• On Wednesday, March 25, State Superintendent of Education Dr. Karen Salmon announced that all Maryland public schools will remain closed through Friday, April 24.
    Picking up meals, digital devices and instructional materials for distance learning is permitted under Gov. Hogan's stay-at-home order (Sect IIb(iv)).

    El miércoles, 25 de marzo, la superintendente de educación del estado, la Dra. Karen Salmon, anunció que todas las escuelas públicas en el estado de Maryland estarán cerradas hasta el viernes, 24 de abril.
    Recoger las comidas, los dispositivos digitales y los materiales de instrucción a distancia están permitidos bajo la orden de quedarse en casa que decretó el gobernador Hogan (Sect IIb(iv)).
Wise HS

Inside PGCPS

Conversations on Culture: Evolving to Serve a Growing Hispanic Student Community

Conversations on Culture: Evolving to Serve a Growing Hispanic Student Community

  • Team PGCPS |
  • September 20, 2018


Tomas Rivera-Figueroa lights up when describing his ten-year-old twins, students at Phyllis E. Williams Spanish Immersion School.

“They come home and share the great things going on in school. I always take that to heart, because at the end of the day, everything we do is for our students,” he said. “The reason students have positive experiences is because they have great teachers in front of them. Sometimes we forget that – especially in administration.”

As the school system’s Diversity Recruitment Executive Coordinator, Tomas Rivera-Figueroa oversees the recruitment and hiring of Latino educators to serve our fast-growing Hispanic population – work that comes full circle with his own children’s success.Hispanics compose 17 percent of Prince George’s County residents, yet make up 32 percent of PGCPS students, representing the school system’s fastest-growing demographic. With average growth of 1.5 percent annually, PGCPS could be a majority Latino school system within a decade if current trends hold.

This demographic shift, paired with research that shows teachers of color help close achievement gaps for minority students, underscores the importance of hiring Hispanic educators, currently just 4.4 percent of PGCPS staff. Last year, diversity recruitment efforts consisted of more than 30,000 miles of travel in nine states at about 50 recruiting events. Nearly 90 new Latino teachers joined PGCPS this year – the most in four years.  

“My first job is always to find highly-qualified teachers who can work with all students,” said Rivera-Figueroa, a former teacher and administrator. “It’s icing on the cake when candidates are bilingual or diverse. We also want to increase Latino principals and assistant principals. We’ve identified teachers eligible for administrative positions and are working to integrate them into our leadership pipeline.”

But there are challenges. Nationwide, the gap between the percentage of Latino teachers and students is larger than any other racial or ethnic group. PGCPS recruits locally, nationally and even internationally to meet the need.

Opportunities for new teachers include New Teacher Academy, Professional Educator Induction Program (PEIP), ongoing professional development courses and tuition reimbursement. For financial incentive, as the school system doesn’t cap teacher salaries and compensates for up to 20 years of experience, Rivera-Figueroa is able to recruit highly-qualified teachers. More than half of  Latinos hired are experienced educators, and with a 83 percent retention rate (higher than other demographics) they not only join, but stay.

The school system is also pursuing new approaches to cultivate teachers including the recent launch of a high school Teacher Academy in partnership with Prince George’s Community College – a homegrown approach to preparing our own students to embark on careers in education.

Rivera-Figueroa hopes the combination of these opportunities will enhance staff diversity initiatives over the long term.

“We are making strides and should give ourselves credit for our successes,” he said.