Plan aims to increase diversity among borough teachers

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

NAUGATUCK — School officials are working on a plan to address a lack of diversity among teachers.

During the 2019-20 school year, 96% of the teaching staff in Naugatuck schools was white, while Hispanics made up 2.6% of teachers, according to data from the state Department of Education. There was only one Black teacher working in Naugatuck schools last school year, according to the data.

Last school year, 93% of teachers at Naugatuck High School were white.

Those demographics don’t align with the student population.

Districtwide in 2019-20, nearly 53% of students were white, 29% Hispanic and 9.3% were Black. The high school student population was 54% white, 28% Hispanic and 10% Black.

Naugatuck High School social studies teachers Keith Fowler and Teresa Obedzinski are looking to change the teacher demographics in the district.

Fowler and Obedzinski formed the Naugatuck High School Equity Alliance in the summer in response to the national movement for social and racial justice.

“We decided to create a group to educate ourselves on issues surrounding racial injustice, to commit ourselves to being actively anti-racist within our personal lives and in our classrooms,” Obedzinski said.

To address the lack of diversity among borough educators, the group is proposing a pathway to encourage Naugatuck students, especially students of color, to choose education as a career and return to work in the school system.

High school students would take two half-year courses at Southern Connecticut State University for a half a credit each. The courses are focused on the skills needed to be a teacher as well as the social, cultural and political origins of contemporary schooling.

“The idea is to create a pathway that really encourages and supports our amazing Naugatuck students to choose education as a career and to return to our district as outstanding educators,” Fowler said.

The group is also proposing the Board of Education explore options to set up agreements and financial support for borough students to return to the school system as educators.

The group, which includes about 15 teachers, is also asking for a review of the board’s   minority hiring policy and a commitment from the board to a goal that 10% of Naugatuck’s school staff will be persons of color in the next five years.

Obedzinski said teachers of color can empathize with and guide students of color, while also working to help dismantle systemic racism. She added research shows that motivation, achievement and college enrollment increases among students of color when they have more teachers of color throughout their education.

Superintendent of Schools Christopher Montini said the board will continue discussing the issue and ways to address it.

“I think that your actions speak to our core values, which are access and opportunity for all, emphasis on all, and you’re rolling up your sleeves and you put more tangible strategies to help us live our vision, and essentially you’re living the vision of the kind of teachers that we want,” Montini told Fowler and Obedzinski.

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