Syracuse University’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (OIRA) was recently created through a merger of the Office of Institutional Research and the Office of Institutional Effectiveness and Assessment. The streamlined operation, located at 400 Ostrom Avenue, serves all members…
Helping Address Hiring Crises, the Baldanza Fellows Program Expands to Syracuse City Schools
Teacher shortages and a predominantly white teaching force are two persistent hiring trends that continue to challenge public schools nationwide. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 90% of school districts reported difficulties hiring teachers for the 2023-24 school year, while—despite a growing population of students of color and significant research on the benefits of a diverse teaching force—79% of teachers are white.
Locally, the Syracuse City School District (SCSD) is similarly challenged, but a new partnership with the School of Education (SOE) and Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs aims to address this dilemma.
People With a Passion
Syracuse has become that latest school district to join the Baldanza Fellows program, administered jointly by SOE and the Maxwell School. Thanks to the generosity of Marcia ’86 and Ben Baldanza ’84, the program recruits teacher candidates who are committed to teaching underserved populations and from populations that are underrepresented in local classrooms.
When joining the program, students choose to take one of SOE’s teacher preparation master’s degree programs and are offered a hiring commitment by a program partner, subject to a school’s needs and a student’s successful program completion. In addition to Syracuse, other Baldanza program partners are the Baldwinsville, Jamesville-DeWitt and West Genesee school districts.
“Retirements, the typical turnover of an urban school district and the fact that fewer candidates are entering college teacher preparation programs equal the shortages we are seeing,” says Scott Persampieri, SCSD chief human resources officer, noting that his school district typically needs to hire between 200 and 300 teachers per year.
“We have been struggling to find certified teachers,” says Jeannie Aversa G’13, SCSD executive director of recruitment, selection and retention. “There is a teacher shortage due to members of the baby boom generation retiring early, and the coronavirus pandemic didn’t help.”
She adds, “We are looking for people with a passion for urban education. If people have that passion, they will stay longer.”
Go For It
Jasmine Manuel ’21, G’23 was among the first fellows to graduate from the Baldanza program. A Syracuse native who attended Henninger High School, she notes that program applicants essentially interview twice: “Once you sign up, you have a kind of hiring interview with school districts, as well as an interview with the School of Education.”
A human development and family sciences graduate from the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, as a Baldanza fellow Manuel joined SOE’s inclusive special ed (grades 1-6) program and received a hiring commitment from Jamesville-DeWitt Central School District, where she did her student teaching and where she now works as a fourth grade teacher.
Manuel admits that the Baldanza program benefits are so good, she thought the offer might not be real.
“I was working as a teaching assistant at Henninger, aiding a visually impaired student,” she says. “The Baldanza program was a surprising opportunity. I wasn’t planning on going for a master’s degree, but then I saw an email about it. My supervisor is getting a certificate of advanced study from the School of Education, so I asked him if the offer was real. He said it was, and that I should go for it.”
Manuel says she enjoyed her mentored student teaching experience at Jamesville-DeWitt. “I learned a lot that way. You hear a lot about theory in the graduate classroom, but it’s different when you do it in your own classroom. You learn what works and what doesn’t,” she says.
All Students Benefit
One of three teachers of color in her school building, Manuel notes that she was a good fit for her school district because of its increasing diversity. “Jamesville-DeWitt has expanded its English Language Learner (ELL) program to all three elementary schools,” she says, “so now students and staff are seeing a highly diverse student population coming in.”
Reflecting on the district’s diversity, Aversa observes that her student population speaks 80 different languages, so ELL is one of the high needs areas into which SCSD is recruiting—”we need teachers who know strategies to work with English as a New Language students”—along with other high needs subjects, such as math, science and special education.
Aversa agrees with national data illustrating that teachers of color and culturally responsive teaching are linked to positive academic, social-emotional and behavioral outcomes for students, saying, “Kids will see who they are trying to be, so representation in the classroom matters. The Baldanza Fellows program encourages the recruitment of BIPOC teachers so students can see people who look like them, but all children benefit from a diverse body of teachers.”
The Baldanza Fellows program encourages the recruitment of BIPOC teachers so students can see people who look like them, but all children benefit from a diverse body of teachers.—Jeannie Aversa G’13
“We know that there is a significant discrepancy between the diversity of the student body and the teaching force. That is true nationally, regionally and it’s certainly true for Syracuse schools,” says Professor Christy Ashby G’01, G’07, G’08, director of SOE’s Center on Disability and Inclusion, who oversees the programs along with Professor George Theoharis. “Students benefit from education that is culturally responsive and sustaining, and they benefit from being educated by teachers who make them feel connected to their cultures and communities, and who can provide outstanding role models.”
Continues Ashby, “It’s equally important for white students to be educated by teachers of color, if we want all students to understand inclusive environments. All students benefit from exposure to diverse experiences, cultures and identities.”
Right, Important and Just
Ashby says she is thrilled to have SCSD join the Baldanza Fellows program: “The time and opportunity are right for them to join. After all, Syracuse is our home, and we feel close to Syracuse city schools. Doing this work with them feels right, important and just.”
Pitching their case as an employer, Persampieri cites teachers’ job satisfaction: “A lot of people go into the teaching profession to serve and to make a difference. Few professions have this level of satisfaction, and that’s especially true of an urban district.”
For Aversa, the pitch is two-fold—diversity and professional support. “Our kids deserve people who want to be here and who have a desire to serve a high-poverty urban setting. Our diversity is one of the positive things we offer,” she says. “Plus, new teachers are supported in many ways, and they will learn and grow with seasoned professionals by their side.”
Similarly, mentorship is a key feature of the Baldanza program, along with a tuition scholarship, a stipend to support living expenses and the hiring commitment.
“My host teachers were very good,” says Manuel, recalling her classroom immersion. “They explained a lot about the students to me. They explained about their likes and dislikes, their quirks and what gets them motivated—these are details you don’t necessarily go over in a theory class.”
Adds Manuel, “As a new teacher, all the supports I had as a Baldanza Fellow are still with me.”