At a recent Long Beach Unified School District Board of Education meeting, district staff presented the board with some harsh realities about its workforce: The district is being affected by a nationwide teacher shortage as it seeks to replace retirees, and it also needs to diversify its workforce, which is much Whiter than its student body.

Students themselves are asking the district to hire more diverse educators, according to feedback presented to the board.

“We’re seeking to plant different seeds so that new roots will take hold,” said LBUSD Deputy Superintendent Tiffany Brown.

There are no silver bullets in the complex world of public education, but the district has come up with a program that could help solve a few of its workforce problems simultaneously. The LBUSD has partnered with Long Beach City College for a program called Grow Your Own, which will give students at Poly, Millikan, and Jordan a chance to start taking education-related classes at LBCC while still enrolled in high school with the goal of speeding them toward a career in teaching.

“This helps us not only diversify our workforce but also have that next generation of teachers when we’re in a shortage,” said LBUSD Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources David Zaid, whose department has done much of the heavy lifting on the district’s side in getting this program ready to launch for the spring semester. “You can’t match our students any better than hiring students.”

Poly, Millikan and Jordan were selected because they already had clubs for students interested in becoming teachers, and Zaid said the response to the pilot program was overwhelming, with way more than the hoped-for number of 20 students at each school expressing interest in enrolling.

A big part of that appeal is that if students complete the minimum 12 units required for the program, they’ll receive a certificate as well as a conditional employment contract.

“When we told them that, the kids are like ‘Hey that sounds good I understand the benefits of dual enrollment,’ but when we told them about awarding the contract, that was a big ‘wow’ moment,” said Zaid.

With that offer in hand, students can go get their college degrees and teaching credentials and then come back to work in Long Beach, even if they went away for college.

“Some students will take advantage of the Long Beach Promise here, and some of our students will go off to college and come back and be committed to the Long Beach community, which we love to see,” he said. “We will go to your graduation and award a contract—it says if you complete your bachelor’s and your credential and you come back to Long Beach, we’re going to hire you.”

With a current starting salary of $63,990 for LBUSD teachers with a full credential as well as strong benefits packages and membership in an established union, that’s a great “first job” for recent college graduates in their early 20s.

Details of the Grow Your Own program are intended to help smooth the road for Long Beach students who want to teach. One of the offered classes is an A-G requirement, for example, and the courses are also CSU transferable, giving students a head start on their college requirements.

Another detail is that one of the courses requires 45 hours of teaching observation time. Students can enroll in that course in the summer while also accepting employment in the school district’s SEAL summer school program, where they can earn money at work while also simultaneously completing their observation hours.

Zaid said that after so much hard work creating the program, it’s been gratifying to see the program take shape and to have so many students interested in it prior to launching.

“It’s incredibly gratifying, and we have quite a few employees in the district who are former students,” he said. “I’ve often said when students leave Long Beach Unified, I want them to have a passport that will take them anywhere they want in the world. This gives them a passport to go further their education, but also to come back to the Long Beach community and change the world by investing in the next generation.”

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