By Minh Do
Recent Malden High School graduate Birukti Tsige never had a teacher of color throughout her 10 plus years in the Malden public schools.
To draw attention to this disparity, Tsige helped organize a rally on July 9 in Malden to push the city to hire more teachers of color. About 40 people gathered outside the superintendent’s office at Malden High School, listened to speakers and then marched two blocks to the mayor’s office, where they also met with Mayor Gary Christenson in his office. Afterwards, the group rallied further down the street outside the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. In total, according to rally organizers, nearly 100 protesters took part in the rally throughout the day.
“I’ve been in the Malden school system since I was in second grade and I have three younger siblings that are coming in,” said Tsige. “I’ve never had a black teacher and I don’t want that for my siblings.”
The rally, organized by Malden Community Organizing for Racial Equity (MaldenCORE), called for comprehensive reform that would support students of colors and designate an ombudperson to report instances of discrimination. Their five demands included: having a written policy for action and accountability; setting measurable goals and metrics on progress; mandatory anti-racism training; and changes in curriculum to reflect the diverse population. Additionally the group asked that the position of Erga Pierrette, a person of color who, until recently, worked as as a school Adjustment Counselor, be reinstated.
“I’m in full support of the goals of this organization. We need to have diversity in our teaching, administrative and support staff,” said Neal Anderson, Malden Ward 7 City Councilor. “We also need that same kind of diversity in our public staff and city government. I’m the councilor of color on the city council and it’s been that way for 30-somewhat years. We should have the kind of representation on our boards and commission that are representative of our community.”
On their Facebook event page, rally organizers contended that “92%” of teachers in Malden are white and that only 30% of the student body is white.” Malden census data shows that, as of 2016, 47 percent of the city’s population is white, 15 percent is black, 10 percent is Hispanic, and 25 percent is Asian.
When contacted by Neighborhood View, Malden Superintendent of Schools John Oteri said in an e-mail, “Making progress in recruiting persons of color to all levels within the Malden Public Schools continues to be a primary focus and will be until we have our staff as reflective of our community and student body as we can.“ Oteri also said the district plans a “Town Hall Meeting” in early November that will “gain a high level of insight into the city’s understanding of diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Carrying signs that said “Wanted: A teacher who looks like me” and “I will not stay silent so you stay comfortable,” rally participants listened to speeches and chanted “Diversity educates!” Speakers included teachers, local politicians and students.
“From my personal experience, I know, as a white teacher, with a very diverse class of students, I still have a lot to learn about how my own biases and my own cultural background may impact how I interact with and teach my students,” said Rachel Sorlene, a teacher at Forestdale Elementary School. “I’m doing that work to try to improve how I’m able to connect with my students, to help them feel successful and [be] part of the classroom.”
Speakers emphasized that having teachers of color helps students become better engaged in their education.
“We like to brag about how diverse we are at every chance we get. When all the administrators make speeches, when the mayor, councilors, and when anyone makes speeches, their number one point is that Malden is so diverse,” said Tsige. “But the teacher population doesn’t look like that.”
Video clip below recorded by Joshua Dube and Masio Dotson. Edited by Masio Dotson.