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Wednesday, December 6, 2023
Dec. 6, 2023

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Educators of color tick up slightly in Clark County

By , Columbian Education Reporter

Clark County’s pool of teachers of color has grown just a dash over previous years. But these teachers remain significantly underrepresented in a county where more than a third of students identify as a race other that white.

About 8.5 percent of Clark County’s 4,783 teachers identify as people of color, newly released data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction show. Clark County had 407 teachers of color in the 2018-2019 school year, up from 375 the year prior; 4,376 teachers, meanwhile, identified as white.

This year’s numbers represent a continuation of a slow tick upward in the proportion of teachers of color in local school districts. In the 2017-2018 school year, 7.9 percent of Clark County’s 4,750 teachers identified as people of color. In the 2012-2013 school year, 7.2 percent of teachers identified as people of color.

Also new this year: only the Green Mountain School District has no teachers of color on its 10-member faculty. About 10 percent of the rural district’s student population identify as students of color. Last year, neither Green Mountain nor the La Center School District employed teachers of color; La Center now lists one Asian and 91 white teachers.

Clark County could see a small bump in the number of teachers of color this upcoming school year. Washington State University’s Equity for Language Learners-Improving Practices and Acquisition of Culturally Responsive Teaching, or ELL-IMPACT program, is slated to graduate its first cohort of students in time for the fall semester. The program is made up of current paraeducators seeking their teaching licenses.

Half of the 22 students expected to graduate work for Evergreen Public Schools and will graduate from WSU Vancouver, while the other half will graduate from WSU Tri-Cities. The vast majority are Latino or Hispanic.

But Gisela Ernst-Slavit, a WSU Vancouver educational leadership professional and lead faculty member on the ELL-IMPACT program, pointed to a new barrier for prospective teachers of color: projected multimillion-dollar budget deficits across the county and state.

“Districts might not hire too many teachers in the fall due to budget constraints,” Ernst-Slavit said by email. “We’ll see.”

Adam Aguilera, a Latino teacher who was featured in last year’s series, was recently appointed to the Professional Educator Standards Board. The board is advocating for legislation that would reduce the barriers for teachers of color to enter the workforce and teaching programs. Aguilera and the board have pointed to the WEST-B, a basic skills test candidates must take before entering teaching programs in the first place, as a roadblock for would-be teaching candidates.

“Some are already in the classrooms on an emergency certification and yet they’re unable to pass these tests,” Aguilera said.

Aguilera teaches in Evergreen Public Schools and leads equity training for members of the Washington Education Association, the state’s teachers’ union. This year he’s on special assignment, leading professional development for teachers and substituting in other classrooms across the district. When he enters classrooms, he said, students of color pepper him with questions.

“They look at my last name written on the board and they ask me questions about my heritage,” he said. Recently at a middle school, a student pointed out to him that he was the first Latino teacher he’d ever had.

“For me, living that every day as an educator shows me just how important it is for the educator workforce to reflect the students that we serve and our communities,” he said.

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