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NewsNov 23, 2020

Lesley partners with Cambridge Public Schools to diversify their workforce

New collaboration offers accessible, affordable teacher licensure to city schools’ paraprofessionals

Young children paint and play at a sensory table in a classroom

Lesley University has launched a new partnership with Cambridge Public Schools to provide the school district’s teacher’s assistants with an accessible and affordable path to a master’s degree and elementary education licensure.

The school district will cover the cost of tuition, which Lesley is offering at a reduced rate for participants in this unique partnership. Overseen by the Lesley’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies, the program will diversify Cambridge Public Schools’ teaching workforce by tapping the ranks of district paraprofessionals, who more closely reflect the racial and cultural diversity of the student population. The paraprofessionals will earn their licenses and move into lead teacher positions across the district, increasing their earning potential as a result of furthering their education.

“Our new partnership with Cambridge Public Schools is an excellent model for future partnerships with schools and other community organizations,” said Lesley President Janet L. Steinmayer. “In welcoming this inaugural cohort of 18 educators to earn their master’s degrees at Lesley, we are not only helping them to advance their teaching careers, but we are helping the school district meet one of its highest-priority equity goals. Cambridge students will benefit from having highly qualified teachers who bring diverse backgrounds and life experiences to their classrooms, and the district benefits from developing a more diverse teaching workforce in-house. The fact that the partnership also enriches the diversity of Lesley’s graduate student community makes it even more of a win-win. I look forward to meeting this group, and I can’t wait to congratulate them when they walk across our graduation stage with their master’s diplomas in hand.”

“Research shows that teachers of color help close achievement gaps for students of color and are highly rated by students of all races,” according to a 2018 report from the Learning Policy Institute.

This research prompted Lesley Graduate School of Education Professor Lorraine Greenfield to work with longtime Cambridge School Committee member Fred Fantini on a plan to address the lack of diversity among those who teach the city’s increasingly diverse student population. The challenge, however, was how to place teacher licensure within financial reach of the culturally diverse paraprofessionals. Lesley stepped up to offer the district a reduced tuition rate to help make this possible.

“Cambridge Public Schools is pleased to partner with Lesley University on this innovative program that expands the pipeline for diverse teacher candidates and supports a key goal of increasing the percentage of teachers of color in our school district,” said Cambridge School Superintendent Kenneth N. Salim, whose District Plan includes both increasing the percentage of teachers of color and expanding community partnerships.

“We are excited that a number of our paraprofessional educators will have access to educational opportunities at Lesley that will lead to both a master’s degree and a teaching license, with tuition that will be covered by the school district. I believe that this partnership will help to support the career development and retention of valued staff members and ultimately strengthen the educational experiences for students in Cambridge,” said Salim.

More than half of the first cohort are multilingual and hail from other countries, said Lesley Professor Barbara Steckel, who introduced the first course. “Lesley has long supported paraprofessionals pursuing degrees to earn their teacher licensure, but this partnership breaks new ground,” Steckel noted.