SCHENECTADY — A new teacher certification program that aims to address the racial disparities between Schenectady City School District students and faculty was unveiled on Wednesday.
The Grow Your Own program is a collaboration between the Schenectady City School District, SUNY Schenectady, Clarkson University and Cazenovia College, a Madison County-based institution with a campus in Schenectady.
The program, two years in the making, aims to create a pathway for Schenectady High School students and community members to pursue a number of teaching degrees and certification programs without ever having to leave the city. The goal is for those who complete the program to become Schenectady school teachers, according to Catherine Snyder, the education department chair for Clarkson University.
“This program will have a positive impact on the community because it will result in increasing the number of teachers in the school and increasing the number of teachers from historically underrepresented groups,” she said in a news release.
Snyder noted that it’s “not unusual” for a Black student to graduate from Schenectady schools without ever having a Black teacher.
“All students need to have teachers of color as part of their school experience,” she said.
Addressing racial disparities has been an ongoing effort for Schenectady school leaders in recent years. Progress has been made, but wide disparities remain.
The district is currently comprised of 803 teachers, 727 (91%) of which are white, according to self-disclosed data from the district. Just 32 (4%) of the district’s teachers are Black. Nineteen are Asian, 16 are Hispanic, three are multiple ethnicities and six declined to disclose their race.
Meanwhile, the district has 9,307 students, 33% of which are Black or African American, the equivalent to 3,055. A total of 2,478, or 27% of students are white students, 1,171 are Hispanic or Latino and 1,556 are Asian, native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, according to district demographics.
Under the program, students begin taking associate-level courses while enrolled at Schenectady High School. From there, students complete their associates degree at SUNY Schenectady while also taking education courses, according to a news release.
Candidates in the program will then transition to the inclusive childhood education bachelor degree program at Cazenovia College’s Schenectady location before enrolling at Clarkson’s master of arts in teaching English to speakers of other languages program, according to the release.
Those who graduate from the program “may receive job offers from Schenectady in elementary education, elementary special education or in teaching English as a second language.”
Two students recruited during early information sessions for the Grow Your Own program are currently enrolled at Clarkson University and are scheduled to graduate in June, Snyder said.
Both students are fellows in the Black Educators Initiative, a nationwide program that seeks to recruit and retain Black educators.
“This program will, and already has, helped us fill the vital need for more teachers in our home city of Schenectady,” Snyder said. “It also provides a tremendous opportunity to Schenectady residents interested in teaching as a career.”