By J. K. Schmid, Special to the AFRO

“We need to know that our students have somebody that they can identify with and that automatically relates to some of the things that they are experiencing,” Principal Misha Scott told teachers, professors and paraeducators gathered at Booker T. Washington MIddle School, May 21. “90 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged, the majority of our students are African-American.”

Booker T is what Scott calls a “legit middle school,” meaning it is solely comprised of sixth, seventh and eighth grades. It’s one of five such schools in the district, Scott says.

The overwhelmingly student-facing gathering took place in Bookers T’s library, it included representatives of Teach for America, Teachers’ Democracy Project and Baltimore City Teaching Residency. Jeremy Grant-Skinner, Chief Executive Officer of Baltimore City’s Human Capital, was also in attendance.

Public School No._25 , S. Bond St., Baltimore City,, Maryland. (Courtesy Photo)

While operating under the auspices of Baltimore City Public Schools leadership, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, Cheryl A. Casciani, Baltimore City Board of School Commissioners Chair, and Dr. Sonja Santelises, educators had the run of last week’s update.

The focus was Black teacher recruitment and retention.

Schools throughout Baltimore City, including Booker T, struggle to recruit Black teachers, and particularly, Black men.

“Pipeline,” usually a four-letter-word in Black education, was the talk of the evening, creating a structure, a “pipeline,” that moves Black students at middle school, high school and college level into Baltimore’s schools, early, easily and keeping them there.

Joshua Sewell, currently a paraeducator, spoke of what could be a broader experience for Black students, Black teachers, and what could be a model for the task force’s ultimate objective.

Mr. Sewell is a graduate from Morgan State University with a degree in political science, his mother and father are both paraeducators that finally prevailed up their son after three years.

“Think about your favorite teachers,” they said.

“Both of them are Black male teachers,” Sewell recalled. “Fourth grade, sixth and seventh grade, they’re the only two Black male teachers that I had. And when said, ‘Hey, you can be that difference in somebody’s life.”’

And so, Sewell might be a part of the same positive feedback loop that got him started.

“I’m not going to be a teacher forever, but I do need to make a difference in the community,” Sewell said. “And I have to be the difference that I want to see, so why not step up?”

While prospects like Sewell, and the prospects of other students like Sewell improve, the pipeline face increased challenges that Human Capital, the office that “leads City Schools in … support of improved student outcomes,” per their website, may not be prepared for.

“Put yourself in their spot: you’re a student teacher in Baltimore City,” Dr. Gary Thrift, Dean of Notre Dame of Maryland University’s School of Education, said. “You want to make a difference, you have a passion, you’re there, you see how it can work. It’s an oasis in this otherwise maybe bleak neighborhood, but you’re teaching, making a difference, you want to do it. And Howard County approaches you with an early contract, or Baltimore County.”

70 percent of Baltimore’s teachers are hired from out of state, in part because quality local candidates have early guaranteed job security in another county or another state. Baltimore City is being beat to the punch when it comes to proposing contracts to educators. Thrift called the practice “poaching.”

“ come to us, and they don’t know what to do,” Thrift said.

“When is Baltimore City going to offer a contract, and they don’t let do it?” Thrift asked. “Because they’re so afraid of overspending, the budget. They don’t give him what he needs to be able to do his job. He needs to be able to go out on a limb, to offer those contracts to those people early in the Fall and early in the Spring semester to ones who are student-teaching then.”