Grant will help Five College Schools Partnership work to diversify area K-12 teaching force

A grant from the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts will help a coalition of organizations led by the Five College Schools Partnership address the lack of diversity among teachers in the area’s public school classrooms. 

Students of color represent the majority in many schools, especially in Springfield and Holyoke, and a growing body of evidence shows that having educators who look like them can meaningfully improve their educational achievement and opportunities. Five Colleges and the Diverse Teacher Workforce Coalition identified paraprofessionals (teaching assistants and aides) of diverse backgrounds as an ideal source of future teachers, as they already work in the schools and are committed to serving students.

With $133,000 from the Community Foundation’s Innovation Grant Program, Five Colleges and the coalition will provide resources, structure, tutoring and advocacy to ensure that 20 paraprofessionals attain licensure and move into teaching positions in Hampshire and Hampden County public schools by the year 2020. 

“We are thrilled to receive this funding,” said Marla Solomon, director of Five College Partnership Programs and coordinator of the coalition. “This initiative will make a powerful difference in our schools and in the lives of black and Latino paraprofessionals who are residents of our communities. The Community Foundation Innovation Fund has been a wonderful partner in this effort and we are excited that we will be able to continue with their support.” 

Members of the Diverse Teacher Workforce Coalition include school districts and unions in Amherst, Northampton, Holyoke and Springfield, Springfield College, the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Mount Holyoke College, Holyoke Community College and Springfield Technical Community College. The Regional Employment Boards of Hampden and Franklin-Hampshire are also engaged, along with community organizations such as the New North Citizens Council in Springfield. 

Five Colleges was one of three organizations to receive an Innovation Grant, chosen from a group of seven that had received planning grants and 47 that originally applied for funding. The other recipients are the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts and Pioneer Valley Habitat for Humanity.

“It’s been an honor to watch our grantees go through the process of piloting and developing their ideas, and we’re excited to see the impact their work will have,” said Katie Allan Zobel, President and CEO of the Community Foundation. “These are just the kinds of projects that many of our fund holders love to support--projects that see problems from a different perspective and create a thoughtful plan to intervene and make a difference.”