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Malden struggles with teacher diversity

Fern Remedi-Brown

As a longtime member of the Malden community and a parent of two Latinx daughters, I want to speak about a longstanding issue in our school district that increases the achievement gap of some of our students: racial inequity, especially for Black/African American students and educators.

Malden is known as a great city — the fourth most diverse in Massachusetts. Yet, in a school system with kids from many different cultures, some have never had a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) educator.

Recently, intentional efforts have been made to hire BIPOC educators, but they are not retained. The BIPOC educators hired in 2019-20 left before the academic year ended.

Why is this happening? The data does not exist to inform us about where they went or why they left. The pandemic has served to amplify the loss.

I’ve learned through community conversations: Many BIPOC educators are often not treated as equals to their white colleagues. They experience exclusion and feel unwelcome. Their opinions are often not heard. There’s a theme of feeling invisible.

Sadly, white educators who support BIPOC colleagues and students experience pushback and become targets. When BIPOC students courageously speak up, they are not heard.

One BIPOC educator who left the district said, “When Malden is hiring, they need to add, ‘Blacks need not apply.’”

Regarding languages, Malden Superintendent of Schools John Oteri says, “More than 37% of new educators are fluent in a language besides English. These [seven] languages include Arabic, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Spanish, Vietnamese, Italian, and American Sign Language” (email from Supt. Oteri, Dec. 22, 2020). This means that nearly 90% of students’  languages (approximately 60) are not represented by their teachers, even for the students who are new immigrants.

Only 27% of students in Malden are white and 73% are Asian, Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and multi-race. Yet, in 2020, there were only seven African American full-time teachers in Malden (2%) in comparison to 306 white teachers (91%).

Why does that matter?  Some white parents might ask, “If you have a great teacher, what difference does it make what color they are?”

Why do Black educators matter?

“…[S]ociety is better off when students see diversity in the ranks of teachers rather than … hear[ing] lessons about the importance of inclusion from a monolithic group of educators. Representation matters,” according to Brookings Institution Fellow Andre Perry.

“Research shows that Black students who have Black teachers have better academic outcomes, are suspended less often, and face higher expectations from their teachers.” This may reduce teacher turnover in “hard-to-staff” schools.

“Ultimately, all students benefit from teachers of color, as exposure to individuals from all walks of life can reduce stereotypes, prevent unconscious bias, and prepare students to succeed in a diverse society.”

Student outcomes are proven to be much more positive when students identify with their educators.

Malden students have spoken out about the need for representation. In 2018, seventh-grade Salemwood students spoke to the Malden School Committee, on experiences of racism.

Here are some ways you can make a difference:

Ask the superintendent and School Committee members why there are so few BIPOC teachers in Malden. When you notice that something seems amiss in the schools, speak up. If you are white, learn how to be an ally to BIPOC students and educators.

Read “Waking Up White,” by Debby Irving, or “Me and White Supremacy,” by Layla Saad. Consider learning about local candidates. Are they what the community needs?  Attend School Committee meetings and speak up during the public comment segment about policies that are incongruous with the forward-thinking and inclusive community in which we seek to live. Attend MaldenCORE (Community Organizing for Racial Equity) 4th Wednesday Conversations,

We want to create spaces so that we can hear the voices of the BIPOC community.

We need data, we need policy, we need protocol — all lacking in Malden Public Schools.

When we have all of our voices at the table, we can become who we say we are.

Fern Remedi-Brown and her family have lived in Malden since 1988.

Malden public schools, teacher diversity