Esta historia is available in español en The Notice.
Mauricio Restrepo was an almost perfect example of how Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools can increase Latino representation among its educators.
When he and his wife moved to Charlotte, he was working in the restaurant business. A new neighbor told her about a job offer at Hornets Nest Elementary School.
“They needed an interpreter there, basically, so it was a family-relative affair,” he recalled.
Restrepo, whose parents came to the United States from Colombia, grew up speaking Spanish. He got the job and after a year he enrolled at Teach Charlotte. This program, now defunct, was inspired by the national model Teach for America program. It provided intensive summer training and classroom experience to bring those without an education degree into teaching positions.
Restrepo already had a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. After training, he landed a job teaching Spanish at West Mecklenburg High School.
“I became department director after my freshman year,” Restrepo said.
In its third year, CMS’s human resources department invited Latino teachers to hear a pitch for a partnership with UNC Charlotte. It was created in 2017 specifically to bring more Latino educators into senior roles, offering the opportunity to earn a master’s degree and benefit from on-the-job coaching.
“And I bit,” Restrepo said.
Jim Watson, an associate professor at UNC Charlotte who helped create this program, remembers Restrepo as “one of our brightest students, probably one of the strongest.”
Restrepo completed the program and earned his Masters in Educational Administration. And he works as an assistant manager but not for CMS. He is at AL Brown High School in Kannapolis.
Watson says 16 Latino educators entered the program and 10 graduated. Only two of them work in the administration of CMS. Meanwhile, the district has seen the number of Latino directors decline. There were three when Restrepo was doing his scholarship. Now there is only one out of 180 schools.
Watson says it may not be the district’s fault.
“Once these people graduate, they’re a commodity that people would love to get,” Watson said. “You know, you are a bilingual administrator with a master’s degree in educational administration. People pick you up. »
The challenge goes beyond the CMS
The hurdles CMS encountered while building a Latin American trunk pipeline illustrate larger statewide issues. Governor Roy Cooper has urged the state to step up to attract more educators of color to public schools to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse student body.
In CMS, the 40,000 Latino students represent 28.5% of the student body. In about three dozen of the district’s 180 schools, Latino students outnumber their black and white peers.
Restrepo spent the second year of his main preparation program at one of these schools, the Charlotte East Language Academy. He received on-the-job training from Carmen Concepción, the daughter of Mexican and Cuban immigrants. She was one of CMS’s three Latin directors at the time and had just opened the bilingual school.
Restrepo says it was a great experience and he hoped to stay with CMS. But when he finished the program in May 2019, CMS had not posted any administrative positions. AL Brown, the only high school in the Kannapolis City Schools, did.
“I just couldn’t wait,” Restrepo said. “I couldn’t imagine going back to class at that time with the drive I had and what I wanted to do.”
It’s not a big city thing
In raw numbers, no district in North Carolina has as many Latino students as CMS. But at schools in the city of Kannapolis, with about 5,300 total students, Latinos make up 37% of the student body, outnumbering white and black students.
As in CMS, Latinos are underrepresented there as educators, making up just under 3% of administrators and teachers.
But the focus on Spanish-speaking families is evident the moment you call AL Brown High, where the recorded message plays in English and Spanish.
Come to reception and two members of staff speak Spanish. The same goes for a counselor, a media coordinator, several teachers and, of course, Restrepo.
He says it’s important to communicate with families and with students who don’t speak English. His background as a child of immigrants also influences his relationship with students. He says he told them that their job is to improve the lives of their families, including the parents who brought them here.
“They left family, friends. They left their lives behind to provide a better life for their children,” he said. “And then when the kids don’t act well, they don’t go to class, they don’t do their job, you know, that’s a conversation I need to have with them: your parents sacrificed everything to give you those things that they wouldn’t have done.
Leadership turnover poses obstacles
So why isn’t the program that primed Restrepo for administration doing more to fill CMS’s leadership ranks?
UNC Charlotte’s Watson says leadership turnover is a problem. The program began under then Superintendent Clayton Wilcox, who was of Mexican descent. wilcox left work in August 2019, for reasons he and the school board have agreed not to disclose.
A few months later, Winston Salem-Forsyth Schools hired Jevelyn Bonner-Reed as head of human resources. She had been the contact person for CMS’s human resources department for recruiting Latino educators.
“It was a big blow for us because we had developed such a good relationship with her,” Watson said.
The new Bonner-Reed district hired Concepción, the CMS manager who had mentored Restrepo. She currently supervises several schools to Winston Salem-Forsyth. The district has also hired one of the other graduates from the CMS Latino senior development program.
Watson says others went to a charter school in Charlotte and a Christian education group. One of them chose to stay on as a class teacher at CMS. A few graduates hold administrative positions at CMS, but have not yet become directors.
Watson acknowledges that so far “you can’t show statistically that we’ve made a difference.”
“I think we have people in the pipeline that they didn’t have before,” he added. “And over the next few years, time will tell.”
The shortage of teachers reduces the main pool
Another challenge is that the program is fishing in a small pond. Just over 2% of CMS teachers are Latino. This is also true for teachers in North Carolina. Governor Cooper and a task force he appointed in 2019 launched a quest to recruit more teachers of color into colleges of education and public school classrooms, but they say the work will take time. years.
And COVID-19 has complicated everything. CMS is dealing with burnout, burnout and quits for all teachers, just like everywhere else in the districts. And Watson said recruiting meetings are tougher now.
“The last two years we’ve had to do it virtually, and we just haven’t had the attendance like we normally do,” he said.
Watson expects to meet Superintendent Earnest Winston soon, who has taken Wilcox’s place. He wants to make sure the core curriculum is part of the district’s strategy to help Latino students recover from the setbacks of the pandemic and succeed in school.
As for Restrepo, he is still at the start of his career. He says it’s not out of the question that he will one day return to CMS as a principal.