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Working Educators caucus calls for more black teachers in District

'We are 100 percent focused on diversifying our teacher ranks,' District spokesman says.

This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.

The Caucus of Working Educators will hold a panel discussion and petition-signing Thursday to demand an increase in the number of black teachers in Philadelphia schools.

The caucus hopes to start a discussion about the need for more black teachers when most of the students in the District are black. Ismael Jimenez, of the Working Educators steering committee, stressed that his group wants to know the number of black teachers by school, as well, something that Jimenez said their group could not find out.

Jimenez said that hiring more black teachers is just the first step. Other demands include anti-racist training for teachers and addressing restorative justice.

Shira Cohen, an organizer for the event, said it is a continuation of a Black Lives Matter Week of Action in February and is an attempt to keep the momentum going.

“It’s ending with a petition to the School District to release data on whether or not they’re attempting to hire black teachers in the city and an open ask for them to set a goal to hiring more teachers of color,” Cohen said. “At this point, we don’t see an effort on their part to do that.”

Cohen said it is the School District’s job to address that discrepancy.

“What conditions are pushing black educators out of our schools? What conditions are failing to bring black educators into Philadelphia schools and beyond? How are you going to fix that?” Cohen said. “It’s a problem that we need to organize around and fight for, because we know the percentages could keep decreasing.”

Lee Whack, spokesman for the District, said it is working hard to increase diversity in the teaching staff.

“We are 100 percent focused on diversifying our teacher ranks. It is a very high priority for us, and there are several things we have done to recruit and retain specifically African American educators,” Whack said. “We have increased our efforts to recruit African American teachers through working with HBCUs [historically black colleges and universities]. Initially we were working with around three to five HBCUs, and now we are working with over 28.”

Whack said that about 33 percent of the teachers in the School District are people of color and that for the 2016-2017 school year, around 19 percent of teachers were African American.

Angela Crawford, a teacher at Martin Luther King High School, said it is important for black students to have a teacher who looks like them.

“[White teachers] don’t have those same experiences with students, and for many times it’s a really hard line to cross with our students, making relationships and actually seeing academic and social growth among students,” Crawford said. “I know, and many of the people that I do know who have had strong black educators in their lives are different people because of them. They had someone who cared, and I know what role I play in my students lives. I play the role of teacher, but I’m usually a counselor, I’m usually a nurturer, I’m usually a cheerleader.”

The Working Educators’ panel discussion on the demand for black educators will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 17, at Community College of Philadelphia, Center for Business and Industry, 18th and Callowhill Streets, Room C-28.

Sam Haut is an intern from Ithaca College working at the Notebook this summer.

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