SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – The Springfield Empowerment Zone is made up of 17 schools serving the city’s most complex and most vulnerable students, many of them from predominantly black neighborhoods.

Throughout the country, 79% of teachers are white, but more than half of students are black, Hispanic or Asian. The Empowerment Zone has a program to increase diversity among its teachers and administration, called Equitable Pathways to Leadership.

“We are a diverse population and our leaderships roles should reflect that,” said Tracy Little-Sasanecki, the president of the Springfield Education and Teacher’s Association.

“The real strength of the program is that you find a community you couldn’t find before, and people are getting access in a way they never had before, and get mentoring,” said Executive Principal of The High School of Commerce Paul Neal.

Over the last five years, the Empowerment Zone has increased diversification numbers within its teaching staff from 26% people of color up to 42%. Building leadership has increased from 20% up to 52% through the Equitable Pathways to Leadership program.

“The job is not done,” said Matt Brunell, the co-executive director of the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership. “There’s no mission accomplished here. But for us, this is a really good start to getting the types of schools that we know our kids are going to thrive even more so in.”

Members of the leadership team at the High School of Commerce who went through the program hope that they can be an inspiration to their students.

“I know a lot of times growing up, rapper, basketball player, those are things we looked to be because that’s where we thought we were at,” said High School of Commerce Principal Andrew Marshall. “We didn’t see black lawyers, we didn’t see black educators, black principals. We saw black ballers. Now, we’re seeing that’s not all we do.”

“Diversity, equity and inclusion is not just something we talk about, it is something that we practice,” said Asst. Principal Rohan Russell.