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Private Schools Work to Build Diverse Teaching Staffs

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As student bodies at private schools have become more diverse, changes in the teaching corps have been lagging behind, and independent schools sometimes struggle to attract and retain teachers of color.

Ethnic and gender diversity has been the topic of several sessions at the National Association of Independent Schools' annual conference taking place in Boston this week.

About 30 percent of the students enrolled in NAIS member schools are students of color, up from almost 22 percent a decade ago. By comparison, only 15 percent of faculty members are nonwhite, although that number has risen from around 11 percent in 2004.

Faculty members of color are often expected to be the support system for students of color, and that's no small task when you consider the disparity in their numbers, according to a panel of deans who spoke on the issue at the NAIS conference.

The extra work can lead to burnout for teachers of color, making retention more challenging, and compounding already disappointing recruitment results. 

"Often you ask people of color, why did you accept the job? They talk about who they met while they were interviewing, and did they actually see people like themselves," said Linda Griffith, the dean of community and multicultural development at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. She'll soon start a new job at the school heading up equity and inclusion initiatives, a position that was just created.

Having staff members and resources dedicated to equity and diversity is a major component to attracting and retaining faculty from minority groups, Griffith said.

Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire has been experimenting with some innovative ways to increase diversity among its faculty with a fair amount of success, according to its dean of faculty, Ron Kim.

The school started hiring teachers as it found good candidates, instead of waiting for a position to open up on staff. To accommodate the new hires, the school has them split a teaching load with a senior faculty member who then also doubles as a mentor.

Phillips Exeter Academy also created a dissertation fellowship for minority doctoral candidates in fields such as English and mathematics. The school gives fellows a stipend, an apartment on campus, and access to school facilities while they finish writing their dissertation. There's no requirement to teach at the school afterwards. The benefit for Phillips Exeter Academy comes simply from the fact that offering the fellowship puts the school in touch with dozens of highly qualified people of color who are going to be looking for jobs soon.

Both Griffith and Kim say their schools' efforts are paying off: The number of racial and ethnic minorities on Phillip Exeter Academy's faculty has grown from 10 to 18 percent, while about half of Andover's new hires are from diverse backgrounds.

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