By: Jim Russell | Special to The Republican
Article Credit: MassLive
SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday announced $1.8 million in grants for 20 school districts, including Amherst, Holyoke and Springfield, to support the administration’s Teacher Diversification Pilot Program.
Holyoke received the largest share of the funds, $367,283.
The program “is designed to support local school district efforts to strengthen and diversify existing teacher recruitment and retention programs,” according to the state.
Springfield Public Schools were awarded grants totaling $353,000, which is $100,000 more than last year.
In an interview, Springfield Mayor Dominic Sarno, who also is school board chairman, said the city works hard to improve education and the money is greatly appreciated.
“We are doing innovating things in this district (and) there is always more to do,” he said.
“A more culturally sensitive” dynamic between student and teacher is the goal of the pilot program, he said, adding: “A good teacher is a good teacher.”
Sarno said Springfield’s graduation rate has increased in the past dozen years — from about 53% to about 80%.
The Springfield grant is split two ways: $150,000 for the district governed by the School Committee and $203,000 to the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership.
The Empowerment Zone is a hybrid structure composed of public officials including the mayor and other local school officials, state education officials and the business community. Sarno said the Empowerment Zone model is making a difference in student outcomes, and has been the object of inquiries from education leaders in the state and outside of Massachusetts.
In a letter to Amherst-Pelham Regional School District Superintendent Michael Morris, Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito thanked him for the district “continuing to improve the educational experiences for students.” The district received $90,360.
Contacted on Monday, Morris said that, in the past two years, the racial makeup of employees has changed, from a 19.5% of staff being people of color in 2017 to 26.7% in 2019. The grant money “will help us continue those efforts” and is “part of our ongoing effort to diversify our faculty,” Morris said.
“This is something our school committee and administration feel passionate about,” he said.
Last year, the Amherst-Pelham Regional School District received a $24,810 grant.
Elsewhere in the state, Pittsfield received $66,350, compared to $41,020 in fiscal 2019. Worcester received $74,482, compared to $178,560 a year ago in fiscal 2019. Boston received $108,265, compared to $356,551 last year.
“Grant funds may be used to provide: tuition assistance for enrollment and completion into an approved educator preparation program, Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure (MTEL) examination preparation and examination fee support, financial incentives to support teacher recruitment, and enhancements to local ‘grow your own’ programs such (as) education pathways for high school students,” according to the state.
“As a result of funding, approximately 500 individuals, including students, district graduates and/or recent college graduates, paraprofessionals, and provisionally licensed teachers will benefit from this grant,” according to the state.