All school leaders are under tremendous stress due to the pandemic, but Black school leaders are facing added pressure due to racial tensions amid backlash to critical race theory and other highly charged issues. If things continue as they are, Texas districts will not be able to retain Black school leaders or recruit the next generation from the teacher workforce.
For decades, Texas has taken effort to diversify school and district leadership to better reflect student demographics, but those gains will be lost if policymakers do not better protect Black leaders from attacks.
The latest example is James Whitfield, the first Black principal of Colleyville Heritage High School in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Whitfield was placed on administrative leave and subsequently was not rehired for the next school year after facing criticisms during a school board meeting and being accused of promoting critical race theory.
Earlier this year, Chalisa Fain, a Black woman serving as the director of diversity, equity and inclusion in the Midlothian Independent School District, came under fire after parents started a petition alleging that “Mrs. Fain only cares about protecting and promoting the black race,” despite any information related to her job performance.
In Cornoe ISD, a group of white parents attending a school board meeting accused the district of enacting Marxist policies as a ploy to prioritize skin color over merit in the hiring of teachers. The sole Black school board member believed the parents’ accusations were driven by fear and irrelevant to current district challenges amid the pandemic.
These examples illustrate that Black school leaders have reason for concern — and this will affect retention rates. The pressure on Black school leaders is palpable, particularly as angry parents raise concerns about what they believe is critical race theory and its impact on their children’s education. This is not what we need.
We need to create an environment in our public that enables Black school leaders to focus their attention on improving schools for all students. Researchers consistently find that Black school leaders are often more adept at recruiting teachers of color and building relationships with families, which in turn promote student achievement. This work is more important than ever as schools address educational difficulties brought on by the pandemic.
Presently, Texas’ Black student enrollment is proportional to the percent of Black principals leading Texas public schools (approximately 13%). That’s good. Yet, these numbers, which took decades to reach, will decline if we don’t recognize the immense value Black principals and other leaders bring to their communities and invest in their safety and success under these very difficult conditions.
As part of the Texas Education Agency’s 2017-2021 Strategic Plan, the state is prioritizing recruiting, supporting and retaining educators and school leaders, which includes diversifying educator pipelines. Texas has invested in “Grow Your Own” programs that aim to increase and diversify the pool of educators and leaders. We need more of this.
Texas lawmakers also need to ensure policies are in place to safeguard school leaders from workplace discrimination and community threats. The state can allocate additional money to investigate discrimination and threats and establish a protocol for ensuring threats or incidents are reported to local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies as appropriate.
Simply put, our policymakers need to invest to further cultivate more racially diverse educator, principal and superintendent pipelines. The pandemic and rising racial tensions have placed Black school leaders under tremendous pressure and may cause increased rates of turnover. Black school leaders deserve to be treated fairly and fully supported as they navigate this political environment that has placed undue burden on them, their families and their students.
David DeMatthews is an associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy at The University of Texas at Austin.
Kimberly Clarida is a doctoral student in the educational policy and planning program in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.