When students of color are taught by diverse teachers, they are held to higher academic expectations and are less likely to be suspended from school. That’s why there is little debate about the merits of diversifying the teaching workforce. The question is: how do we get there?

Between 2017 and 2021, Connecticut districts hired more than 1,900 new educators of color, following an amped up statewide effort to diversify the educator workforce. But these gains have not kept up with the rapid pace at which Connecticut has welcomed an increasingly diverse student population.

A new report released by Education Reform Now CT (ERN CT) terms this gap between  the percentage of diverse students and teachers in the state over time the “Diversity Gap”—and it has been growing steadily. While there may be more individual teachers of color in Connecticut this year than five years ago, the demographic mismatch between teachers and students is wider now, reflecting a more urgent need to recruit and retain educators of color than ever before.

Concerningly, the diversity gap is most acute in the state’s diverse public school districts, which are often already rife with inequities. In these districts, students of color overwhelmingly lack the opportunity to learn from representative role models.

Connecticut’s government and legislature deserve credit for taking the matter seriously in recent years, passing several bills to address the problem and establishing a task force and policy oversight council. There are new state-funded incentives—including grants and stipends for students who enter teacher preparation programs, resources to defray the costs of certification, and even some housing benefits. New grow-your-own programs recruit diverse candidates into the educator pipeline, and NextGen Educators brings teachers-in-training into the classrooms with mentors.

Yet it’s clear that these programs have fallen short of meeting Connecticut’s needs for attracting and retaining a diverse educator pool. Leaders must do more—both financially and systemically—to keep pace and make real change.

Instead of expanding existing state-level programs or launching new ones on an ad hoc basis, Connecticut needs a new strategic plan prioritizing solutions that have worked, one that is complete with infusions of real time and money, meaningful benchmarks, and a plan for accountability. It should also depend on data identifying successes in standout districts that are worth replicating.

Manchester Public Schools is one district that’s beginning to buck the trend of a widening diversity gap. While Manchester’s student body is growing more diverse over time, the percentage of Manchester’s educators who are teachers of color is growing at an even faster pace.

The district is achieving these gains through a combination of deliberate planning and a commitment to embedding inclusiveness throughout its culture.

These priorities are explicitly reflected in both Manchester’s District Improvement Plan and an Equity Policy that outlines specific steps to create a more equitable community that recruits and retains educators of color.

The district has set a goal of having 40% of new hires represent the racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of the student body. Recruitment tactics include efforts like reimbursing tuition costs for alternative routes to certification, recruiting from out-of-state, and collaborating with teacher preparation programs to provide paid internship opportunities. A variety of programs are likewise designed to improve retention rates once teachers are hired to the district. (Read more about that in the report’s case study.)

But beyond any individual program, Manchester seeks to embed recruitment and retention of diverse staff members into the everyday life of the workplace. The district provides all staff with anti-racism training, work in which it also engages students, parents, and families. It brings an attitude of inclusion towards its treatment of students, selection of materials, and resource investments. In essence, Manchester is being very intentional about building a culturally affirming environment.

To solve Connecticut’s Diversity Gap, the state must attract teachers of color to the teaching profession and then foster a culture that is committed to diversity and inclusion. Manchester has done just that. Others can, too.

Matt Geary is the Superintendent of Manchester Public Schools. Amy Dowell is the State Director of Education Reform Now CT.