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File photo

SMMUSD HDQTRS — Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is making inroads with local universities to try to attract young teachers fresh out of school to fill difficult subject areas and potentially increase diversity.

District staff members have reached out to education schools at USC, UCLA and Loyola Marymount University to forge partnerships that allow them to broadcast openings to a wider audience, said Debra Moore Washington, assistant superintendent for human resources.

“We said, rather than waiting to see who might apply, let’s go out and speak with potential candidates at the places that they are learning,” Washington said.

School officials will be able to not only get job openings out to qualified teachers, but also see extra content, like videos of USC teachers working in the classroom with children.

Opening up the channel of communication between the schools allows high-quality candidates a chance to consider SMMUSD where they might not have in the past, and allows the district to reach out to people in hard-to-fill subject areas like science, math and music.

USC’s Rossier School of Education has similar partnerships with other districts in Los Angeles, California and throughout the country, said Barbara Goen, assistant dean for communications at the school.

“We are certainly trying to reach out to as many districts as we can, all the time,” Goen said.

The effort comes in part as a response to calls from the Board of Education for district officials to do what they could, within the limits of the law, to make the pool of teachers at SMMUSD schools more reflective of the student body.

Just over 65 percent of teachers in the district were white, compared to 50.6 percent of the student body, according to data from the 2011-12 school year. The percentage of Latino students, however, was almost double that of teachers at 29.9 percent and 16.6 percent respectively.

African-American students also outnumber teachers of the same ethnicity in terms of percentages, as do virtually every minority group in the district with the exception of Pacific Islanders, which made up 4.7 percent of the teaching staff that year compared to only .27 percent of the student population.

Diversity is an issue that must be addressed, said board member Oscar de la Torre.

“It’s not appropriate that the only male African-American (students) see is a custodian, or cafeteria worker,” de la Torre said. “Young people need to see people doing multiple jobs. It increases the idea of what they can strive for.”

The partnership with local universities can achieve that not by targeting employees of different ethnic backgrounds, which is illegal, but by widening the search so that a wider pool of people apply for the same jobs.

That makes sense from a quality perspective as well, said Frank Wells, spokesperson for the California Teachers Association.

“If [districts] want to recruit the best teachers possible, that may also involve widening the net,” Wells said.

His organization supports anything that expands the applicant pool and “ability of people of all ethnicities to become teachers in California,” Wells said.

Diversity of faculty is important not just to elected officials, but to teachers on the ground.

Sarah Braff has been teaching third grade at Will Rogers Elementary School for 24 years. A diverse staff brings a wider range of viewpoints, which is helpful in education, she said.

“We want to be as global as our students,” Braff said.

SMMUSD is looking beyond new teachers to fill holes in its staffing. District officials are also creating a program to help people already working as instructional aides or in similar positions to get their teaching credentials, Washington said.

A similar program will come online to encourage existing employees into administrative roles.

If talk of hiring seems odd at a time when the district is considering budget cuts — up to 2 percent from each school and department — there is still some room for new blood.

Washington expects between 10 and 15 teachers to retire before the next school year, leaving positions unfilled.

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