Sumair is an integration specialist with Duluth Public Schools, where he develops and coordinates programs aimed to decrease the achievement gap while helping students better understand their postsecondary options. Through the YouCAN program, he aims to foster innovative teaching methods by pairing student teachers with the best fitting mentor teachers through the creation of a match system within a community-wide education career pathway. Find out more about Sumair and his big plans for the North Star State.
How did you come up with your advocacy project for YouCAN?
A combination of four realities got me thinking about my big idea of an education career pathway that helps recruit, develop and support quality teachers from diverse backgrounds. First, two-thirds of Duluth Pubic School teachers are over 50 years of age, which inevitably leads to large numbers of vacancies in the field as veteran teachers retire. Second, nearly all students I worked with reported that their teachers in grades K-12 were all white. Third, the district’s continuous improvement plan prioritizes a staff makeup that is representative to the demographics of the community. Fourth, there is no conscientious effort to coordinate where student teachers are placed within the district. I see my project as a way to curb all four concerns that ultimately impact student learning. The district can recruit and retain quality talent by partnering with teacher education programs and thoughtfully placing student teachers within progressive classrooms.
What do you hope to get out of the program?
I saw this as an opportunity to spark conversations at different levels to enact change. A way to begin shifting practices in order to truly benefit all students and invest in strong teachers. I hope the program will reinforce existing skills and help me strengthen others related to organizing and policy reform. I was intrigued by the thought of meeting other likeminded education change agents who would strategize together along with state and national support. This combination of a social and professional network is something I am looking forward to.
How will this work benefit your community?
I feel students will be more successful when there are talented and diverse professionals guiding their learning. The community is beginning to have conversations regarding inclusion, race and creating systems that truly serve all. I hope to add to this conversation.
What (or who)inspired you to become an advocate and leader in your community?
When I moved to Duluth three years ago, it felt as if a page was turning. I saw a community that was well-intentioned and vibrant; one that wanted to create more inclusive spaces, but was hesitant to meaningfully engage various groups. I experienced curiosity from others— people asked questions about my story and were interested in how I ended up here. All these factors moved me to get involved in a different way, to be a different kind of leader. There’s a need for our systems to function in a more inclusive way and, in this community, there are not very many people of color working in the types of roles that can effect the change that is needed.
What is your connection to education?
I have been working in education as a teacher, academic coach or program coordinator for the past ten years. I have worked in and with diverse communities in Chicago, Boston and now Duluth, Minnesota. Upon moving here almost three years ago, I dove right into the edu-world. I started working at a close-knit charter school and currently serve on the school’s board. I transitioned to the local university and worked to support Native American youth interested in health sciences. Now I work in my local school district to coordinate and develop programs that increase achievement among our low-income students and students of color, as well as creating career and college pathway opportunities.