HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. (CW44 News at 10) – Local educators are being recognized for their efforts in academic research on structural racism. Experts at USF say with some of today’s most urgent cultural and educational needs comes a tunnel vision focus on the details of how to get that done.

“I was part of the teacher cadet program from tenth grade and looking back it was one of the best decisions of my life,” said Dr. Ruthmae Sears, Associate Professor for Mathematics Education. She has shared an interest in addressing racial inequities since she was a teen. As a member of USF’s Inclusive and Equitable Pedagogy Initiative, she recently became the campus’ first black faculty member to receive one of the world’s most prestigious honors for a recent research study with the The American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“A lot of people are hurting and we have to have some honest conversations,” said Dr. Sears. St. Petersburg city council members are moving forward with that study which aims to identify and address structural racism in the community. Structural racism in education the criminal-legal system and economic development in St. Petersburg will be evaluated.

“But the question is, are we will to engage in making those changes to protect the interest of the greater good,” said Dr. Sears. “What inspired me was the city wanting to move forward. It’s not where you’re doing it to them but where you’re doing it with them.”

With a passionate focus on education.

“We have a teacher shortage. So what’s important to me is really for us to collectively think about creative ways to recruit teachers early on. Particularly in high needs environments,” she said. “We have to really think about what is the cultural climate we’re putting these teachers in to but also, how as a collective we can create environments where, not only the students succeed teachers succeed.”

She says having community partners at the same table is critical.

“What are things that are still hurting? How do we empower individuals and invest in them to really give them a chance to look forward.

Dr. Sears tells CW44 News her Christmas list wish would be to eventually fund a teaching to help aid the teacher shortage across the country.