Why Leaders of Color Make a Lasting Impact

New Leaders launched the National Aspiring Principals Fellowship in partnership with Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University. Learn more about why representation in leadership matters for students and our society.
two school children laughing and running behind a blackboard advertising Roland Martin television showtwo school children laughing and running behind a blackboard advertising Roland Martin television show
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Did you know that 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? Only 20% of public schools have leaders of color. And only eight percent of superintendents identify similarly. 

This is known as the representation gap in education leadership. And we aim to close it. By diversifying teacher and leadership pipelines, students of color can see themselves reflected in the leaders around them and then imagine bigger and bolder futures for themselves—like Dr. Cardona, the U.S. Secretary of Education who was an English-language learner in school. Or Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will soon sit on our nation’s highest court. Or Jamaal Bowman, a former principal and New Leaders alum, who now serves in Congress. 

New Leaders, in partnership with two prestigious historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University, launched the National Aspiring Principals Fellowship to train the next generation of equity-focused leaders who better reflect the communities they serve. The Fellowship is an online principal certification and master’s degree program. It prepares leaders to be powerful and positive forces for change. 

New Leaders CEO Jean Desravines recently joined Roland Martin on his Daily Digital Show to discuss the Fellowship and the importance of leaders of color at every level in our K-12 education system. Below is an edited transcript of their conversation.

Roland Martin (RM): Jean, here’s the thing that people don’t understand when we talk about principals, we’re also talking about money. The reality is when you look at the salaries of principals, and then you think about how Black people and others are being kept out of principal positions, that’s also impacting us economically.

Jean Desravines (JD): You’re absolutely right, Roland. On average, a principal makes $25,000 more than a teacher. You multiple that over a 20-year career, and you’re talking about over half a million dollars. So not only are we talking about the opportunities that are afforded to ensure we can better educate our kids, there is also a major economic component to this where you have an opportunity to meaningfully increase your earnings both annually and over the course of your career.

RM: I know people are like: Roland, you’re always bringing up the money. But that’s the key. You just said it: half a million dollars. That’s money Black people can be investing. This is the example of when we’re frozen out of positions, and how it impacts us, our lineage, our ability to build and create wealth.

JD: Yes, and when you think about K-12 education, which is often a road to a middle-income lifestyle, we tend to want to push people of color into teaching. And we absolutely need more teachers of color. But we don’t spend enough time talking about the importance of moving them into the principalship and system leadership which is often much more lucrative. So not only do leaders of color impact the life outcomes of children, they can also help to close the wealth gap that exists between Whites and Blacks. That is often overlooked when we talk about K-12 public education.

RM: The Fellowship references equity-focused school leaders. It’s one of the things you all create in the online principal certification program. Can you describe what you mean by equity-focused leaders? 

JD: So when you look at the research, one of the biggest indicators that dictate a child’s ability to be successful stems from whether or not the teacher and the principal have high expectations for that child and whether or not they can create a sense of belonging within the school community. 

When we talk about equity-focused leaders, we’re talking about leaders who have high expectations, who are willing to hold themselves and their teachers accountable, and who see the brilliance and potential of children, particularly our children of color, which is often not the case in public education.

RM: Can you explain the importance of having Black administrators in the school system and why that is just as important, if not more so, than having a Black teacher in the classroom? 

JD: Yes. Think about this for a second. We know in every industry that leadership matters, whether it is government, nonprofit, or the for-profit sector. Schools are no different. 

The principal is tasked with creating the culture, setting the vision, hiring the teachers, inspiring the teachers. If you want to have great teaching at scale, you need to have a great principal. There is not one example of a great school without a great principal. 

We spend a tremendous amount of time rightfully focused on teachers. We don’t spend nearly enough time focused on ensuring we have a great principal in every school. We will never have great teaching at scale without ensuring we have great equity-focused leaders of color serving our kids.  

RM: How does the Fellowship work in relation to Morehouse and Clark Atlanta? And, do you continue to support the fellows once they actually become principals?

JD: First, in terms of how the Fellowship works: We’re working with two preeminent historically Black colleges, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta. We have co-designed the curriculum. We’ve worked in tandem to identify the instructors. And we’re working in partnership to deliver the program. 

To your second question, what often happens to principals when they go into schools is that they are left alone to figure it out. At New Leaders, we provide ongoing principal coaching. So once you become a part of the Fellowship, you will get ongoing coaching and support to ensure you are set up for success.

"We will never have great teaching at scale without ensuring we have great equity-focused leaders of color serving our kids."
- Jean Desravines, CEO, New Leaders

RM: It sounds great. How has it gone thus far? 

JD: We launched the pilot in January, and the goal was just to have 20 students. Given the level of demand and excitement, we had to roughly double the amount for the pilot cohort, which includes 100% people of color who represent over 12 states. We will launch the full program in January 2023. 

So far, the response has been overwhelming. When we first made the announcement, we received interest from over 500 potential fellows within two days. Our end goal is to be the largest provider of equity-focused leaders of color in the country. We’re envisioning serving 500-750 leaders a year. 

RM: Congratulations. Keep making it happen. It’s certainly vital for our future.

A first-of-its-kind partnership with HBCUs, the Fellowship integrates the 20+ year research and evidence-base of New Leaders nationally renowned principal preparation program and the equity-centered frameworks of Morehouse and Clark Atlanta into a transformative and cohort-based online learning experience. This is principal preparation at its finest.

If you are thinking about becoming a principal, here are some helpful resources to learn more about the Fellowship and guide your leadership journey:

New Principal-Training Program Aims to Increase Number of Leaders of Color, EdWeek, 2022.

Want to Improve Student Achievement? Hire a Black Principal. The 19th, 2022.

Thinking About Becoming a Principal? New Leaders, 2022.

What It Means to See Myself in Leadership: Insights from a New Leaders and Clark Atlanta Alum, New Leaders, 2022.

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The Fellowship is principal preparation at its finest.

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