Having a teaching staff that stayed in place and that resembled the community has been a problem identified quite vocally in the last year, particularly at a School Committee meeting last June when many teachers showed up in person to voice frustration with the lack of diversity in the teaching ranks – given Chelsea has a population that is about 80 percent Hispanic.
To address the problem, Supt. Almi Abeyta has moved to recruit from within using the new Teacher Pathway Program (TPP) to help paraprofessionals in the district – most of whom are from Chelsea and very diverse – to become licensed teachers while on the job.
“A lot of the cohort in the program right now are residents of Chelsea and a couple went to high school in Chelsea,” said Abeyta. “They are paraprofessionals and want to be teachers. It’s a very diverse group and an effort we’re making to recruit and train educators that reflect our community.”
Right now, some 75 percent of the teachers in Chelsea Public Schools (CPS) are white, and 20 percent are Hispanic. Meanwhile, 87 percent of the student population is Hispanic and only 6 percent is white – showing the vast differences between students and teachers along racial and ethnic lines. In the latest cohort of the TPP program, 80 percent are Hispanic, 10 percent are black and 10 percent are ‘Other.’
Beyond the racial gap, Abeyta said she noticed when she was being introduced to the district that teachers didn’t stay, and identified ‘teacher retention’ as an issue for her Entry Plan into the job. She said there are a lot of factors for not retaining teachers, but being next to Boston is one major issue.
“What we have in Chelsea again is we are right next door to Boston and we all know Boston pays teachers really well,” said Abeyta, who previously worked for Boston Public Schools. “That can become difficult for us. Part of our strategy with the program is we think teachers will stay with us if there is a commitment to help them grow within their career and as a professional.”
That also comes with the fact that many of the paraprofessionals in the district are Chelsea residents, and many want to be teachers in Chelsea if they could get the credentials – and don’t have an interest in leaving for better pay because they are connected to the community.
“Many of our paraprofessionals do want to become teachers and many teachers start out as paraprofessionals,” said Abeyta. “Sometimes they didn’t have the funding or the time to get their licenses. Our paraprofessionals can be an untapped pipeline for this district. A lot of them have lived in Chelsea a long time and a lot went to Chelsea High or Chelsea Public Schools. There is a sense that they want to give back.”
The district’s goals are to raise the numbers of teachers of color in overall to 27 percent of the staff by 2022, and to achieve that, the state awarded the district a grant for the TPP program.
The program works by those looking to participate having to apply to the program and attend classes at Salem State University. There, they will take classes towards their degree, and also take the teaching licensure test. Once they have their licenses in place, even though they are still working on their degree, they can apply for teaching positions in Chelsea. They do have to complete the program, but they are allowed to work while they continue on in their studies. The program stresses three categories of teaching licensure, including STEM, English Language Learners, and Special Education.
Paraprofessionals are a group of employees that interact with children in the classroom and act as an assistant to a licensed teacher. Many already have a great deal of classroom experience.