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HBCUs behind effort to hire more principals of color in metro Atlanta

Morehouse, Clark Atlanta are working with a national nonprofit to make classrooms more closely mirror the communities they serve

ATLANTA — The state of Georgia has a total of 1,686,318 students in public schools, according to the state's department of education. Of those students, 62.6 percent of public school students statewide are minorities and 36.5 percent are Black. The agency did not have similar numbers readily available for teachers and staff.

Morehouse College and Clark Atlanta University are behind a push to hire more principals of color. The schools will work with national nonprofit New Leaders to create the Aspiring Principal Fellowship. The program features an online principal certification and a master's degree program designed to train minority school leaders.

Dr. Nina Gilbert with Morehouse College cited research from the Wallace Foundation for the spark behind the program, saying half of all K-12 students in public schools identify as people of color, whereas only one in five principals do. Gilbert said a pilot is underway involving 20 aspiring school principals. The program is open to teachers with at least three to five years of teaching experience, according to officials. 

"There is quite a bit that has to be done to make sure we remove barriers that prevent Black males from wanting to teach so they can have access to these career opportunities," Gilbert said. "Some of our students, especially our Black male students are still experiencing some of their own trauma from their K through 12 experience. Careers in the classroom are the farthest things from their mind.”

RELATED: State data shows Black students punished more often, severely than other races

La'Keitha Carlos has a second-grader at Fulton Academy, part of Atlanta Public Schools. School district officials told 11Alive that 72 percent of students in Atlanta Public Schools are Black. Eighty percent of faculty in APS are Black. Carlos, who noted remembered having just one Black man as a teacher growing up, said she wants more schools to put a premium on diversity when hiring teachers and administrators. 

For context, Clayton County Schools has nearly 2,800 teachers of color, which accounts for more than 86 percent in the district. Nearly all the assistant principals and principals at Clayton County Schools are minorities. 98.5 percent of Clayton County students are people of color.

In Gwinnett County Schools, 41 percent of principals, 36 percent of teachers and 82-percent of students are people of color.

"They have similar core, cultural experiences that they’re able to help students navigate, particularly other students of color," Carlos said. "With all that’s going on in America, having little Black boys be able to see a grown Black man as their teacher, be able to have them as a role model and sounding board, as someone who imparts knowledge - not just about the book, but the world they’ll be walking into - is something I can’t describe.”

RELATED: Morehouse College launches Black Men's Research Institute

Dr. Clay Hunter, associate superintendent of curriculum and instruction with Gwinnett County Schools, rose through the ranks of teaching. Born to a single teenage mother, Hunter also became the first Black principal at Susan Stripling Elementary and South Gwinnett High School. Now in his 27th year in education, the Morehouse graduate said the focus of hiring minorities starts with finding people who want to serve their communities.

"We have not created the right pipelines or circumstances," Hunter said. "There are too many impediments in terms of allowing people the opportunity to serve. Right now, our focus is on can you pass the test. Then if you pass the test, we assume you should be around children. Instead, we need to know do you love children and people? Then we’ll help you learn what research has taught us how to make sure children achieve.”

Hunter said having more people of color in the classroom provides concrete examples for people of all races, dispels myths and creates a more understanding environment. 

“When I see success connected to someone who looks like me, I also believe I can be successful," Hunter said. "When we make up our minds that we need a vaccine for this crisis, then time is not the issue. Leadership is the issue.”

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