Strengthening And Developing The Black Principal Pipeline
MenSa Maa of the D.C. Region reflects on the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference panel discussing the scarcity of Black principals and ways to strengthen the Black principal pipeline in schools nationwide.
As part of this year’s Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference, Washington, DC’s own Congressional representative Eleanor Holmes Norton moderated a panel to address the issue of strengthening the pipeline of Black principals. The panel of principals included four Teach For America alums: Archie Moss, Jr. (Charlotte 2011), Alexandra Bates (Atlanta 2001), Elena Bell (Atlanta 2003), Erica Jordan-Thomas (Charlotte 2008), and Dr. William Blake (Prince George’s County, MD).
For the past 30 years, little has changed regarding the dilemma of strengthening the pipeline for Black principals as the percentage of principals who are Black in the United States has increased only slightly from 9% to 10 %—with only 2% being Black men today. Additionally, today, only 7% of the nation’s teachers are Black. Given this context, the experienced panel of principals endeavored to share the wisdom of their own experiences becoming principals, and offered suggestions on how Black leaders who seek to become school principals can better navigate this road.
The Pipeline to the Pipeline
No one individual arrives in the seat of school principal on their own. Several of the panelists recalled the organizations and individuals who assisted them to become principals. Dr. Blake, principal of Stephen Decatur Middle School in Clinton, MD underscored the importance of mentorship. “You have to first start with mentorship. It’s up to us to reach out our hand and assist the next person,” said Dr. Blake. Erica Jordan-Thomas, principal of Ranson International Baccalaureate Middle School in Charlotte, NC recalled vividly the words of a mentor who encouraged her as a classroom teacher, “Someone said I see something in you.” These words would continue to serve as inspiration as Jordan-Thomas made the difficult choice to leave the classroom and pursue the school principalship. As a teacher, she did not have many opportunities for leadership. But she did have someone who expressed their belief in her.
Similarly, Elena Bell, principal of Peabody-Watkins Elementary Schools in Washington, DC shared, “I feel like I am the fruit of people’s labors,” before stating the names of many Black women who she was mentored by before becoming a school leader. Panelist Archie Moss, Jr., principal of Bruce Elementary School in Memphis, TN explained how the mentorship and support provided by a high school principal gave him the confidence to become a principal himself. He went on to share his experience in New Leaders for New Schools, a national program operating in several cities that provides training over two years before qualified applicants take on a principalship. “New Leaders played a huge role. That program is a huge benefit to get Black principals in the profession.”
Professional development for teachers and principals was also cited as necessary fuel for the Black principal pipeline. Suggestions provided by panelists included paid teacher residency programs, where novice teachers would work with experienced teachers who have a track record of success. In such a program, trainees would take on added responsibilities as they learn their craft over the course of one-three years. Another suggestion would allow specified teachers to expand their impact through blended learning offerings. For example, a magnificent teacher could be paid to create on-line curriculum offerings that could then be shared with other educators in need of tools and professional development.
The panel was punctuated as Suitland High School graduate and State representative for Maryland’s 5th Congressional District Steny Hoyer unexpectedly arrived to share a few words. “This is a great country right now, but it can be a greater country…” he said. Quoting social reformer, Frederick Douglass, Hoyer continued, “It is easier to build strong children than it is to repair broken men.”