Encouraging Teachers of Color to Become Superintendents According to Dr. Shawn Joseph

by Lily White
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In today’s American public school system, teachers and administrators are overwhelmingly White. While the proportion of teachers and administrators of color is growing, it is not keeping up with the student population’s increased diversity.

Having administrators of color, specifically superintendents, in school systems across the country is one of the keys to promoting achievement among students and teachers of color. However, recruiting and retaining teachers of color to become superintendents can be challenging.

Shawn Joseph, an experienced school administrator, and consultant explores attracting and retaining teachers of color in administrative positions.


Low Numbers of Teachers of Color

One of the primary reasons there are few administrators of color in the United States is that there are relatively few teachers of color to recruit from. The percentage of White teachers is overwhelming, and while the percentage of teachers of color is growing each year, there remains a significant gap.

In order to recruit more principals and superintendents of color, the first step should be recruiting more teachers of color. Most school administrators start in the classroom, with a smaller percentage going straight from graduate school to an administrative post.


Support Programs

School districts that have successfully attracted and retained administrators of color often have “administrator pathway” programs or similar programs that help teachers and principals achieve their goals. Good candidates for administrative positions need to be identified, recruited, trained, and mentored.  One promising program that has effectively placed more than 37 superintendents is the AASA/Howard University Urban Superintendent program.  One of the program goals is to increase the number of superintendents of color and the number of women in superintendent positions in the country.  The program is facilitated one weekend a month for nine months.  During the 2020-2021 school year, the program was on-line.


Identifying Prospects

If we want to cultivate more superintendents of color, we need to see increased candidates of color in central office administrative positions and principal positions.  School districts must be intentional in creating leadership pathways for candidates of color—one exemplary program is Guilford County Public Schools’ Guilford Aspiring Leadership Academy (GALA) in North Carolina.  Dr. Sharon Contreras, superintendent of Guilford County Public Schools, has intentionally created a leadership pathway for men of color evaluating her principal data and determining that men of color needed more robust networks of support and intentional training to improving academic outcomes for students.  Through a rigorous interview process and a portfolio review, ten candidates from the assistant principal ranks were identified to be prepared for future principal vacancies.  The program is in its initial year, but the goal is to ensure that more qualified candidates are ready to assume principal positions within the district.  This type of intentional program can serve as a model for the nation targeting high-quality candidates for future vacancies.


Mentoring and Training

Would-be superintendents often benefit from mentoring programs where they make contact with others in the position. An experienced superintendent of color can help a candidate decide whether the job is for him/her. Mentors are also needed in the early months and years of the superintendent’s tenure when they may have many questions about managing their school system.  While it is advantageous for candidates of color to identify other superintendents of color to support them, the reality is that there are too few superintendents of color to address the demand for mentorship needed.  As a result, aspiring superintendents should use their networks to seek guidance from superintendents willing to support them regardless of their race or gender.  Seeking support from other central office leaders, such as deputy superintendents or associate superintendents, can increase the likelihood of getting the mentoring support needed for candidates to understand what is involved with ascending the leadership ladder in your school district.  It is easiest to move into a central office within a district where you currently work, particularly if you have the principal experience. In many cases, research suggests that you will need to be willing to relocate to secure higher responsibility levels to be prepared for a superintendent position.  A candidate cannot be afraid to move to various school districts to increase your chances of obtaining a position that prepares him/her for the superintendent position’s complexity.


Reservations About Becoming a Superintendent

Superintendents of color often worry about how they will be accepted as authority figures. It is a fact that superintendents of color, who became the “first” within their districts to become superintendents, experience great scrutiny as they redefine leadership realities within their prospective communities.  Superintendents of color worry about their level of support from the community. They are also concerned that they may not be able to do their jobs without focusing on race. They often carry the hopes and dreams of minoritized communities and are expected to get results quickly, dealing with expectations that are sometimes unreasonable.


Reasons Why Administrators Leave the Profession

Administrative positions are high-stress jobs with a great deal of complexity. Superintendents must manage teachers and principals and take care of the needs of students in the district. Superintendents are often answerable directly to city or town officials, governors, and the state Department of Education. The job’s myriad pressures mean that many talented professionals leave the workforce to enter other work lines, including consultancy and private industry.

The additional pressures on minoritized administrators can be difficult to manage as well. Dr. Shawn Joseph reports that administrators often feel that they are held to a higher standard than the general population. They also can be confronted with racism and bias in the workplace.

Superintendents of color need to develop a multicultural network of community leaders to accurately map a community’s power-structure and begin identifying structures to gain access to decision-makers at the local, state, and national level.


By Jaime Cartwright

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