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TEACHER LIKE ME — Local schools discuss lack of teacher diversity

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(KWWL) -- According to a Washington Post study, minority students make up 51% of Waterloo Community Schools.

In Iowa City, it's roughly 42%. Both districts have teaching staffs of which no more than 6% are teachers of color

Other districts in Easter Iowa have similar stats, which you can search for within the Post's article.

In Waterloo, Dr Kingsley Botchway leads the HR department for the school district by working to recruit and retain all staff members.

"We're looking at how we can make, how we can make our staff population mirror our student population," Botchway said in response to what the district is doing to attract diverse teachers. He noted a desire to make Waterloo the premier place for teachers of color.

When we first read about the Washington Post analysis, that showed teachers don't reflect the diversity of their students, we wondered if there was a diverse enough applicant pool.

So, to try and find out, we worked backwards by going to the University of Northern Iowa

"A lot of times you have to think about the, the way in which black and brown communities grow up," said Juana Hollingsworth, the Assistant Director of Diversity Recruitment at UNI.

Hollingsworth leads recruitment efforts of minority students. She says because of the lack of teachers or color, minority students don't always see teaching as a career choice.

"If they don't see any professionals in their lives that look like them, they tend to have a strong barrier to not go to college. They tend to not see themselves in college. They don't know how to get there," Hollingsworth said.

Hollingsworth travels across Iowa to recruit students She knows that often minorities live in lower-income areas where there's not always reliable transportation.

Closer to the school's main campus is "Teach Waterloo," a partnership program designed to bring diverse teachers to WCSD of which Dawn Boone is a student.

"Raising my kids in Waterloo, we didn't see many teachers of color, maybe a few," Boone said.

She believes that for students it's not just about seeing someone who looks like them, but someone who can help with the little things.

"You may have a student who's having a bad hair day, a student of color with natural hair, whereas a white teacher wouldn't be able to help necessarily," Boone said

In Iowa City, the Interim Director of Human Resources and Business Services, Nick Proud, calls it a constant effort to reach diverse candidates and to keep the door open for them.

"We have some teachers that are here on visas and then working towards citizenship and different things of that nature, which has been very valuable because then they're bringing some different cultural experiences to our classrooms that if someone who grew up in the Midwest isn't going to be able to so," Proud said.

He also noted similar efforts as Botchway, in the Iowa City School District hopes to attract diverse teachers by making it a place where they feel supported

However, we spoke with proud on January 22nd, six days before a school board meeting where a group called "The Black Voices Project" claimed there were issues facing teachers of color in the district

"Our teachers and leaders of color, will not live in fear of retaliation and experience negative effects on their mental and physical health. These are highly qualified professionals who should not have to choose between their job and their self-esteem and integrity," said a woman who identified herself as Royce Ann Porter.

KWWL was made aware of these comments a day before this story aired. Upon learning of those comments, we reached out to the district for comment. They provided the following:

We take all claims of retaliation or reprisal very seriously.  We work with our Board to investigate any claims and, depending on the outcome of the investigations, we take all necessary steps to address the situation and ensure that we maintain a safe and supportive work environment for our employees.

Iowa City School District

The representative for the "Black Voices Project" commented that there had been past lawsuits related to teachers of color in the district. We were not able to confirm the existence of those lawsuits independently and the district has not responded to our request for confirmation. It is uncommon for school districts to comment on pending litigation. d

The challenges facing minority teachers are vast in a number of ways

"(They're) going into those situations and feeling like they have to be the end all be all or the answer for a system that was not built by them and a system that, frankly, has never been successful at teaching black and brown students," Botchway said

It's pressure Dawn Boone feels as well.

"I feel that I want people to look at me as a great teacher, not necessarily a great minority teacher, but I am going to pursue wanting to be a great minority teacher. I want them to just accept me for just being the teacher at heart and, you know, the teacher with passion," Boone said

Something we heard throughout this process was how difficult it can be for certified out-of-state teachers to be re-certified in Iowa.

This isn't an easy story to break down because there are so many moving pieces including issues of race, teacher pay and qualifications.

While the districts say they believe progress will be made in the years to come, the conversation is far from over.

Taylor Vessel

Multimedia Reporter

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