Lakeland Aims to Diversify Teaching Staff

Administrators would identify 20 eighth-grade students who have displayed leadership skills to participate in the program: 10 from Walter Panas High School and 10 from Lakeland High School. Credits: File

SHRUB OAK, N.Y.-Looking to diversify its workforce, the Lakeland School District is considering funding an eight-year program that would develop prospective teachers at the high school level, support their college educations and recruit them back to Lakeland as educators.

The program would specifically target “culturally diverse and economically challenged” students. Every year, administrators would identify 20 eighth-grade students who have displayed leadership skills: 10 from Walter Panas High School and 10 from Lakeland High School.

“It’s really in response to the need for more diversity in our staffing here in Lakeland,” Jean Miccio, the district’s assistant superintendent for education, said at the Feb. 15 school board meeting.

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Students in the program—called Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Teachers—would also be granted scholarships for college.

“I think that we see these students in front of us all the time,” Miccio said, “and for us to be able to identify them, tap them on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, we see some great leadership skills in you and we would like to help cultivate that and help to get you to college and get a career for yourself, and then to come back here to Lakeland and teach for us.’ It’s a wonderful program and a great opportunity.”

The program would be headed by Miccio and Frank Accetta, director of guidance and counseling. They are asking the Board of Education to annually budget $63,000, or $3,150 per student. Miccio said the program would be eligible for aid.

If the board agrees to fund the program, Miccio said, she could start identifying eligible students for the 2018-19 school year. Lakeland could also immediately begin hiring educators who have gone through the program at other schools.

Today’s Students, Tomorrow’s Teachers is a nonprofit organization founded in 1994 by Dr. Bettye H. Perkins. According to its website, the program has grown from seven students in one Westchester County high school to nearly 880 participants across the United States. The program has created 150 teachers in nine states. There are 21 partnering colleges that have agreed to assist in supporting students with a minimum 50 percent tuition scholarship.

Partnering colleges include: Manhattan College, The College of New Rochelle, Manhattanville College, Fordham University, Marist College, University of Connecticut, SUNY Geneseo, Pace University, Iona College and Sacred Heart University.

In ninth grade, students in the program would shadow high school teachers; in 10th grade, they would shadow teachers and tutor other students; and in 11th and 12th grades, they would “co-teach” classes.

“Each year they do something new and more complex,” said Dr. Tammy Cosgrove, assistant superintendent for human resources. “During the summer, there are also seminars for them that they go to, to learn how to be teachers, how to be leaders.”

Students would be required to sign a contract, committing to return to work at a school that participates in the program.

Superintendent Dr. George Stone said the need for diversity was raised by students.

“The District Youth Council did raise the question about how we could become a more diverse teaching staff to mirror the multicultural nature of our population as it’s changing,” Stone said.

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