MANSFIELD — Supt. Stan Jefferson of Mansfield City Schools knows it takes more than knowledge and credentials to be an educator.
It takes heart.
“If you’re not in the loving and serving business, and you are in education, you’re in the wrong business,” said Jefferson, a former teacher, high school administrator and coach at Mansfield Senior High School.
When Jefferson returned to Mansfield in 2019, he made it his goal to revitalize the district by hiring teachers and staff who have a vested interest in the community.
“We are looking for people who have a strong interest in wanting to be a part of the Mansfield City Schools, who want to be a champion for our students,” Jefferson said. "We are placing a major emphasis on recruiting, retaining and re-engagement of staff.”
Jefferson and district human resources director Mark Wilcheck have adopted a “Grow Your Own” philosophy, which seeks candidates who are from the area and intend to stay long-term.
Kris Beasley, a 1994 graduate of Mansfield Senior High, has worked in the district since 2002. He’s seen firsthand how excessive turnover can negatively impact a school district.
“I’ve been at the high school for 18 years and in one form or another I’ve had 10 principals,” he said. “You can’t set a culture and a tone if you’re changing leadership every year and a half. If our kids and our teachers don’t know what to expect from year to year, where is the consistency in expectation and vision?”
Nevertheless, Beasley believes the district is turning a corner.
“I do think we are on the verge of turning this thing around,” he said. “The change is getting ready to occur and I’m very excited to see what the future holds for us.”
Part of that change is encouraging current staff members to ascend to positions of leadership.
Many of the district’s current administrators are also alumni, including Senior High Principal Marinise Harris, Malabar Principal Tom Hager, Mansfield Middle School Principal Jason Douglas, dean of students Kris Beasley and Director of Career Technical Education Nikia Fletcher.
All say their Mansfield roots help them to better connect with students.
“A lot of times, kids will try to say, ‘Well you just don’t understand,’” Harris said. “And when you’ve grown up in the same area, you can say ‘I do understand.’”
“Grow Your Own” initiatives aren’t unique to Mansfield City Schools. School districts across the country have built similar programs, often as a way to attract more teachers of color to diverse school districts.
According to The Texas Comprehensive Center, a research institute funded by the U.S. Department of Education, teachers of color who reflect minority students “have positive effects on minority student achievement, advanced-level course enrollment, college attendance rates, retention and school attendance.”
In a study of more than 2,400 students, researchers found that Black teachers’ expectations for Black students are between 30 and 40 percent higher than non-Black teachers.
Yet people of color are still underrepresented in the teaching workforce.
When he was first hired in 1976, Jefferson was the only teacher of color at Malabar High School. The district has made progress since then, but Jefferson said building a diverse teaching staff is still a goal the district is striving toward.
“We want great candidates regardless of their color, but we must raise our amount of minority candidates in our district,” he said. “I think it’s beneficial for everyone. It’s beneficial for all of us because we can learn from one another. It’s a way for us to grow.”
“It is very important for students to have educators who look like them and sound like them,” said Marinise Harris, principal of Mansfield Senior High. “We’re growing that, but going into job fairs, to be honest, you see very few minorities. Minorities are not going into the field of education.”
While some "Grow Your Own" initiatives are aimed at adult professionals, others focus on encouraging students to go into the teaching profession.
Mansfield Senior High's career technical education department launched its teaching professionals program last year as a way to foster future educators within the district.
Fletcher described it as a holistic and rigorous program.
“They’re learning how to teach everything. They’re learning how to be art teachers, they’re learning how to be English teachers, they’re learning how to be guidance counselors," she said. “They’re doing the whole gamut so that they’ll be able to select the best teaching career that fits them.”
Students in the teaching professionals program shadow educators at the elementary, middle and high school levels. Fletcher is working on developing a track that will allow these students to complete their associate's degree through North Central State College. They'll then have the option of completing a bachelor's degree at The Ohio State University's Mansfield campus.
“I look forward to some of our students possibly coming back here," Fletcher said. "That's our next generation."