Eugene Butler Jr., now retired, served as assistant superintendent for Tucson Unified School District and as a principal and the executive director of the Office of Professional Standards for the Miami-Dade County Public Schools.
One persistent question in today’s educational system is why are there so few African American educators in the classroom, especially black males In “An investigation of the impact of racially diverse teachers on the reading skills of 4th-grade students in a one race school,” researchers Jo Linn Burt, Evan Orlieb and Earl Cheek Jr. asserted “increasingly public school teachers are Caucasian, female and middle class, while public school students are increasingly minority and poor.”
Ironically, in 2014, children of color became the majority-minority population in America’s public schools, while educators of color make up only 20% of today’s instructional force. This bleak picture partially sheds some light on the fact that there are so few African American principals nationwide; particularly outside of homogeneous, inner-city secondary schools.
I was fortunate to have an excellent, open-minded white principal who saw me as an asset and not as window dressing and labor. Thomas L. Shaw, who is now deceased, taught me the value of ensuring that the entire administrative team should be well-rounded in all aspects of efficiently and effectively running a school.
Unfortunately, at the school-site level, most African American assistant principals are usually assigned to operation responsibilities and duties — such as facilities, custodians, security, cafeteria staff, and athletics — for most of their administrative career; compared to their white counterparts who are initially assigned curriculum-related duties or are eventually elevated to those roles. This dichotomy in educational leadership roles is at the root of the problem.
I recall attending a mandatory meeting for all assistant principals over curriculum in a very large, progressive school district. Once the meeting began, I surveyed the room and realized that I was the only African American male assistant principal for curriculum in the entire district.
Furthermore, I have served on at least 100 panels to interview educators for administrative positions in two school districts. Overwhelmingly, the white candidates for assistant principal and above possessed significantly more experience in curriculum-related areas than the African American prospects.
Schools are incubators for potential administrators. Obviously, the main objective of the learning center is to provide students with a quality and equitable education that will allow them to compete in the global village and become productive citizens. However, those same institutions are charged with training today’s exceptional teachers to become tomorrow’s instructional leaders if they choose to do so.
With that said, current principals and assistant principals are tasked with identifying a diverse pool of teachers and then mentoring them from a holistic perspective to become a future school-site standard-bearer. The five key steps below assist in breaking through the administrative glass ceiling.
- Begin working on a graduate degree in administration and supervision or educational leadership during the second year of teaching. It is imperative that the initial school year is structured and designed around learning what it takes to become a professional educational practitioner. Moreover, the students deserve the full attention and devotion of a teacher while he/she is learning what it means to become a highly qualified, master educator.
- Become a sponge in relation to all things pertaining to curriculum. Embrace professional growth in the areas of curriculum development, master schedule planning, articulation, writing the school improvement plan, and emerging beliefs and cutting-edge, evidenced-based best practice strategies in reference to improving student achievement. In addition, it is imperative to possess a working knowledge of professional learning communities, culturally responsive instruction, differentiated support and accountability, multi-tiered system of support and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports.
- A potential administrator must immerse themselves in the total school culture. It is of paramount importance for a potential future administrator to make themselves invaluable to the school community. In other words — sweat equity must be leveraged. Join the PTSA, attend local Kiwanis and Rotary Club meetings, sponsor a club group or coach a sport, assist with bus duty, cafeteria duty and/or chaperone school-related functions and events.
- Find a mentor! He or she should identify a seasoned veteran (preferably in their building) who can provide support, assistance and guidance. Moreover, this individual may serve as a vessel of institutional knowledge. This individual can also share emerging beliefs while simultaneously teaching their protégé how to remain nimble in the managed chaos of a complex learning center.
- Volunteer for additional responsibilities and duties in the building and the local community. This will allow aspiring assistant principals and budding principals to improve their interpersonal skills and build rapport and relationships within the larger educational community. Moreover, internships and externships are instrumental in securing a fundamental understanding of how education and civic organizations operate. Exposure to diverse cultures and exemplars will provide invaluable requisite skills and leadership experiences.
The days of serving as a glorious head football or basketball coach and transitioning into a principal role are long gone. The paradigm shift from manager/motivator to instructional leader demands candidates who embrace growth in the areas of curriculum development, social-emotional learning and data-driven instruction. Find your North Star and become the navigational rudder who reimagines learning for all students.