exam high schools and enroll in college are graduating from college within 7 years.
We are encouraged by experiments that are succeeding in catapulting Latino and black children beyond the grip of poverty to college, and beyond that, to discover the greatness within them. I am the ED of the Boston Higher Education Resource Center (HERC) whose Passport to College Program is now serving 700 students in 6 BPS non-exam high schools. Over the last 10 years of our Passport to College Program has seen 87% of the first-generation, low income students of color who have completed our program graduate from college within 5 years of enrollment. The network of organizations comprising Success Boston have seen similar success, seeing a 20% increase in their persistence rate over students with no such intervention.
These strategies are among those that should be replicated on a Marshall Plan scale, to see fewer of Boston’s Latino and black children become drop-outs, inmates, and TANF recipients, and more of them become engineers, clergy, attorneys, doctors, leaders in philanthropy and non-profits, and, yes, public school teachers. Particularly, Boston public school teachers.
That last role has the benefit of being a success in itself, as well as a lynchpin strategy to equip other Latinos to achieve academic success.
Is there any magic to more Latinos teaching in BPS classrooms? Why the urgency? Because an increased presence of Latino teachers in BPS bears an influence beyond their classroom or school building, galvanizing entire communities and propelling entire families to a culture of academia that now only rarely exists. There are two reasons for this:
1. Latino and Black teachers are respected figures in their communities, considered among us leaders and “elders”. It is hard to communicate to a culture that has come to marginalize and look down upon the teaching profession, how respected educators are among us. For example, the Congregación León de Judá is a 1,200 member Latino church governed by a 14-member board – 1/3 of that board is comprised of BPS teachers, administrators, and counselors (including the Board President, an Assistant Principal at a BPS middle school). Same story at People’s Baptist Church; same story at Jubilee Christian Church; same story at Charles Street AME; and same story at Iglesia de Dios Nueva Vida in East Boston. Latino and black teachers are leaders.
2. A Latino teacher becomes a trusted ambassador for BPS to Latino families reluctant to trust just about anyone else for a host of reasons. I’m not an expert on all Hispanic teachers, but I’m an expert on one: my wife Marina. Marina is nearing 20 years as a BPS teacher and is currently teaching second grade at a BPS school in East Boston. It is a great school; it performs well, and it is ably led. But out of 18 teachers in a school whose students are 86.6% Latino, Marina is one of only 4 Latino educators. She goes from being a teacher to a freelance Spanish interpreter to a social worker. Latino parents otherwise reluctant to let “outsiders” into their world trust Marina. Some years ago, one child, obviously bright, was falling behind and struggling. Marina paid the home a visit. The first thing that struck her was the disrepair – and the odor. Members of the family of this little girl had come to Boston fleeing murderous gangs in El Salvador. Their landlord had complete disregard for this property, wagering, correctly, these tenants would remain silent given their questionable documentation status. No one but a Latino educator would have had access to that home. She told me this and many other stories – stories of rescue, of not just teaching but of salvaging, of inspiring, of loving.
If we know that more Latino teachers means more Latino kids will finish school, go on to college and live to their fullest potential, then we are duty bound to hire more of them. If we know that any measure is likely to move the needle ever so slightly, if we have evidence that it will enable even one Latino or black child to escape the cycle of poverty and propel them to a higher education, that confers on us an indissoluble moral imperative to do it.
 City of Ideas: Reinventing Boston’s Innovation Economy, The Boston Indicators Report published by The Boston Foundation, 2012.
 Pew Hispanic Center, “Labor-Force-Growth-Slows-Hispanic-Share-Grows”, February 13, 2012
 Getting Closer to the Finish Line. From Understanding Boston, the Center for Labor Market Studies, published by The Boston Foundation, January 2013, p.42 (Table 13).