Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

District Seeks Diversity ; Nationally, Teacher Turnover Still Higher among Minorities

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

District Seeks Diversity ; Nationally, Teacher Turnover Still Higher among Minorities

Article excerpt

Shawnie Guillen Hays, a Topeka teacher of more than 20 years, is eyeing a career in school administration. A few years ago, she says, the thought was far from her mind.

"I really was comfortable in the classroom," said Guillen Hays, who works at Williams Science and Fine Arts Magnet School, where her duties include mentoring new teachers and helping them and other educators improve their instruction techniques. "I just loved working with kids."

Her passion for teaching hasn't changed, but Guillen Hays says a program at Topeka Unified School District 501 piqued her interest in exploring other roles within her field, and is helping her hone the skills necessary to do so.

In 2011, USD 501 launched its Minority Leadership Academy, an initiative spearheaded by deputy superintendent Larry Robbins with support from the school board. The goal is to diversify leadership voices within the district and attract more teachers of color by demonstrating USD 501's interest in providing opportunities for professional growth.

About 60 percent of USD 501 students identify as Hispanic, African-American, Native American, Asian or multiracial. By contrast, 89 percent of teachers and other certified staff are white, and 85 percent of administrators are.

Four percent of the certified staff and 4 percent of the administrators are Hispanic, compared with 30 percent of the students. Three percent of the certified staff and 11 percent of the administrators are African-American, compared with 19 percent of the students.

Organizations ranging from the National Education Association teachers union to chapters of the NAACP have called for more racial and cultural diversity in U.S. schools. Proponents argue a diverse staff can help bolster curricular relevance, classroom engagement and ultimately academic outcomes for students of color, to alleviate the ongoing gap in educational attainment rates for minorities.

Robbins says he believes investing in local talent is part of achieving such a goal.

"The very first place that we should start is right here in our own backyard," said Robbins, "in terms of developing leadership capacity."

School board president Patrick Woods says he believes the academy is helping teacher recruiting efforts by signaling that doors are open for professional development.

"We want people from every single background," Woods said. "From every demographic in the community that we serve."

After joining the Minority Leadership Academy, Guillen Hays, who is Hispanic, says she underwent training at USD 501 and Westar Energy, which has a leadership training partnership with the district. This, she says, helped her realize her strengths as a potential leader and address her weaknesses.

She says she began seeking out leadership opportunities, such as handling training for USD 501 kindergarten teachers, and switched from her job of 19 years -- classroom teacher -- to her more recent role as instructional coach.

"It has given me the opportunity to really work with teachers and to help them improve their own instruction," she said, "and that's what I really love about my current job. …

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