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Poudre School District diversifies staff with Education Workforce Grant
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Poudre School District in Fort Collins spent $100,000 from an Education Workforce Grant to diversify its workforce while at the same time attempting to fill more open positions than the district had in pre-pandemic years.
The majority of the grant paid for a full-time bilingual recruiter with the rest allowing the district to implement an intentional recruitment strategy to increase the number of teachers, which didn’t used to be a problem for the district before the pandemic.
The Education Workforce Grant, funded through the American Rescue Plan's Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Act, was established to ensure “educators, leaders and support staff are in place and supported as they offer programs to provide in-person learning, address learning loss, complete unfinished learning and meet the COVID-related needs of Colorado students.”
Prior to the pandemic, Poudre School District didn’t need to seek out qualified candidates. The district's reputation as an employer of choice, combined with the city’s high ranking on many best-places-to-live lists, made recruitment relatively effortless.
“We haven't put a lot of money and investment into (recruitment) because we didn't have to,” said Deborah Meyer, director of talent acquisition and retention at Poudre School District. Teachers “were waiting at our door when we were ready for them. When we tried to open that door (after the pandemic) and they weren't there, we had to be a little bit more creative.”
The COVID-19 pandemic brought about an 80% decrease in applications at the district. From 2020 to 2023 there were consistently about 60 open positions ranging from support staff like paraprofessionals and bus drivers to teachers and administrators.
“Instead of just screening, we needed to go out and find these people,” Meyer said. “A lot of what the grant was written around was, again, not doing this post-and-pray method but really being proactive in our strategy, and in order to be proactive in a strategy you have to have staff and bandwidth and budget to do so.”
The district has focused on seeking out and hiring people from more diverse backgrounds, a challenge in Fort Collins, which is about 85% White. A significant gap exists between the demographics of teachers and students in the district. Only about 9% of teachers are people of color compared to 24% of students.
Employing more people from diverse backgrounds, “not only enriches our students, but it also enriches the overall retention and culture of our organization because we're continually learning how to work with each other, and ultimately, how to best serve our students,” Meyer said.
Since hiring a dedicated bilingual recruiter in November 2022, Poudre School District has been able to extend its in-person recruitment efforts to Hispanic-serving institutions and historically Black colleges and universities, broadening the potential candidate pool.
By purchasing subscriptions to platforms like DiversityJobs.com, the district can automatically post job openings to numerous diversity-focused sites to attract a wider pool of applicants. They also purchased ads on platforms like DIVERSITY in Ed and traditional media.
So far the approach is working. By April 2023 the district had hired 67 new staff members from various racial and ethnic backgrounds, increasing diversity among the classified staff population by more than 3%.
Another way the district is diversifying its workforce is by hiring teachers from outside the United States through the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program. These teachers are highly qualified with at least a Bachelor’s degree and three years of teaching experience in their home country. The J-1 Visa allows them to teach in the United States for three to five years.
Poudre School District will have 10 exchange program teachers on staff for the 2023-24 school year. The district focused on bringing teachers from Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico, Colombia and Peru to support its dual-language immersion schools and it also has teachers coming from the Philippines and Jamaica.
The district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Coordinator, Delhia Mahaney, sees great promise in the district’s new approach to hiring.
“The Talent Team in PSD has worked exceptionally hard to diversify our workforce,” Mahaney said. “We have a long way to go, but our path forward is bright!”