BEMIDJI -- While Bemidji Area Schools has made strides forward, it still has work to do when it comes to the teaching and success of its students.
The district released a report on the diversity of its workforce and the success of its students, and Bemidji School Board members reviewed the findings during their most recent meeting. The district submits the report to the Minnesota Department of Education.
Part of the report deals with the degree to which the teaching staff reflects the diversity of the student body.
“A growing body of research has demonstrated that all students benefit when they are taught by racially and ethnically diverse staff throughout their career, and students of color and Indigenous students benefit even more,” the report said.
While that may be the case, Bemidji Area Schools has struggled to build a workforce that includes the same racial diversity as its students. The district has a goal to increase the number of Native American teachers by 5 percent by 2022.
Currently, 3.78 percent of the district’s licensed staff is Native American and 4.9 percent of its non-licensed staff is Native American. Although those numbers are lower than they would need to be to match the student body, the percentages did increase slightly compared to last year. The student body was 17 percent Native American for the 2018-19 year.
In the report, Bemidji Area Schools indicated that there is a shortage of Native American teaching staff in Minnesota. It added, however, that it is "continually trying to recruit and hire qualified staff." The report also said the district has reached out to the Office of Indian Education, tribal colleges, as well as other places to help diversify its pool of applicants.
“It’s a struggle across the whole entire state of Minnesota to find special ed staff and to find American Indian staff,” said Colleen Cardenuto, who is the director of curriculum and administrative services for Bemidji Area Schools.
The report to the state also included a progress report regarding the success of students in the district. Although the district did not reach all the goals it set, many of the numbers fluctuated only slightly.
For 2019, Native American reading proficiency increased 1.2 percent, bringing it up to 37.5 percent. Special education reading proficiency increased by 1 percent to 30 percent. However, the reading proficiency of students receiving free or reduced lunch decreased by 5.5 percent to 42.1 percent.
The report noted the district doubled the preschool program's education time from two and a half days a week to five days a week in the 2018-19 year.
The report also said that the four-year graduation rate of Bemidji Area Schools increased from 75.85 percent in 2018 to 76.34 percent in 2019.