Gov. Ned Lamont has signed a bill into law that will subsidize interest rates on loans to teachers who commit to teaching in one of Connecticut’s highest need school districts.
The loan subsidy program is among state initiatives to address persistent shortage areas and support the recruitment and retention of teachers in districts that typically experience high turnover. This is one of the steps being taken to build an educator workforce that reflects the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of Connecticut’s students.
CHESLA, the Connecticut Higher Education Supplemental Loan Authority, will administer the Alliance District Teacher Loan Subsidy Program. The 33 Alliance Districts are those with the highest need for state support.
Gov. Lamont was joined by educational leaders and legislators who spoke a signing ceremony at the State Department of Education (SDE) in Hartford.
Dr. Shuana Tucker, chief talent officer at the SDE, noted the progress made in recent years in diversifying the state’s educator workforce. During the past five years, Connecticut school districts have hired 1,900 educators of color, increasing the number of educators of color from 8.3 percent to 10 percent.
“While we have made progress in our diversification efforts, there is still more to be done,” Dr. Tucker said. “We remain steadfast in our commitment to continue addressing barriers that may prevent some from pursuing or entering the education profession.”
Before signing the bill into law, Gov. Lamont said, “By establishing this student loan subsidy program, we are building upon and accelerating our efforts to cultivate and support the next generation of highly effective and diverse aspiring educators.”
Connecticut Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker said, “The Connecticut State Department of Education has made it a priority to make sure that our districts and schools are able to recruit and hire high-quality educators who are reflective of our increasingly diverse student body.”
Jeanette W. Weldon, executive director for CHESLA, said, “This legislation is an example of the unique way that CHESLA can impact workforce and community development. As the state-affiliated student lender in Connecticut, we can share the benefits of our low-cost funding with state residents in ways that also benefit Connecticut communities and school districts.”
The Alliance Districts are Ansonia, Bloomfield, Bridgeport, Bristol, Danbury, Derby, East Hartford, East Haven, East Windsor, Groton, Hamden, Hartford, Killingly, Manchester, Meriden, Middletown, Naugatuck, New Britain, New Haven, New London, Norwich, Putnam, Stamford, Thompson, Torrington, Vernon, Waterbury, West Haven, Winchester, Windham, Windsor, and Windsor Locks.
Congresswoman Jahana Hayes (D-Waterbury) made a strong case for increasing educator diversity in remarks at the 25th celebration of the Alma Exley Scholarship Program.
Speaking via video, Rep. Hayes congratulated the 2020 and 2021 Alma Exley Scholars, Marquis Harris and William T. Saunders II, who both hail from her hometown of Waterbury.
“Together,” she said, “these two young men represent a great hope that the educators and leaders of our schools in the communities of highest need come from those very same communities.”
Mr. Harris and Mr. Saunders are good examples of that. Mr. Harris, a graduate of the University of Saint Joseph, plans to teach at his alma mater, Wilby High School, in the fall. Mr. Saunders teaches at Achievement First Hartford High School, with 100 percent students of color, while pursuing his master’s degree in the Relay Graduate School of Education.
“Far too many of our students go through their entire K-12 academic careers without ever having a teacher of color,” Rep. Hayes said. She added that it is a top priority for her in Congress to help build diversity in the education workforce and incentivize students to become educators.
“Teachers of color help to close the achievement gaps for students of color,” she said. “They improve attendance and increase aspirations of attending college.” Studies have shown clear evidence that a diverse teacher workforce improves students’ academic achievement, especially for students of color, she added.
Legislation To Boost Diversity
“That’s why I introduced the Save Education Jobs Act and the Teacher Diversity and Retention Act,” she said, “to protect against job losses and increase the number of classroom teachers and specialized instructional support personnel in schools and to build out the educator pipeline at HBCUs (Historical Black Colleges and Universities) and minority-serving institutions.”
“I introduced these bills because they will expand teacher-preparation programs to provide dual certification in special education, social and emotional service competencies and behavior management so that teaching candidates are better prepared to meet the needs of students in all communities.”
She said increasing educator diversity is especially important in Connecticut, where just 10 percent of educators are people of color compared to nearly half of our state’s public school students. What’s more, she said, over 27 percent of schools in Connecticut have no teachers of color while 17 percent of students in the state have no teachers of color in their schools.
A Sense of Urgency
Encouraging students of color to become teachers has never been more urgent than during a time of unprecedented learning loss due to Covid-19, when schools need all the tools they need to reach students, she said.
“Looming layoffs from strained municipal budgets threaten to further exacerbate teacher shortages and challenge efforts to attract and retain a diverse teacher workforce and compound the generational consequences of this crisis,” she said.
“At a time when we are at a reckoning for racial justice and the ever worsening problem of the teacher shortage crisis is looming, every investment in the pipeline is essential,” she said.
“So thank you for providing this scholarship to our most needed students and the most deserving candidates,” she said. “Thank you again to Marquis and William for your commitment to the education profession, and congratulations again on this scholarship. We need you so bad in the educator pipeline.”
A program called Educators Rising is among the many initiatives underway in Connecticut to encourage more people of color to become educators.
EdRising starts early, providing coursework and internships to high school students in 14 school districts across the state. A majority of the participants are students of color.
Since the program started several years ago in New Britain, many graduates are in college and some have become teachers.
Leaders Speak at Annual Conference
More than 550 high school students attended EdRising’s first annual Connecticut State Conference, a virtual gathering, on March 31. Dr. Shuana Tucker, chief talent officer at the State Department of Education, hosted the conference. Sponsors of the conference — CCSU, AFT, New Britain AFT, CEA, CABE and Educational Testing Service/Praxis – funded the awards for the students.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, who received an Alma Exley Scholarship in 1998 as a student at Central Connecticut State University (CCSU), welcomed the students. In panel discussions, students described how EdRising has affected their educational journeys.
Dr. Cardona was among the public officials and educational leaders who encouraged the students to become teachers. Among them were Gov. Ned Lamont; Rep. Jahana Hayes of the Fifth Congressional District; State Sen. Douglas McCrory and State Rep. Bobby Sanchez, co-chairs of the General Assembly’s Education Committee; and Acting State Education Commissioner Charlene Russell-Tucker.
‘We Need You’
Gov. Lamont, who has supported a number of educator-diversity initiatives, called teaching “an incredibly important profession,” and said, “Be a teacher. We need you as teachers more than ever right here in Connecticut.”
‘Be the Teacher You Did Not Have’
State Sen. Douglas McCrory, who taught for 30 years, said, “This profession needs you and I need you, but more importantly, your neighborhoods, your communities and families across Connecticut need you.”
Sen. McCrory, who represents Hartford, Bloomfield and Windsor in the State Senate, said, “Be the teacher you did not have in your classrooms. All the research in the world shows that when students are taught by a diverse teacher population everyone wins. We do not have enough teachers who look like me in our schools. Less than one percent of teachers in Connecticut are male teachers of color. That’s terrible.
“Stay engaged, stay inspired. Join the greatest profession there is. You will lift the minds and spirits of young people for the rest of your life. I want you to be the great teachers for the next generation.”
EdRising Is ‘Critically Important’
U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes of Waterbury said, “Programs like EdRising are critically important” because they help young students to understand what they need to do to prepare for careers in education. “This is the type of program I wish I had when I was in high school.”
She said the American Rescue Plan will provide funds to bring greater diversity to the education profession. “We must get people from our own minority communities interested in education and have them return to their communities to teach.”
Rep. Hayes has introduced the Teacher Diversity and Retention Act, which would provide two grants. One would support teacher recruitment and training at minority-serving institutions such as Historical Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). The other would expand educator-preparation programs in high schools as well as in colleges.
She also supports the Save Education Jobs Act of 2021, which would provide funds to save four million education jobs in support areas such as guidance counselors.
“I’m going to continue to fight to make sure you have the resources to pursue your dreams,” she said, “because, in turn, all of our communities benefit.”
Allocating State Resources
State Rep. Bobby Sanchez of New Britain, co-chair of the Education Committee, said, “I’m working on measures that incentivize a diverse population in the pursuit of teaching careers by allocating the necessary resources and programs.
“One of the toughest challenges we face is ensuring we have a large enough pool of people to fill teaching positions across the state. That’s why partnerships with organizations such as Educators Rising is essential to making sure we prepare the future generation of teachers. Educators Rising is here every step of the way, offering support and expertise. I look forward to many more students pursuing this noble profession.”
Secretary Cardona: The Impact of Inspiring Teachers
Dr. Miguel Cardona welcomed the students remotely from his office in Washington. “Teachers shape lives,” he said. “I can think of a teacher in high school who inspired me to look at art as a means for communication and expressing your values. She inspired me so much that I chose to be a teacher.
“Teachers have that impact. She was a mentor to me. You will have the opportunity to benefit from mentors and then in the future to serve as mentors. Teachers can make anything possible.
“I know you will do great in the program. I know you will learn from one another, and I look forward to hearing about you as future teachers.”
Committed to Diversity
Acting State Commissioner of Education Charlene Russell-Tucker said, “We’re committed to increasing the racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity of our educator workforce by expanding new and unique pathways like Educators Rising and NextGen Educators.
“We all understand the sense of urgency right now about increasing the number of educators of color and encouraging students early on to consider careers in education,” she said.
“Research tells us that a diverse educator workforce – one that is a reflection of the students we serve – goes a long way toward strengthening our schools and positively impacting outcomes for all students of all races.
“We want to embrace diverse education candidates,” she said, “and give you the hands-on, authentic experience and skills necessary to become highly effective educators.”
‘What EdRising Means to Me’
Students described EdRising’s impact in a panel discussion moderated by Sandy Fraioli, the teacher leader in residence for the Connecticut State Department of Education and a teacher at New Britain High School (NBHS).
Deseriah Castillo, an NBHS graduate now at CCSU, said, “EdRising has enabled me to receive first-hand experience in the classroom. I had the opportunity to give back to the elementary school that I attended. The program has motivated me to become an educator in the community I came from.”
Jen Gustafson, an NBHS student, said, “EdRising is enabling me to learn about the different cultures, backgrounds and needs of my future students as well as the social issues they face. Educators need to meet the basic needs of their students no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or religion.”
Dallas Bastek, also an NBHS student, said she is intent on helping her future students by embracing their knowledge and skills. “We’re learning techniques that will enable us to serve all students,” she said.
José Carillo, an NBHS student who is the national EdRising president, said, “EdRising has opened so many doors for me and has given me so many learning opportunities. It has helped me to be more professional and learn how to speak with educational leaders. I’ve learned there are not many teachers who look like me. I hope to be a role model.”
Giving College Students More Time in the Classroom
NextGen Educators is a program that gives hands-on, classroom experience to college students in teacher-preparation programs (prior to student teaching).
William Tucker, a student at CCSU, said, “NextGen has given me clinical experience working with diverse students, enabling me to be there for students in their time of need. It has given me a year and a half of additional time in the classroom, learning through meaningful experience rather than from textbooks.”
Chrystal Gordon, also a CCSU student, said the program has taught her what it means to be a teacher day-in and day-out. She has observed classes from second through fifth grade and has attended parent-teacher conferences. “I’ve learned how to provide effective instruction, how to design a lesson plan that enables students to have fun – and so much more.
Aspiring Educators Program
Michele O’Neill of the Connecticut Education Association (CEA), a teacher’s union, explained the Aspiring Educators Program for college students who aren’t yet enrolled in a teacher-preparation program. CEA has chapters at all five state universities as well as Quinnipiac University and the University of Saint Joseph. “The program dovetails nicely with EdRising,” she said. Student members have the opportunity to network with educators in school districts across the state.