In an effort to combat the teacher shortage and hire staff that reflect the community’s diverse population, Hartford’s public school system and mayor’s office announced a new initiative Tuesday to recruit teachers from the Caribbean.
The Caribbean Connection Program, similar to the city’s “Paso a Paso Puerto Rico Recruitment Program”, seeks to hire teachers from the Caribbean to fill vacant teaching positions in city schools. School officials will be working with the state Department of Education to make sure all the teachers have appropriate Connecticut teacher certifications.
The schools launched the Caribbean program this school year with 4 teachers from the Dominican Republic. So far, Hartford Public Schools have received more than 140 applications to the new program for the first official cohort, which begins next year.
“We’re looking at thinking about longer term because we know that not as many people are entering the teaching workforce and we know that others are also leaving the workforce,” said Superintendent Dr. Leslie Torres-Rodriguez, who was joined by Mayor Luke Bronin and other city officials during the announcement at Weaver High School. “While we try to get at the root cause of retaining staff, we also have to be strategic in how to recruit our staff.”
The nationwide teacher shortage is being felt in Connecticut. The Department of Education identifies teacher shortage areas on its website, noting statewide shortages in math, science, special education and other areas.
Chief Talent Officer Dr. Tiffani Curtis said the school system wants to hire staff that have a “lasting and positive impact on our students and their learning.”
“HPS [Hartford Public Schools] is partnering with International Alliance Group to sponsor 15 teachers under J-1 visas,” Curtis said. “J-1 visas are non-immigrant visas for individuals approved to participate in exchange visitor programs in the United States.”
Paola Rosa Medina, a Spanish teacher recruited from the Dominican Republic, said she was grateful to be teaching in Hartford.
“I came from the Dominican Republic four months ago,” Medina said. “I really love working at Hartford Public High School because I have received a lot of support from the staff. Also, I feel like I can grow as a teacher.”
Medina said she recognizes teaching can be challenging, especially when you are from another country but loves being in the classroom with her students.
“I feel like teaching is my passion,” Medina said.
Mayor Luke Bronin said he is excited about the new recruitment program, especially after the success of the “Paso a Paso” program.
“I think this is a brilliant, creative program to make sure that we are bringing in teachers, so that we’ve got not just teachers in classrooms, but teachers whom our kids can look up [to] and see somebody who looks like them who has a shared experience,” Bronin said. “That is an incredibly powerful thing.”
Bronin and Torres-Rodriguez said Hartford has a growing population of residents from parts of the Caribbean and Latin America.
According to Torres-Rodriguez, 57% of Hartford Public School students identify as Hispanic and 29% identify as Black, African American and/or Caribbean.
Tiffany Webley, principal of Weaver High School, said that the teachers from the two recruiting programs connect with the students well because students have someone “who looks like them and have walked the same paths [as them]”.
“It has its challenges, but I think the overall is so beautiful and so positive for everybody involved,” Webley said. “And I think it’s an amazing experience.”
The program is partially supported by the Travelers Foundation, which provides incentives for the teachers like moving stipends and housing security deposits.