How A New Recruitment Strategy Is Helping Spokane Diversify Its Educator Workforce

Recently, I was invited to present at an elementary school’s multicultural club here in Spokane, WA. I knew I wanted to share a lesson about papel picado, the cut-paper decoration that is a special tradition in my Mexican culture, and to talk about my life as the daughter of two amazing parents who did not graduate from high school – and as the first college graduate in my family. I decided to sweeten the experience by bringing galletas – cookies – for everyone to taste. As I was helping the students cut tiny shapes out of brightly colored tissue paper, a boy came up to me with big brown eyes and an even bigger smile. “You know, when you shared that story about your parents not graduating from high school?” he said. “Mine didn’t either. And you know what else? These galletas would be better with horchata.”

In a simple conversation, that little boy and I made a powerful connection. We all want to feel valued and part of a community; it’s part of what makes us human. This interaction solidified for me how important it is for kids to have opportunities to talk, to share experiences, and to make connections with educators who look like them. Over the past five years Spokane has grown and changed a lot, as more families have discovered that it is a wonderful place to raise children. As our population has increased, so has our diversity, and now, 33% of Spokane Public Schools (SPS) students identify as people of color. However, the demographics of our educator workforce don’t yet match the diversity of our student body. 

Guided by the Spokane Board of Education’s equity resolution in the summer of 2020, we set out to achieve an overarching goal: to ensure that the diversity of our student population is reflected in the diversity of our staff. We’ve made valuable efforts to diversify our workforce in the past, but our partnership with TNTP helped us become intentional about implementing specific recruitment strategies to attract and retain educators of color. Here are some of the key changes we made:

Cultivating BIPOC candidates earlier

We held six recruitment fairs and shared an interest survey for candidates to self-identify their race and ethnicity. Establishing a database with this information helped us be more intentional about cultivating relationships. We reached out by email to BIPOC candidates to share details about potential jobs of interest and invitations to information sessions. We wanted to emphasize our commitment to BIPOC candidates, so we revamped our careers website to put equity front-and-center. Based on these new recruitment efforts, 15% of interested candidates identified as BIPOC – which is almost double the representation of teachers of color in our current workforce.   

Removing barriers from our application process

Once we started to attract more diverse candidates, we set out to streamline the application process and widen the applicant pool. With the data we’ve collected on how candidates self-identify, we’ll be able to monitor progress from the initial application stages all the way through to the contract offer. TNTP is building us a dashboard where we can keep track of where candidates encounter challenges, see what barriers might be in the way, and determine how we can provide additional support when needed. 

Building diverse educator pipelines

We’ve worked closely with TNTP to define a pathway to attract talented people who already have strong roots in our community.  We want to focus on high school students who have enrolled in teaching or ECE courses and current paraeducators and substitute teachers who don’t yet have teacher certification. By building collaborative relationships with Eastern Washington University and Whitworth University, we hope to support these future candidates to stay on-track throughout their journey to teacher certification. We’re also working to find ways to help the students maintain employment with SPS along the way, which would add an element of financial stability they may not otherwise be able to access. 

We’ve held four information sessions with universities about the different routes to certification that are available and have had great feedback already from folks reaching out to share their excitement about being able to keep working with SPS while they pursue certification.

Listening to our community

We formed a task force that includes our Chief of Family and Community Engagement, Director of Community Relations and Diversity Training, Chief of Human Resources, Director of Staffing and Operations, three teachers, staff members from central office and stakeholder organizations, and a member of our community. The task force has been particularly interested in how we will retain the educators of color we recruit, and championed the idea of starting racial affinity groups and mentorships for our educators. Thanks to our task force members and current staff and students, we have gotten invaluable insight on how to listen better and be more responsive in our actions.

I believe that building a diverse, equitable and inclusive working and learning environment is a collective responsibility. It is not the work of just one person or department.  If you want all your students to be inspired by leaders and teachers who show them what they can become someday, who have high expectations for them, and who will support them along the way, now is the time to come together for the benefit of our kids. Knowing your ‘why’ will help you spread the message to anyone and everyone who will listen. 

As a Latina teacher who planted roots in Spokane’s mostly white community over 20 years ago, I am so passionate about this work. It is near to my heart, as are the students and staff I serve. I have so much hope for the future, knowing that there are amazing people and organizations that are really driving for change. We’ve made some progress in Spokane, and although we still have a long way to go, I often remind myself, ‘ , se puede’—yes, we can.  

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About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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