More than 60 percent of public-school students in California are Black or Latinx, but only 20 percent of school administrators reflect these demographics. To address this shortage and increase representation, the LMU School of Education’s Institute of School Leadership and Administration (ISLA) is now offering an Aspiring Principal of Color Fellowship in partnership with the nonprofit Diversity in Leadership Institute, which was founded by SOE doctoral alumnus Laura McGowan-Robinson Ed.D. ’16. The 14-month program for aspiring, rising, and current school leaders of color is aligned with California administrative credentialing requirements and will position participants to create transformative change in their school communities. We spoke with Manuel Ponce, Jr. M.A. ’09 Ed.D. ’13, director of ISLA, about the new fellowship.
What was the impetus for creating this fellowship?
In 2019, the California Charter Schools Association released a study across charter and traditional public schools looking at the demographics of schools and school leadership, and whether or how measures of a school’s success were affected by representation in leadership. Across the board, schools with diverse populations that had leaders of color had better metrics in terms of hiring and retaining teachers of color; higher levels of achievement among students from diverse backgrounds; and lower levels of suspension and expulsion. It showed us, without a doubt, that representation matters. In discussing the report with Laura McGowan-Robinson, we both agreed that it’s one thing for research to confirm what we already know, but it’s not going to do much good if we don’t do something about it. We then decided to partner to create this new fellowship.
What do school leaders need to be doing to pursue equitable outcomes for Black and Latinx students?
We can’t merely manage racism or the systems that perpetuate it. Schools must unapologetically promote anti-racist pedagogy and anti-racist curricula, understanding the structures in society that students of color are going to face and equipping them to be leaders who will eradicate these structures. Second, school leaders need to make deliberate decisions to bridge gaps when it comes to instruction that considers students’ family backgrounds and socioeconomic status. And third, school leaders must understand how to engage families in ways that allow them to be partners and leaders, as well as how to serve as a face for the community in promoting services that ensure students have what they need to be successful.
Why is it especially important to ensure that its leaders of color who are positioned to implement these types of changes?
There are amazing educators of all races who do great things in schools when it comes to anti-racism and critical pedagogy. But again, it’s about improving representation in the field. The CCSA study illuminated this point, as have others. It’s about students who walk into a school and see teachers and leaders they hold in high regard who look like them, who come from the same neighborhood, who are able to speak to their experiences. Seeing themselves reflected in leadership is a powerful motivator.
What sets this fellowship apart from other programs geared toward preparing leaders of color?
It’s not just about training these educators to become eligible to take on leadership positions. It’s also about creating a different way of thinking. Yes, we will teach the standards and the cultural competencies, but we’re going to go beyond these must-haves to support future leaders of color who go through our program. That includes funding mentors for them, who will support the fellows not only throughout the program but also for 10 months after they finish it and begin their leadership journeys. We also offer a low-cost option for participants to ease their financial burden as they aspire to climb higher in their careers.
What is it about ISLA that makes it and the SOE uniquely suited to offer this program?
For one thing, we have many alumni and other leaders who are making positive changes in the field, and will partner with us as mentors and adjunct faculty members. But more to the point, ISLA, the SOE, and LMU have always been focused on the idea of social justice education. Our philosophy at SOE is to support the whole child and to cultivate our candidates to become agents of change and equity leaders. The program curriculum is steeped and grounded in that research and work, and in our institutional values.