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Today, fewer than 1 in 5 of the public schools teachers is a minority. “It is an ongoing challenge to try and make our teacher population reflect our student population,” said Steve Saunders, spokesman for the Adams County, Colorado, school district outside Denver that has seen a large shift toward having Hispanic students.

The New America Foundation, in a recent report, suggested teacher prep programs have at least one class for teachers on working with non-native English speakers and that education programs embrace bilingualism.

Andrea Giunta, a senior policy analyst at the National Education Association who focuses on teacher recruiting, retention and diversity, said you can’t assume that teachers are a good match just because of their background.

“Just because you speak Spanish doesn’t mean you speak the same Spanish your students are speaking and communicating with,” she said.

This comes as the NEA, the nation’s largest union, just elected an all-minority leadership team in July. The new president, Lily Eskelsen Garcia, is Latina, and the vice president and secretary-treasurer, Rebecca S. Pringle and Princess Moss, are black.

In Kennett Square, superintendent Tomasetti said Hispanic students in his district are performing at levels, on average, higher than their peers statewide. One recent graduate, Christian Cordova-Pedroza, is attending Harvard University this fall. Cordova-Pedroza is one of five children of a mushroom farmer from Mexico.

Cordova-Pedroza credited the motivation instilled by his parents combined with access to a variety of educational opportunities for his success, including an after-school program that included tutoring and help with college applications. He also was active in a Latino leadership club that helps provides translation services in the community and participated in summer programs at Penn State and Princeton.

“Certainly, I had to work hard to get there, but I feel like at every opportunity that I had a chance of participating in or doing that, I was always like, ‘Yes, I want to do that,’” he said.

Nearby, at El Nayarit Mexico Grocery Store, owner Jaime Sandoval, a native of Mexico with six kids, said he’s been pleased with the education his children have received. His 9-year-old daughter, he said, wants to be a teacher.

“She loves to read and all that stuff,” Sandoval said. “She always has good grades on English and she loves it much.”

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Online:

Kennett Consolidated School District: http://www.kcsd.org

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Kimberly Hefling covers education and Jesse J. Holland covers race, ethnicity and demographics for The Associated Press. Holland reported from Washington.