Oakland is expanding a pilot program aimed at recruiting and retaining specialized teachers of color in the city’s schools via help with housing.

The program called Teachers Rooted in Oakland offers subsidized housing or stipends to educators, some of whom are graduate students earning their teaching credential. Oakland schools are trying to attract teachers who specialize in subjects such as math, science and special education that are hard to staff.

TRiO is supporting 30 teachers and teacher-residents. Seven of the 30 will be living in new housing at 2618 Martin Luther King Jr. Way in Oakland. Eighteen of the 30 are new teacher-residents.

TRiO on Wednesday accepted $1 million from Bank of America to double its participating teachers and teacher-residents, according to city officials.

The new housing will allow the educators the opportunity to focus on their studies and/or their lesson plans in a more serene setting than might be possible otherwise.

“When we come together, we get great things done,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said.

Monthly stipends and financial advice

TRiO launched in Oakland last November. Educators can receive $500-a-month stipends for four years after finishing a year of residency, which runs concurrently with graduate school.

It may be the only program of its kind in the U.S, city officials said. Educators can also receive free financial advice as part of the program.

In Oakland, where nearly 61 percent of teachers of color are heavily rent-burdened, Mayor Libby Schaaf said the TRiO program is helping to bridge the gap between the low pay of teachers and the high cost of housing. (Photo by Keith Burbank/Bay City News)

Schaaf said the city needs to bridge the gap between the low pay of teachers and the high cost of housing.

“TRiO is doing just that,” she said.

A recent survey showed that 78 percent of Oakland educators who teach subjects that are hard to hire for, such as math and science, said they may have to leave teaching because of the high cost of housing.

Schaaf added that 61 percent of teachers of color in Oakland are heavily rent-burdened. That means they are paying more than 30 percent of their gross income in rent.

Yet students of color fair better in school when they are taught by teachers like them, according to Schaaf. Eighty-eight percent of students in the Oakland Unified School District identify as Black, Indigenous, or people of color, city officials said.

The announcement of the program expansion this past Wednesday was close to the heart of OUSD Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell.

She started as a teacher in Oakland and was able to live at home so she could pay to go to California State University East Bay and get her teacher credential, she said.

Coping with housing insecurity

Economic challenges really get in the way of getting talent in Oakland classrooms, Johnson-Trammell said. Housing insecurity is more prevalent among teachers of color than their white peers, Oakland officials said.

Yet, none of what was being done Wednesday substitutes for paying teachers well, Johnson-Trammell said. She asked everyone to do their part to improve the per-pupil allocation of money so it compares with private schools or states that have higher allocations.

Despite the challenges prospective teachers face, Gustavo Ontiveros said he is realizing his dream of becoming a high school math teacher.

Born and raised in Salinas, he has started as an apprentice teacher at Oakland Technical High School and is working toward a teaching credential through the University of California at Berkeley.

Students at Oakland Tech call him Mr. O.

He said if not for TRiO, he would be living in a shared bedroom having difficulties concentrating on his studies and lesson plans.