WP Receives $1.6M Grant from U.S. Department of Education to Launch Project Focused on Making New Jersey’s Teacher Workforce More Diverse

Only 12 institutions nationwide awarded funding

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded $1.6 million to William Paterson University’s College of Education to launch a project that strives both to diversify New Jersey’s teaching workforce and place well-prepared diverse teachers in the schools of high-needs communities. The University is one of 12 nationwide to be awarded funding from the Department of Education’s Augustus F. Hawkins Grant program, which points to a strong, diverse teaching base as fundamental to closing student achievement gaps across the country.

Through its grant-funded project, William Paterson’s College of Education will recruit students from underrepresented populations as teacher candidates. Those students will be provided intensive and individualized academic support, as well as flexible and integrated pathways to professional certification and licensure, clinical experiences coupled with paid employment through substitute teaching or paraprofessional roles, and guidance from in-district mentors-in-residence—thanks to partnerships with five high-needs school districts in the area: Bloomfield, Clifton, Haledon, Passaic, and Paterson.

Working closely with these school districts will help the University best leverage support for future teachers and assist in the creation and induction of new and existing teachers, according to Amy Ginsberg, dean of William Paterson University’s College of Education. 

“We are grateful to the U.S. Department of Education for recognizing William Paterson University as an institution that is committed to serving the diverse communities in our region by preparing members of these communities to become fantastic teachers—not only elevating themselves, but also serving as models for the teachers of tomorrow,” Ginsberg says. “'Grow your own’ initiatives like this are vital to building and maintaining economically and culturally strong neighborhoods where children flourish.”

She notes that while approximately 60 percent of children in New Jersey’s public schools are racially diverse, only 17 percent of teachers in the state can say the same. “William Paterson University is in a strong position to change this narrative,” Ginsberg continues.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Hawkins grant targets higher education institutions designated as a Historically Black College or University (HBCU), Minority Serving Institution (MSI), or Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). William Paterson University is federally recognized as both an MSI and HSI.

The work that will commence on campus thanks to the grant builds on an existing summer program at William Paterson geared to diverse high school students interested in teaching, says David Fuentes, interim associate dean for the University’s College of Education. Through the Aspiring Educators program, high school juniors and seniors from various districts in Passaic County spend their mornings on campus in a for-credit college course that focuses on issues of diversity and equity in education; in the afternoons, they work as paid teaching assistants in the University’s Summer Youth Program, providing them both a stipend and teaching experience.

“The Hawkins award enables us to systematically investigate the barriers to becoming a teacher through an exploration of the lived experiences of BILPOC (Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and People of Color) project participants,” says Fuentes. The co-founder and director of Aspiring Educators, Fuentes will also serve as the Hawkins grant project director.

“This project devotes its full attention to implementing the ‘S’ in HSI and MSI,” he notes, in underscoring its "servingness" and how William Paterson University is both a Minority Serving and Hispanic Serving Institution. “We look forward to the unique opportunities and possibilities this grant provides us to positively impact teacher shortages and create a more diverse teacher workforce.”