Providing Equitable Access to High-Quality Principal Preparation

Learn how one HBCU graduate is spearheading our new online principal preparation and master’s degree program via a first-of-its-kind partnership with Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University.
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4/14/22
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Denise Corbett Denis
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“My hope is that we achieve a liberated space in education. To be able to teach our students in ways that do not require us to talk about systems that undercut their life experiences,” reflects Denise Corbett Dennis, New Leaders National Senior Executive Director, National Aspiring Principals Fellowship. In partnership with Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, two Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), the Fellowship prepares the next generation of equity-focused school leaders who better reflect the students they serve. 

Through the Fellowship, we are expanding access to New Leaders nationally-renowned principal preparation program. Like New Leaders, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta have a long-standing commitment to leadership, service, and innovation, as well as a rich history of scholarship and research in educational excellence. We all share the belief that communities flourish when educational leaders build more equitable school systems. 

What drew me to New Leaders was our focus on education as the next civil rights movement. We are committed to ensuring all children have access to high-quality education.

Dennis joined New Leaders in 2009. Today she spearheads the Fellowship, overseeing its development as a fully online program and principal residency. A former district leader, she previously led our leadership development partnerships with Memphis-Shelby County Schools, Guilford County Schools, Texas Education Agency, and others. “What drew me to New Leaders was our focus on education as the next civil rights movement. We are committed to ensuring all children have access to high-quality education.”

Because of the inequities within the K-12 education system, far too many students do not receive the education they deserve. Dennis knows this firsthand, as well as the lasting value of HBCUs. Her passion for the Fellowship runs deep.


I am a child of HBCUs. My grandparents and parents grew up in the South during segregation. At the time HBCUs were the only schools that gave Black people the option to pursue higher education. Both of my parents taught at HBCUs. All three of my brothers attended HBCUs. And I graduated from an HBCU, Howard University.

When I look back on my early learning experiences at an HBCU lab school on the campus of North Carolina A&T State University, there’s this feeling of being affirmed as a child, of being held to high expectations, of being clear about the fact that young Black children can do or be whatever they want, that we’ll face barriers and that we’ll persevere to move beyond them. 

Transitioning from that learning environment to a public school setting was the opposite: discouraging. I could see the difference in expectations that were held for me as a student of color. I had guidance counselors who told me I should not apply to certain schools, that I wasn’t a certain type of student even though I was often the only student of color in Advanced Placement courses.

It’s hard to overstate the impact of HBCUs. Grounded in community and service, what HBCUs do really well is affirm who you are and acknowledge how your history has impacted and may continue to influence your life. They give you the skills to be successful and equip you with the self-efficacy needed to move through a world that may not believe in you based on the way you look or what you represent or the misperceptions others may have of you.

Together with Morehouse and Clark, we are building something unique and powerful—and accessible—for aspiring school leaders. Our Fellowship integrates the best of New Leaders evidence-based principal preparation program with HBCUs consistent focus on high academic standards, self-worth, self-advocacy, and servant leadership. We know many leaders of color have a different walk, and the Fellowship is designed to acknowledge that context and prepare leaders for success.

As an online and residency program, the Fellowship is both accessible and high-quality. It affirms and values people for who they are while setting them up for success as school leaders who ensure equity and excellence in every school for every student. 

Education has had such a huge impact on my life and my family. Ensuring aspiring school leaders have equitable access to high-quality principal preparation is what drives me. 


By diversifying our teacher and leader pipelines, students of color can see themselves reflected in the leadership around them. Following the landmark Brown v Board of Education Supreme Court decision that integrated public schools, Black administrators, principals, and teachers were left unwelcome and unjustly displaced, fired, or demoted en masse, depriving students of color access to the leaders, role models, and mentors in their communities. This is still true today.

Today, half of all students in our public schools identify as people of color, yet 40% of public schools do not have any teachers of color. And, only 20% have leaders of color. This is known as the representation gap, and the Fellowship is designed to close it, restoring the number of leaders of color in our public schools. 

Our Fellowship integrates the best of New Leaders evidence-based principal preparation program with HBCUs consistent focus on high academic standards, self-worth, self-advocacy, and servant leadership.

Just like HBCUs, research shows that leaders of color get results for students. They hold high expectations. They provide rigorous learning opportunities. They create learning environments that are affirming, free from bias and limitation. And they serve as examples of what is possible for all students, especially students of color. 

“The only way we actually effect change is to have a collective vision around what’s possible for humanity, engaging in critical self-reflection and acknowledging each other’s truths as we work to make that vision a reality,” adds Dennis. A quality K-12 education can, and should, be accessible to all children in the U.S. 

The Fellowship is our solution to building the capacity of diverse, equity-minded school leaders who are committed to the success of every child, especially underestimated and underserved students. “All of us working together to achieve this greater good gives me hope.”

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