Following the historic infusion of federal dollars through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds as part of COVID-19 recovery, Education Resource Strategies (ERS) and SCORE partnered with Tennessee districts to provide guidance on how best to direct those funds. Through this network of six districts, called the Recovery and Reinvention Resources (RRR) Network, leaders collaborated and learned from each other to craft recovery plans that best suit the needs of their schools. This post is the first in a series spotlighting the innovative and intentional steps taken by these districts.

We know that teachers of color play an important role in better outcomes for students of color. With a student body that is 66 percent students of color, Haywood County Schools is fully committed to facing the challenge of achieving a teacher workforce that closely resembles our student body. 

As with most districts in Tennessee and around the nation, Haywood County Schools does not receive enough external applicants of color to fill teaching positions. As a small rural district in southwestern Tennessee with a human resources department of one, we lack the capacity to review hiring and turnover data trends in detail, putting us at a disadvantage to examine and address this issue. Education Resource Strategies (ERS) helped us focus our ESSER efforts to best address the lack of teacher diversity in our district.

Our partnership with ERS helped us review trends in our employment data over the last five years and to reveal a detailed picture of our overall strengths, needs, and areas for growth relating to teacher recruitment and retention. Our efforts showed that Haywood County Schools has experienced disproportionately high teacher turnover and low recruitment rates of male teachers of color.

In the end, we determined that strengthening our Grow Your Own partnership with Tennessee State University, the University of Tennessee at Martin, and Jackson State Community College was the best investment to meet our district’s needs. Students in the GYO program enter a teaching program while still enrolled in high school and train to become educational assistants and full-time teachers in the years after graduating with the goal of them returning to Haywood County Public Schools to teach. By recruiting and training highly qualified candidates from within our own community, we believe that Haywood County can meaningfully diversify its teacher workforce. Haywood’s many male students of color have the potential to become great educators and should be encouraged to take advantage of our district’s Grow Your Own program.

Measuring and understanding student and staffing needs is challenging, but quantifying these needs across the district allows us to use a “do now, build toward” mindset in spending these federal resources. We can take action now toward recruiting a diverse educator workforce while building a program to address this issue over the long-term. 

Haywood County is fully committed to reversing the trends seen around our district’s male educators of color. Thanks to our partnership with ERS on how to best invest our federal ESSER funds, we believe the Grow Your Own program will play a key role in achieving our goals to better support students.  

Gina Rawson is deputy superintendent of federal programs, finance, and operations for Haywood County Schools. 

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