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New Jersey’s Diverse Classroom — A Call For Parity Between Students And Their Teachers

Within schools state and nationwide, racial disparity is a growing problem. The disparity is not between students . The disparity lies between teachers and students. Minority teachers cannot find jobs, and ALL students are without positive minority role models. I stress the word “all” because when there is no diversity within school districts, all students are robbed of different perspectives, different experiences and adequate preparation for the diverse workforce. During this 50 year anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, we must make sure that our schools have racial diversity. Though the scope of the Brown lawsuit was different, two things remain true: education is very important, and students suffer from inequality and lack of diversity within schools.

According to a New Jersey Education Association survey, roughly 40% of New Jersey students are minorities, while fewer than 13% of New Jersey teachers are minorities. That is why Gloucester County opened the Minority Recruitment Office (MRO) in October of 2001. The MRO is designed to address the under representation of minority teachers within the area’s public schools, and work with school districts to find qualified minority teachers. Currently, there are 19 participating school districts, all of which are located in the southern region of the state. Gloucester County college also participates in the recruitment program. The MRO is the first entity in New Jersey to provide this type of service to public schools.

The National Education Association (NEA) believes “multiracial teaching staffs are essential to the operation of schools.” The NEA urges local and state governing bodies to increase the number of minority teachers and administrators to equal the percentage of minority students in their respective districts.

Recently, my office spoke with Superintendent Frank Borelli of the Delsea Regional High School District, who had nothing but accolades for the MRO. Mr. Borelli also noted that the MRO provides qualified and viable candidates and saves the school district time and money by recruiting for them. School districts are able to cut recruitment travel costs by relying on the MRO to compile a list of competent teaching candidates.

While the MRO is the first office of its kind servicing New Jersey public schools, other states have established similar offices to address the lack of racial and ethnic parity. Connecticut has established the Minority Teacher Recruiting Program (MTR). The MTR program has three main priorities: recruitment, retention and pre-college programs to encourage minority students in fifth through twelfth grades to pursue careers in teaching. Connecticut’s program has been a success, as it has placed over 400 minorities in teaching positions in the last four years. Oklahoma and Pennsylvania have similar programs to place minority teachers in positions.

The New Jersey Department of Education does have a Teacher Recruitment Initiative, which provides interested teachers information about available teaching positions. While this program is a good start, we need to do more. What about school districts that do not have large minority populations? Should minority students in these districts have to go without teachers that look like them simply because they are fewer in number? The answer is no, which is why a statewide office on minority recruitment is so important. The office would recruit qualified minorities, not wait for the teachers to come to them for information.

I feel that this is an important issue, and I am developing targeted legislation that would establish a statewide office to work to address and rectify the disparities that currently occur within many of our schools.

Senator Sweeney represents the 3rd legislative district, which includes portions of Gloucester, Cumberland and Salem counties. The Senator is chair of the Senate Labor Committee, Vice-Chair of the Senate Environment Committee and is a member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.

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