Thursday, December 2, 2021
Dec. 2, 2021

Linkedin Pinterest

From the Newsroom: Teachers of color project very special

By , Columbian Editor

We work on a lot of special projects at The Columbian, but our latest feels more special.

After more than a year of planning and months of reporting, we are presenting a multipart series detailing the lack of teachers of color in Washington, the huge gap between teachers of color and students of color, how that affects learning, what is being done and what more could be done to close the gap.

It took so much work! But that’s another reason why this is a special, special project: We shared the reporting with The Seattle Times and the staff of its innovative Education Lab.

Our talented education reporter, Katie Gillespie, thought about doing this story for a long time. In 2017, she attended a data in journalism conference where she met reporter Dahlia Bazzaz of the Times’ Education Lab. It turned out they both had the same idea. So why not throw in together on the story and make it a statewide report?

The first thing was to assemble a database containing demographic data on 64,700 teachers and 1.1 million students from 313 Washington school districts, charter schools and educational service districts. Katie and Dahlia then came up with a formula to calculate the ratio of students of color to teachers of color, with 1.0 being a perfect representation. When you read the story or look at the graphics, you’ll see almost every number but 1.0. Clearly we have a statewide disparity.

From there, the story required a lot of reporting. Katie visited local classrooms, talked with students and teachers and documented some new alternative teacher training programs here that could improve diversity in school faculty.

Summer school vacations and teachers’ strikes meant Katie and Dahlia couldn’t kick the reporting into high gear until the end of September. Using some of The Times’ Education Lab funding, which comes from donors including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Katie was able to travel to Seattle to work alongside Dahlia and her team for a few days. The Columbian, of course, continued to pay Katie’s salary.

As the project wound down, drafts went back and forth between Vancouver and Seattle. The reporters spent hours on the phone. The Seattle Times’ graphic artist, Emily Eng, created a top-notch graphics package for the newspapers to share. Our photography team provided images to both newspapers. In all at least a dozen people, maybe about half from The Columbian, worked on the project.

I won’t claim it was all seamless; the difference in the size and workflow of the two newsrooms became evident as we blew past at least two scheduled publication dates, requiring us here at The Columbian to make some hasty new Sunday A1 plans and, in one case, change a copy editor’s days off.

But it was so worthwhile! As Katie told me, “With newspapers as strapped as they are, we need to look at regional resources to tell big stories. I would have never done a statewide look without The Seattle Times.”

The Times benefits, too. Not only did they get access to Katie — whom I would put up as an equal to any newspaper’s best reporters — but they got to look at innovative teacher training programs taking place in Clark County, some of which could be duplicated statewide.

You can read the first story in the series on the front page of Sunday’s paper or online today at