COMMENTARY: Impact of teacher diversity

MICHAEL ANTHONY VARGAS | SPECIAL TO THE MONITOR

This month, more than 75 organizations signed a coalition letter on the need for a more diverse teacher population spearheaded by the Association of American Educators Foundation and the United Negro College Fund. The necessity for this coalition is due to the alarmingly low number of educators of color, only 18% nationwide.

With more than 53% of students in the United States identifying as people of color, and an even higher percentage in our region, it is essential that we create pathways for the development, hiring and retaining of more educators of color. When students have diverse educators and school leaders, there is an opportunity for a transformational, profound impact across the entire student population.

As we become a more diverse and highly complex global society, it is incumbent upon us to keep up with this reality relative to workforce, economic and educational development.

Down in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, we face this reality in a unique way, in that the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District hugs the Texas-Mexico border. Because of our location, we have a unique situation in that we don’t necessarily struggle with developing a diverse teaching population per se, as we have a racially homogeneous regional population.

The challenge we do have, though, is making sure our teaching population is more culturally responsive, as we have many migrant and first-generation American students as well as a severely impoverished population. Add to this, we have a very low educational attainment rate across the entire region; according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the state of Texas has an approximately 82% high school graduation rate, but that dips to only 28% for those with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

As president of the board of trustees for San Benito schools, and especially as a product of our schools and growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the region, I view the development of a culturally responsive teaching population as a priority.

The San Benito school district has recently become a “Model School,” under the purview of the International Center for Leadership in Education.

Our critical pillar is equity in education. We’re committed to deliberately work to shift the culture to one of high expectations for all students, and we work through challenges such as high poverty rates, large populations of English language learners and we are indeed beating the odds.

San Benito schools also hired a director of counseling, who is charged with revamping our counseling curriculum relative to socio-emotional needs and being more culturally responsive.

For our migrant students, through the help of funds from the federal government, we opened up a “Go Center,” with a variety of resources and technology available for our migrant population, including both students and parents. The focus is college and career readiness, as we seek to close the achievement gap for this specifically vulnerable population.

San Benito schools currently has the luxury of a sound financial budget. This allowed us to increase stipends for teachers who are in the bilingual and English as a second language realm to serve those with language proficiency challenges.

As board president, I am proud of our work and I look forward to continued progress by our school district in providing a more inclusive and culturally responsive environment for our students and parents. We operate on the mental model that where students are born should not dictate the caliber of education they receive or their life trajectory. All students have the fundamental right to a great education, and it is my life’s work as an educational leader to make this a reality for all students in South Texas.

Michael Anthony Vargas is president of the board of trustees for the San Benito Consolidated Independent School District.