Maya Zeigler works to hire a more racially diverse faculty

CHANGE ON CAMPUS: Maya Zeigler has introduced numerous initiatives to SPA since beginning the role of BIPOC Recruiting and Hiring Specialist last May. (Submitted by Maya Zeigler)

From kindergarten through twelve grade, Maya Zeigler recalls having two Black teachers across three different schools. While she acknowledges that students who share their racial identity with a teacher do not automatically relate or connect with them, “I do think visual representation is important,” she said.

As the school’s first BIPOC hiring recruitment specialist, Zeigler strives to combat the lack of racial diversity in the field of education, specifically independent schools, and bring more BIPOC teachers to SPA. She began her work here last May.

Zeigler has always had a passion for working in the setting of youth education. After attending Denison University for her undergraduate education and Metropolitan State University for graduate school, Zeigler worked as a college counselor before working at a shelter for teen girls in East St. Paul. Most recently, Zeigler directed Breakthrough Twin Cities, an educational nonprofit for seventh through twelfth graders.

In the past ten months, Zeigler has proposed and made headway on numerous initiatives. Of her proposals that have come to fruition, she is currently focusing on about five.

First, Zeigler aims to strengthen the school’s relationship with local colleges—specifically smaller-sized schools nearby—including St. Kates, Hamline, and Macalester. Through reaching out to these schools and targeting students of color in the recruitment process, Zeigler hopes to educate them on what teaching at an independent school entails.

Zeigler invited several University of Minnesota students to spend the day on the Randolph campus this fall and get a feel for what the teaching environment is like.

Zeigler also spends time attending job fairs as part of her work and travels to various states in order to recruit teachers.

“A big part of what I’m doing is trying to get in front of different audiences—people that might not have ever thought about working in this type of school,” she said.

This spring, Zeigler will host open houses to specifically give teachers of color a look at SPA.

Last week, one of Zeigler’s larger initiatives officially launched. The University of Minnesota’s DirecTrack to Teaching program, run by Jehanne Beaton, will bring four undergraduate students—all aspiring teachers from UMN—to spend 30 hours on campus. The students, Jacob Reinking, Kat Hyvare, Johantahn Powell and Elise Long, are shadowing US history teachers Ben Bollinger-Danielson and Andrea Moerer, US English teacher Andrew Inchiosa, and MS teachers Bobak Razavi and Mackenzie Bevey. DirecTrack is aimed towards students of color, first-generation college students, students from low socioeconomic backgrounds and other underrepresented populations.

Zeigler explained that DirecTrack rarely ever works with private schools, making this collaboration a unique one.

“They have 50 other schools [in this program] that they work with. They’re all public schools.” A contributing factor to SPA’s selection into the program is the fact that Beaton is a SPA parent.

People of color, she explained, are less likely to consider working at independent schools.

“That’s kind of one of the biggest barriers—is the people who are already thinking about working at independent schools are the people we already have.”

For those that have previously taught at public schools, Zeigler highlights the differences, that for some, can be advantages, brought by working at a private school such as SPA.

“I don’t want to ever talk down on public school. I’m not interested in doing that. Really, what I’m trying to do is just to get people to try to think about something different,” she said.

For example, Zeigler often explains to recruits that SPA offers more prep time to teachers due to the fact that many only teach two to three classes per day. She also mentions the curriculum freedom that teachers receive, the funds for professional development, and the 80% tuition remission for the children of SPA faculty.

“If people are newer to teaching and education, then I mean, it’s kind of the same conversation, but less of a comparison to public school because they haven’t really experienced it yet,” Zeigler said.

Zeigler hopes that each semester a new group of UMN students will work with the school through DirecTrack if SPA continues to be chosen by the program as a partnership school.

I just think it’s really important for everybody to have teachers that reflect them, no matter who you are, or what you look like

— Maya Zeigler

Zeigler utilizes many tactics when searching for teachers to recruit, and her approach with seasoned teachers varies greatly from those who are fresh graduates.

“There’s not a one size fits all approach to recruitment,” she said.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 79% of all public school teachers in the 2017–18 school year were non-Hispanic white, meanwhile, that number was 85% in private schools. While the lack of racial diversity tends to be more severe in private schools, it is not a SPA-unique or private school-unique issue.

In 2016, former Director of Diversity Karen Dye reported that 18% of SPA faculty were people of color, in contrast to the 13% of teachers of color in independent schools nationwide, according to the National Association of Independent schools.

Currently, the school does not have the concrete data to report a percentage of BIPOC teachers, but the Office of Human Resources is working to create an equitable reporting system.

“I just think it’s really important for everybody to have teachers that reflect them, no matter who you are, or what you look like,” Zeigler said.

In the Midwest, part of the shortage of teachers of color can be attributed to the actual racial demographics of the region. Throughout the country, there are many programs available for aspiring teachers of color, and there are money and resources being shoved toward the concern. Zeigler herself participated in one of these programs while in college when she thought she wanted to become a teacher. If the conversations are happening, and the resources are there, why is the progress slow to follow, broadly speaking? Zeigler suspects there are other deeper-rooted reasons that the issue isn’t being solved as rapidly as she hopes, such as teacher burnout. The profession of teaching tends to get a bad rap, and many teachers face issues of burnout due to the challenging nature of the job.

“I think there’s issues within education that probably need to get fixed before we will see a bigger shift. But I don’t think everyone realizes that,” Zeigler said.