When it comes to diversity, the school leader ranks hardly reflect the makeup of students in our schools. According to federal data, nearly 80% of our country’s 90,000 principals are white. Only 11% are Black and 9% are Latino. Meanwhile, 54% of students in public schools nationwide are of color.
Why do these statistics matter? Students and teachers need to see themselves and their experiences in the people who lead their schools. While research shows the benefits of diversity, such as Black principals being better able to recruit and retain Black teachers and Black teachers being better able to identify giftedness in Black students (and supporting them to succeed academically), the principal pipeline continues to provide too few advancement opportunities to people of color. It also holds more advantages for men than women. While a higher percentage of women than men are elementary school principals, a higher percentage of men are middle and high school principals.
Such disparities in representation stem from a range of factors, including inequitable access to educational opportunities and implicit and explicit bias. To understand these factors and the challenges that school leaders of color face, I invite you to read Crystal Thorpe’s compelling cover story, “Leading While Black: A Story of Resilience,” in this issue of Principal Leadership.
As the principal of Fishers Junior High School in Fishers, IN, Thorpe recounts her ascent as a school leader and the prejudice she has faced as a Black woman. Her story is honest, inspiring, and especially eye-opening for those of us who have not walked in her shoes. In her many years as a principal, she has cultivated relationships while confronting stereotypes and modeled what real leadership looks like. She credits “an amazing network of mentors and colleagues of all races” for supporting her.
Because not every school leader has such an incredible support system, NASSP launched a series of Leadership Networks at the start of the year. These collaborative spaces provide a place for school leaders to share similar lived experiences, passions, and interests—and to connect with each other on a personal and professional level. In reading Thorpe’s story, I am reminded of the importance of building these networks and of ensuring that we support one another as school leaders. And we must cultivate the next generation of principals and assistant principals who are currently classroom teachers in our schools.
“I challenge my white colleagues to give leaders of color a chance,” writes Thorpe, who to this day is thankful for the superintendent who gave her the chance to become a principal in a mostly white school district.
I believe that we as a profession can rise to the challenge of seeking out talent wherever it lies. Our students and schools deserve leaders like Thorpe—and we must nurture them.
For more on NASSP Leadership Networks, visit nassp.org/leadership-networks.
Ronn K. Nozoe