On a typical school day, more than 163,000 students in New Jersey never encounter a teacher of color in any classes or while walking through the halls.

Despite the Garden State's diverse makeup of residents, the teacher pool leaves a lot to be desired in this area, state officials say.

So efforts are underway to ensure that the ethnic and racial diversity of the state's teacher workforce better reflects the state as a whole.

"Teacher diversity matters," state Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet told New Jersey 101.5. "We believe that a diverse workforce is a strong workforce."

In a 2016 report from the U.S. Department of Education, it was detailed how all students benefit from a racially diverse teacher workforce. It not only prepares them for a diverse society and counteracts stereotypes, but improves academic achievement as well.

Research has found that students of color taught by at least one teacher of color in elementary school are less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to pursue college.

In the 2017-2018 school year, 56 percent of New Jersey's 1.4 million students served were students of color, while teachers of color represented just 16 percent of the educator workforce.

"About one in five schools in New Jersey have a 100 percent white professional staff," Repollet said.

The DOE has set a goal that by 2025, the diversity of New Jersey's novice teacher pool (those in their first four years of teaching) reflect the diversity of New Jersey's public school students. Four-thousand new teachers enter the profession each year in New Jersey, the Department said.

Getting there means focusing on keeping individuals of color in the talent pipeline, and keeping them in place once they land a job in a New Jersey school.

In January it was announced by the state that $750,000 would be devoted to the Department's development of a grant opportunity to increase teacher diversity. Montclair State University is partnering with Newark Public Schools, and Rutgers University's Center for Effective School Practices with Passaic County charter schools, on recruitment and training opportunities for teachers of color.

In partnership with a handful of state schools, the Department recently held the first New Jersey Diversifying the Teacher Workforce Convening, the purpose of which was to raise awareness of the importance of teacher awareness, and highlight best practices throughout the state,

In addition, the Garden State is one of 10 to join the Council of Chief State School Officer's Diverse and Learner-Ready Teachers Initiative, aimed to diversify the education workforce and support efforts to implement culturally relevant practices in schools.

The Department is exploring other promising strategies such as recruitment of career changers and veterans, and the development of a teaching certification pathway for paraprofessionals.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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