Longmeadow High School was ranked #1 for “Best Places to Teach in Massachusetts” in 2019 by Niche.com, a popular website that rates schools, neighborhoods and companies based on data it collects. The website gave Longmeadow Public Schools an A+ in every category except for one– a C+ in diversity.
Peer Leaders met with LHS Principal Landers on January 16 to discuss the lack of diversity among the staff at LHS. In the entire school district there are less than 10 non-white teachers according to the Massachusetts School and District profiles from 2018-19. Junior Yasmine Rosewell, a mixed race (black and white) Peer Leader, says that having a teacher who looks like you “helps students create a bond with their teachers, and it gives them someone that they can look up to. It also helps students that maybe aren’t that race, see that [it’s] present, or that it’s something that they’re going to see in their daily life when they’re older and not living in Longmeadow.” LPS Superintendent Dr. Marty O’Shea is aware of this issue, he says, “we all recognize that it would be important and valuable to have teachers and staff members that are more reflective of the diversity, not just of Longmeadow, but of the wider world.” Mr. O’Gilvie, an art teacher at Williams Middle School, is the only black teacher at the school. “I didn’t have a black teacher until I was in high school and it just felt cool. My son, who’s at a school in Springfield, just had a black paraprofessional join them this year. He was so excited to have a black male teacher in the classroom. I know it matters. It mattered for me and it matters for him,” he says.
Mrs. Shelly Warren, who mentors the Peer Leaders and is also the school’s Substance Abuse Coordinator, thinks the imbalance in diversity doesn’t start “in Longmeadow, but it does start in society [as a result of] an inequitable access to education [and] a long history of racism in our country.” “Even in gateway cities and urban districts, where the student population is far more diverse than what we have here in Longmeadow, they’re challenged to find educators of color,” says Dr. O’Shea. Mr. O’Gilvie used to teach in California, and there was one school where he felt unwelcome as other teachers would barely speak to him. He also taught at a school in Chicago, where almost the entire staff was black. “It’s literally segregated in Chicago. The North side of Chicago is white and the South side of Chicago is black,” he says. History teacher Mr. Gideon Fischer says, “in the 1950s, many white families abandoned the inner cities and moved to the suburbs in a trend known as ‘white flight’ that persisted throughout the century.” This mass movement was a substantial contributor to segregated societies, and an example of this can be seen in the Springfield metro area today. Mr. O’Gilvie says, “I grew up in the North end of Springfield and moved up to the Mason Square area. When I did, or when black populations started to move there and Latino populations started to move to Mason square, then a number of white families moved out of that area.”
According to The Pew Research Center, 80% of all teachers in America are white, while more than 50% of public school students are not. Senior Peer Leader Bella Vecchiarelli says she wishes she had been exposed to more diverse teachers growing up. “I felt misdirected in the way the world was portrayed to me and I think it’s important to learn about the cultures and experiences of others,” she says. Ryan Kelly, a School Committee member and Principal of the Springfield Conservatory of the Arts, grew up in Springfield and attended Catholic school until college, “[college] was the first time I ever went to school with a Jewish kid. I came from a very not diverse [place] and then went to a college where there were people from 75 different countries and it was amazing. If it’s just suburban white people teaching suburban white kids, you have a pretty limited view of the world,” says Mr. Kelly.
There have been attempts in the past to tackle the lack of diverse teachers in the district such as “community conversations relating to the topic of equity and diversity” where Dr. O’Shea says he “received great feedback from community members and teachers.” The community conversations took place last May, and come springtime of this year new efforts will be made to diversify the staff. Dr. O’Shea has begun conversations with The Center for Leadership and Educational Equity (CLEE), whose mission “is to provide leaders with professional learning and support to create equitable outcomes for students in our schools.” CLEE will become partners with LHS as the school starts to engage stakeholders in how to more equitably serve the community. “The hope is that they would come in and engage students, parents, and teachers in focus group opportunities to get us to start to think about issues of diversity and inequity and to help us understand how we might diversify the teaching ranks,” says Dr. O’Shea. “Our students are high achieving, but it’s important that we pull that data apart and make sure that all students are enjoying the benefits of a great Longmeadow education.We have to think about not just how they’re doing on MCAS, but what are the outcomes for students after they graduate from school? Are they met with success when they go off to college and beyond?” Over the course of many months CLEE will collect and analyze data to see how all students are being benefited by the Longmeadow school system.
On the topic of hiring staff, “during the application process,” says Dr. O’Shea, “we don’t ask what their ethnic background is, their heritage, or their racial background. I can’t say it with certainty, but if you look at the results of our hiring practices, you could easily conclude that the applicant pool is reflective of the teachers that we ultimately hire.” Mr. Kelly’s student body is about 70% Hispanic while his staff is about 25%. He would like his staff to be more representative of the students, but says, “you have to deal with the pool of applicants. You can’t make people apply. But you can certainly make recruitment efforts.”
Mrs. Warren believes another potential solution is for the school to reach out directly to teaching colleges that have a diverse student body. She says, “we can be very intentional about expressing what we stand for and who we are as a school community that would make us attractive to all kinds of applicants.” While Mr. Kelly agrees that hiring teachers directly from colleges can be a way to increase the diversity of the staff, he adds that “because [this is a] high performing district we get lots of talented applicants. You can go to the teaching college and get a 23 year old rookie, but more likely, you’re going to [hire] the 31 year old who’s got six, seven, eight years experience. It’s a tough call.” Mr. Kelly says the suburbs can have a large appeal to teachers in cities like Springfield and Holyoke, and direct recruitment efforts of teachers already working in these places can be another way to increase the diversity of the staff.
“The problem for teachers [is that] when you trade districts, you change your veteran’s status,” says Mr. Kelly. For example, if a teacher who’s been teaching for 12 years in Springfield moves to Longmeadow, they would then be considered a first year teacher and lose their job protection. Mr. O’Gilvie says, “during my first three years [in Longmeadow], that’s all I thought about- doing a really good job so that no one [could] find some reason to get rid of me. I feel very comfortable here, but in the back of your mind when you’re the only one, that’s just something you think about.”
To increase the diversity of applicants, Peer leaders and Mr. Landers had the idea for “students [to] create testimonials about their experiences at LHS and put them on [the] website.” Mr. Landers says, “The purpose wouldn’t only be for attracting more teaching applicants of color, but it could help us to showcase the experiences LHS students have and we would want to include students of various backgrounds to truly showcase what our student body looks like. Since applicants should look at a school’s website in preparation for applying, the hope would be that we could show that LHS is more diverse than people may think.” The Equal Opportunity Statement (which is the policy not to discriminate against any applicant for employment, or any employee because of age, color, sex, disability, national origin, race, religion, or veteran status) on the LHS emploment portal was recently revised to soften the language which previously read like a lawyer’s statement and to proactively encourage people from diverse backgrounds to apply to the school. But Dr. O’Shea says that “student narratives and voices would be much more powerful in representing who we are as a community than some equal opportunity statement that’s posted on our website.”
Although the teachers in Longmeadow are not diverse, they are not blind to the importance of a diverse curriculum. Mr. Brewster, a sixth grade teacher at Glenbrook Middle School, completed a top to bottom audit of all the literature that kids are reading to see if it’s reflective of the diversity of lifestyles and backgrounds that exist. Dr. O’Shea says, “When we talk about good educators we think of windows and mirrors. We want to give kids windows into the wider world to expand their perspectives, but we also want to get the mirrors where they can see themselves. That’s something that teachers are attentive to– making sure that kids have those windows and mirrors.”
Until teachers at LHS better represent the unique identities of their students, Dr. O’Shea says we must ask: “are there enough access points for all students to be able to access the curriculum? Do students see themselves in literature choices that we put in front of them? Do they see themselves in topics of history that we discuss? Do they see themselves in the assignments that we put in front of them?”