Cherry Creek Schools gets the importance of educators resembling their students


Brenda Smith is the chief human resources officer of CCSD and a member of the superintendent’s district leadership team.

At the December 13 meeting of the new Cherry Creek School District (CCSD) Board of Education, Chief Human Resources Officer Brenda Smith presented a program describing the strategy and programming being used by her department to recruit and retain teachers of color for the majority-minority school district. She explained that one of CCSD’s pathways of purpose, workforce excellence, includes the fundamental mindset to “re-imagine our purpose, role and responsibility as an educational ecosystem, to ensure our students’ educational pathway leads each student to discover and fulfill their individual purpose in life.” 

Research has shown that non-white students benefit significantly from being taught by teachers whose ethnicity and life experience resembles theirs. A 2019 article published by Teach For America, a nonprofit organization that recruits college graduates from top universities around the country to teach in public schools in low income communities for at least two years, says, “When a kid has a teacher of color, there are unique opportunities to undo some of the systemic inequity and beliefs about people of color that have infiltrated our system.”

A 2020 article from the University of Rochester School of Education references Seth Gershenson, an economist studying education policy at American University, who said, “In the elementary school setting, for black children and especially disadvantaged black children, the effect of having even just one black teacher is fairly big and robust and a real thing.” The article continued, “When black children had a black teacher between third and fifth grades, boys were significantly less likely to later drop out of high school, and both boys and girls were more likely to attend college, Mr. Gershenson and his colleagues found in a large study last year. The effect was strongest for children from low-income families. The study included 106,000 students who entered third grade in North Carolina from 2001 to 2005, and it followed them through high school.” They also found that having teachers of color went a long way to eliminating the impact of implicit bias, although educating white teachers on the issue was also effective. Additionally, the study found that “there was no effect on white children when they had a black teacher.”

In order to increase the number of minority educators by “recruiting and hiring the highest quality staff that reflects students’ diversity,” CCSD is using specific recruitment strategies, including branding and marketing campaigns, using alternative licensure methods for candidates who have college degrees in other areas that qualify them to teach those subjects (e.g., auto mechanics or nutrition at Cherry Creek Innovation Academy). Members of the CCSD human resources team also regularly attend job fairs at local universities like Metro State University and University of Northern Colorado to identify potential minority teacher candidates. CCSD is even offering referrals fees of $300 or $500 to current employees who refer an educator candidate who meets criteria and is successfully hired. A planned strategy for the near future will see CCSD staying in touch with its graduates who may become teachers in the hope they will return when they are finished with their higher education.

Complementing CCSD’s efforts to hire excellent minority teachers is its focus on retaining them by making sure they are fairly compensated and actively recognizing and assessing any wellness issues that could arise in a new job. CCSD is aware that it is very important for all new employees, including those whose background might be different than some of their more experienced colleagues, to build strong relationships with co-workers that will strengthen their resiliency. The district is equally mindful of the importance of all new employees feeling like they are part of an equitable system of career advancement. 

Newly elected officers of the CCSD Board of Education are Kelly Bates, president, Janice McDonald, vice president, Angela Garland, secretary, Anne Egan, treasurer, and Kristin Allan, assistant secretary-treasurer.