A new public education fellowship for people of color will spotlight issues of equity and connect stakeholders of diverse backgrounds in the quest to improve student achievement across Tennessee.

Sixteen people in the first class of Mosaic Fellows were named this week by the Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition in conjunction with Conexión Américas, a nonprofit Latino advocacy group.

The inaugural fellows include both educators and advocates — an expansion from several existing statewide fellowships exclusively for teachers, but the first aimed specifically at people of color.

Organizers say the newest leadership development program is needed to better reflect the communities served by public schools, as well as to convene leaders with experience and insights necessary for long-term improvements for all students.

“Tennessee has seen remarkable transformation in our education landscape over the last decade, yet we still have large groups of students who are being left behind,” said Gini Pupo-Walker, director of education policy and programs at Conexión Américas. “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that a diverse group of leaders are helping shape and inform solutions to our complex educational challenges.”

In recent years, the state has grappled with a shortage of teachers of color. About 14 percent of new teachers in Tennessee training programs identify as non-white, compared to 36 percent of the state’s student population. More than 100 school districts did not have a single Hispanic teacher and 27 did not have a single African-American teacher, according to state data from 2014.


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The year-long Mosaic Fellowship will include four three-day seminars that focus on current and historic issues in Tennessee education, leadership and diversity.

The 2017-18 fellows are:

West Tennessee
Mendell Grinter, executive director, Campaign for School Equity
Keji Kujjo, teacher, Kate Bond Middle School
Natalie McKinney, executive director, Whole Child Strategies, Inc.
Cardell Orrin, Memphis director, Stand for Children
Marcos Villa, community engagement coordinator, Latino Memphis
Bobby White, founder and CEO, Frayser Community Schools

Middle Tennessee
Diarese George, recruiting director, Nashville Teacher Residency
Martel Graham, school director, Knowledge Academies High School
Alicia Hunker, teacher, Valor Collegiate Academy
Vanessa Lazón, director of community inclusion, Mayor Megan Barry’s office of new Americans
Jon Robertson, founding high school director, STEM Prep High School
Peter Tang, Tennessee educator fellowship coordinator, SCORE

East Tennessee
Claudia Caballero, executive director of Centro Hispano de East Tennessee
Cassandra “KC” Curberson-Alvarado, career success coordinator, Hamblen County Schools
Quineka Moten, director of education and youth services, Knoxville Area Urban League
Gladys Pineda-Loher, director of international community outreach, Chattanooga State Community College

You can read more about each fellow here.