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Staff Spotlight: Ramon De Jesus

People Power
Transforming CPS Into a More Diverse and Inclusive Workplace

“We are responsible for the policies and institutions that we create, and people have the power to change them.”

CPS Program Manager for Diversity Development Ramon De Jesus is passionate about changing the institution of public education. Building on his work in the college access and persistence field, and his most recent experience leading senior level talent searches for the nonprofit sector at Commongood Careers, De Jesus has devoted his career to transforming institutions by elevating the visibility of people of color in leadership roles.

At Commongood, De Jesus developed expertise in equitable recruiting, screening, and interviewing processes to guard against the impact of unconscious bias. It was rewarding to bring an inclusive perspective to an array of nonprofit clients, yet he struggled with the limited timeframes available within a typical contract period. Lasting change requires a commitment of time and energy, and De Jesus craved the opportunity to do more.

When CPS launched its new 3D: Dynamic Diversity Development initiative in the summer of 2017 and created the position of Program Manager for Diversity Development, De Jesus knew he had found the right match. Beyond aligning with his professional experience, De Jesus saw the opportunity as a chance to give back to all of the educators who supported him throughout his formative years.

Despite facing the challenges of poverty as a child, he shared “I can remember my community making sure I had what I needed--and even some of the things I just wanted.” He continues:
I was raised by a single mother on public assistance, in the Bronx, at the tail end of the crack epidemic. I saw a number of peers who didn’t make it--who ended up victimized by the criminal justice system. I’ve seen the consequences for kids of color with IEP’s who don’t get what they need -- those types of injustices can be life-altering.
But the community that wrapped around De Jesus helped him to turn these obstacles into a foundation of strength that he draws on today. Crucial to his growth were the educators who invested in him as a student. He shares:
I had teachers who communicated every day that they had my back -- they would be there for me. In moving into public education I can pay back the guidance counselor who stayed at school with me until 7PM working on the application for a scholarship that got me into Brandeis through the Posse Foundation. She’d look at a draft and say, ‘sure, if you think that’s what you want to say, you can stop there. I think you can do better, but it’s up to you.’ She challenged me to push myself. Those are the lengths that my teachers and my community would go to, to help me succeed.
In his role with CPS, De Jesus is devoted to strengthening the cultural proficiency of the CPS workforce while increasing the percentage of teachers of color within our schools.The role is almost a calling. As he explains:
My most influential teachers were men and women of color and woke white teachers. My high school English teacher was this “Italian dude from Jersey.” That teacher drove me to my prom, taught me how to tie a tie, and brought me to paint his nursery for his daughters. He made sure I knew that he saw me. If those diverse, caring, culturally-competent educators could help me recognize my potential and get where I am today, then I want every child to have that.
Since joining CPS in October 2017, De Jesus has visited every school and met with staff, Principals and CEA leaders throughout the district to gain insight into our current overall standing with regard to diverse staff recruitment and retention needs, taken a leadership role as co-chair of the CEA Diversity Committee, attended the first Black Male Educators of Color convening in Philadelphia, and established new and promising connections with a host of educational and community partners in the interest of developing a richer pipeline for attracting staff of color to Cambridge. He is also working to create a teacher residency program that will support existing paraprofessionals who have interest in becoming teachers within the district.

In order to infuse the CPS educator workforce with the highest-quality, most diverse staff possible, De Jesus is focusing on looking both within and beyond New England for best practices in the recruitment and retention space. In the Spring, his recruitment calendar will see him visiting colleges and universities in Atlanta, D.C., and throughout New England. 

Simultaneously, De Jesus works to treat cultural proficiency as an essential qualification for working in CPS. In his view, cultural proficiency is not a natural talent, and it can’t be attained by attending one training. When the education of children is at stake, he says, it is vital that all educators and staff members engage in ongoing work to examine the role of power and privilege in each of our lives.

To illustrate this, De Jesus compares cultural proficiency to going to the gym. He says, “You don’t get to your optimum cardiovascular fitness and then say, ‘I’m done.’ You keep working at it. In the same way, if you’re not engaging with different voices and assessing your practice, soon you will be back at square one.”

Building proficiency must also take place at the level of institutions. To continue his metaphor, building a culture of diversity and inclusion is like running a marathon that has no finish line. As he explains, “The work is ongoing and that’s what makes it hard.”

He continues, “We’ve been trained to see our goals as a singular event. Graduating from high school, getting a certain job: it’s done and then we move on. But in this work, the target keeps moving. If we go from 24% teachers of color to 30%, do we stop? Or, do we push for 32%?”

For De Jesus, there is no field where the work of supporting diversity and inclusion is more urgently needed than in the field of public education. Just as his own success in high school and at Brandeis University were made possible by skilled and dedicated educators, De Jesus believes that transforming education holds a key to transforming our society.

The impact of education is well known, he argues; but our culture has too often chosen to look the other way. For example, he says, “Look at the incredibly low reading level of people in prison. When you look at those statistics, you see risk factors that we created. We see what’s coming -- and all it takes is a question of will.”

As diversity and inclusion initiatives blossom within CPS, De Jesus joins a community that is unifying around a shared commitment to equity, access, and social change. De Jesus believes that transformation is possible. He says, “We can combine our will and our courage to create change. We can make it happen.”

De Jesus encourages all interested current and potential CPS staff members and candidates to contact him to discuss their interests at rdejesus@cpsd.us (617.349.6456) and welcomes employee candidate referrals.
Ramon

Ramon De Jesus on Diversity Development
Go where diverse candidates are.
“New England Education Schools are not graduating high percentages of teachers of color. We need to be building relationships with the schools with socioeconomically and ethnically diverse student bodies, so they will send us their top candidates who are willing to relocate.”

Students of color are potential teachers of color
. “How do we elevate teaching and communicate to our students that this is an option for you -- a career path that has value?” Beware of unconscious bias. “If a hiring manager says, ‘that person wasn’t polished,’ I’m going to push back, because actually, maybe you couldn’t deal with that person’s cultural performance.”

View cultural competency as a skill that can be grown. “As you narrow the funnel of applicants you are considering, you want to see increasing nuance in their understanding. If you see a strong candidate who has a cultural proficiency gap, then think about the onboarding plan and early professional development in cultural proficiency to fill that gap.”

Pay attention to data. “It’s not only about attaining a certain percentage of people of color -- it’s we also need to look at the roles people are in. For instance, we see men of color disproportionately represented in disciplinary roles. In terms of gender, teaching has traditionally been viewed as women’s work, yet a disproportionate percentage of Superintendents are men.”

Minimize turnover by creating a culture of inclusion. “Part of the work involves making this environment a good place for you to bring your authentic self. Particularly as a person of color--how do you bring your authentic self to this work? How do you as a leader welcome your team to do this?”

Expect everyone to do their own work. “It’s important that we don’t ask people of color to perform the emotional labor of educating white allies. We need to create safe space where staff and students can be vulnerable, and at the same time know that there are times when allies need their own space to do their work.”

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