What Will It Take to Create New Career Pathways for Latinx Educational Leaders?
Ces’Ari Del Muro (Phoenix '10), a co-founder of Latinx Education Coach, discusses what’s needed to eliminate the barriers that Latinx educators face when pursuing the advanced degree programs necessary to become educational leaders.
When Ces’Ari Del Muro (Phoenix '10) was in her second year of the Teach For America corps, she met someone who made all of the difference in her trajectory as an education leader.
“Her name was Dr. Kim. And Dr. Kim had an immense impact on me because, for the first time, I saw a woman of color in leadership who had a doctorate,” Del Muro said. “That meant a lot. I didn't know that that was a possibility.”
A decade later and with an Ed.D in education leadership under her belt, Del Muro now leads Latinx Education Coach with her husband, Jorge. They founded the business with the purpose of supporting Latinx and first-generation students of color from school to career through accessible academic services, professional coaching, and workshops.
The Del Muros do this work because they know, firsthand, the steep obstacles that many educators who are Black, indigenous, or people of color face when pursuing advanced degrees that are generally a job requirement for education leadership roles like principal and superintendent. Fewer than 9 percent of K-12 principals in 2020-21 identified as Latinx, according to a national survey of teachers and principals. Just under 3 percent of superintendents identify as Latinx, according to a 2021–22 national survey of superintendents.
This disparity in representation is an issue that leaders in the Teach For America network are committed to addressing through initiatives including Teach For America's $5,000 scholarship for a limited number of BIPOC alumni who are accepted as fellows in the New Leaders National Aspiring Principals Fellowship, and the Aspiring Latinx Leadership Institute, a five-month cohort experience for aspiring Latinx school leaders. The Collective also supports the career growth of Teach For America’s BIPOC alumni through leadership development, community and network building, and an annual School Leaders of Color conference.
To learn more about the barriers Latinx educators and other people of color face when pursuing careers in education leadership, TFA’s One Day spoke with Del Muro about how she and other leaders in the field of education are trying to dismantle them through mentorship and advocacy.
“My peers and I struggled with imposter syndrome because there were so few people of color in the doctoral program.”
To start, could you tell our readers about your own journey of earning an Ed.D in educational leadership?
I wanted to pursue my doctorate at UCLA. It's usually tied for the top spot in educational programs. I'm from Los Angeles and so it meant a lot to go to UCLA. I did everything that I possibly could to get prepared for the rigor that I was going to experience in the program. So when I was there, I didn’t face challenges because of a lack of preparation. My peers and I struggled with imposter syndrome because there were so few people of color in the doctoral program.
And there were other hurdles that I experienced that others didn't. Some people could book a hotel room to go and write for three days, but I didn't have that excess income to be able to do that. I was studying at a Starbucks and when it hit 11 or 12 at night, I had to leave. It was the cost of gas to get to UCLA all the way from where I live. The cost of just the food, having to purchase food while on campus, or even just packing food if I was trying to save money when other people could just easily grab something. And when it came to editing my dissertation, I couldn't afford a dissertation editor where other people easily could. All those little things that you don't think about became challenging.
What are some other barriers that prevent more Latinx educators and other educators of color from being able to pursue higher degrees?
The lack of scholarships available to people pursuing doctorates in education. I had applied personally to many scholarships, and priority funding is not toward doctoral degrees in education. Most generalized scholarships for doctorates prioritize STEM. So you're pretty much paying out of pocket, and that is a huge barrier because not everybody's able to take on a $76,000-plus degree.
The inflexibility of the program when it comes to managing work is another big challenge. Not everybody can stop working to pursue a Ph.D. Programs try their best to allow people to work, but sometimes they're very stringent about when you need to pass certain things. If your job is not allowing you to be able to do all that, you can fall severely behind in your program or you have to leave.
I think working while going to school also feeds a misconception about finances that hurts students. Schools feel, “Oh, well, we're letting them work as they pursue this, they have money to pay for this degree.” We're talking about educators who are already underpaid taking out this really expensive loan to pay for a doctorate. So I think that the idea that they could afford it is definitely not true for everyone, especially people of color, who might already have undergrad and master's debt and now would have to take on even more debt.
Latinx Education Coach offers an Overcoming Imposter Syndrome workshop designed to help leaders of color own their presence in spaces that lack diversity. Why did you and your husband begin offering this workshop and what did you hope to achieve through it?
We began this workshop because we both dealt with imposter syndrome and our peers dealt with imposter syndrome. I also felt like not enough people really understand the research behind it and where the imposter syndrome cycle comes from. So the workshops are really meant to inform, to teach people that there's actually a cycle that is grounded in research.
Also, you wouldn't feel like an imposter if the space was inclusive or representative. So there's really an issue of equity and that needs to be addressed as well. You can't teach an imposter syndrome workshop without also grounding it in the truth that not all spaces are equal or representative or inclusive. We hope to educate people on what imposter syndrome is, how to deal with it, how to overcome it, and also provide a safe space to share their experiences and allow them to let go of a lot of the negativity that they may carry. We want to change that into positive self-talk because at the end of the day, what you tell yourself and what you choose to believe really matter. And we've seen a lot of success with this workshop.
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Could you share some of those success stories about the impact your workshops are having in helping aspiring Latinx educational leaders and other leaders of color?
I've had really high-level deans of very prestigious higher education institutions who are people of color, who are still struggling with imposter syndrome, come to the workshop and feel so much relief. I think it's good for those people to attend with younger people and have a mixed group because the younger people need to be able to hear stories of more experienced leaders and learn from them and see that they're not the only ones struggling with it.
I also feel like it's really important for me to be honest with my anecdotes and share my story, as well as my husband's story. Because it's different when you have a facilitator who's also experienced something similar and can be honest about their journey. I really do feel like our younger participants who come in—even if they haven't necessarily felt imposter syndrome yet—can acquire the skill set so when they start noticing those feelings creep in or those thought patterns start, they can address it. They’ll have the tools that they need to be able to do something about it.
What do you think are other solutions that could bring more Latinx educators into principalship, superintendency, and other educational leadership roles?
I think mentorship programs are really key. Current leaders of color could mentor those who are coming through to help build their network since many are coming in with doubt about their work. That's a big one. I think the second thing is that I would call on lawmakers or whoever is in charge of financial aid to offer more loan forgiveness. Across the board, we're hurting for teachers. We're hurting for leaders. There's a shortage all the way around, so having better ways to forgive loans is a really big one. And hopefully creating scholarships, because we need scholarships for doctoral programs in education.
“Students need to see—even if they're not of the same culture—people of color in positions of power to normalize that.”
Could you speak a bit about why it is important to have more Latinx professionals in educational leadership positions like principalship or superintendency?
Because there's a really big disparity in who is a leader and who is not. The numbers are just not representative of how many Latinx teachers there actually are that are available to fill these positions. So we need more people to lead in these roles because they are representing communities. Students need to see—even if they're not of the same culture—people of color in positions of power to normalize that. Because when you only see one kind of person as an educational leader, it really kills everything that education stands for, which is being inclusive and diverse.
Finally, do you have any words of advice or encouragement you would like to share with Latinx educators aspiring to become educational leaders in the future?
Again, I think it's important for them to identify mentors, even mentors who potentially don't look like them or don't share their background, but who are invested in them. Because the likelihood of them finding a mentor who looks like them and shares their cultural background might be slim. I also feel like it's important to remind them that they have community cultural wealth and that there are many skill sets that they bring to the table that our culture values, like resourcefulness and resiliency, that will help them get through whatever comes their way. Many Latinx people are bilingual and speak multiple languages, and that's an asset that is going to help them connect with the communities that they serve.
I really do hope that in the future there are more Latinx leaders because their communities would have a voice that they don’t necessarily have right now.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Featured image at top of page: Through her work as the co-founder of Latinx Education Coach, Ces'Ari Del Muro (Phoenix '10) leads workshops like Overcoming Imposter Syndrome.
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