How 2 HBCUs are going online to increase diversity of K-12 leadership

Aspiring Principals Fellowship is an online certification and master's program tailored to teachers of color.

Though the majority of students in K-12 schools are now of color, only about a fifth of their principals identify similarly—and just 2% are Black men. A new higher ed initiative, driven by two leading HBCUs, will work to move more teachers of color through the principal pipeline.

The ethnic and racial diversity of principals has not grown much in years despite the benefits their leadership can bring to all students, says Jean Desravines, CEO of New Leaders, which supports the development of equity-minded school leaders. “Greater representation leads to higher attendance, lower suspensions and greater achievement gains,” Desravines says. “Research also shows that leaders of color are able to retain teachers of color.”

Only 11% of principals are Black and just 9% are Hispanic. And about 40% of schools lack a single teacher of color. “We have an enormous amount of students who are not being given the opportunity to be taught or led by a teacher or a principal of color,” Desravines says. “That should not be the case in 2022.”

To convince more teachers of color to enter the principal pipeline, New Leaders has launched the Aspiring Principals Fellowship, an online certification and master’s program, with Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University. K-12 administrators can support the effort by identifying teacher leaders, assistant principals and other educators who have the potential to move into school leadership. The partnership will offer scholarships but will also rely on school districts to pay the remaining tuition costs for teachers who join the fellowship. “Our target audience focuses on people who’ve made the commitment to go into education, who want to stay in education and who understand the power of driving outcomes for kids,” Desravines says.

Leaders at Morehouse College felt a moral imperative to join the Fellowship, says Nina Gilbert, an assistant professor and director of the school’s Center for Excellence in Education. Students of color need access to leaders and educators who share their cultural backgrounds and lived experiences, Gilbert says. Participants will have a wealth of new opportunities to connect in cohorts with other educators who share a commitment to equity and academic advancement for students of color. Developers of the program worked to create an inclusive and supportive culture to recruit and retain teachers of color who often find themselves isolated into silos at their schools without colleagues to share problems and successes.

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Participants will be guided in developing a growth mindset that views all children as capable learners who deserve access to a curriculum that is rigorous and culturally responsive. When it comes to equity, she pointed out that students in under-resourced schools are struggling to read on grade level while learners in more affluent districts are using digital reality and artificial intelligence. “It’s not enough for your students to just reach grade-level achievement, they need to be exposed to next-century skills and approaches,” Gilbert says. “It starts with the principal—the principal sets the tone and the climate for a school, and an equity-minded principal is more likely to hire equity-minded teachers.”

Educators enrolling in the Fellowship will become part of a nationwide network of 6,000 skilled leaders in more than 134 school districts who have completed New Leaders training. The Fellowship will also offer continuing guidance to its students through a network of mentors and graduates. “They’ll be part of a national community of ongoing support,” Desravines says. “The profession can be lonely when you’re a school leader.”

Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick
Matt Zalaznick is a life-long journalist. Prior to writing for District Administration he worked in daily news all over the country, from the NYC suburbs to the Rocky Mountains, Silicon Valley and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He's also in a band.

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