The Leadership Academy

December 14, 2017 | The Leadership Academy Executive Vice President Michele Shannon delivering professional learning to school system leaders | Photo courtesy of The Leadership Academy.
December 14, 2017 | The Leadership Academy Executive Vice President Michele Shannon delivering professional learning to school system leaders | Photo courtesy of The Leadership Academy.

Empowering educational leaders to create equitable schools for all

How can schools respond to the crises of COVID-19 and entrenched racial injustice, while supporting the needs of educators, students, and the broader school community? “We see the leader as the lever for change. If we can support the well-being of the leader and build their capacity and skills, they can dismantle the inequalities in their school, district, or state,” explained Carole Learned-Miller, chief of staff of The Leadership Academy. 

Founded in 2003 to train aspiring principals in New York City, The Leadership Academy now works with school districts across the country. Through professional development and coaching, The Leadership Academy gives school leaders the time and resources to reflect on their practices and create the conditions within their school for all students to thrive. 

CZI supports The Leadership Academy’s work to refine its equity leadership development program model and to expand online coaching and resources for education leaders across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Leadership Academy recently released Culturally Responsive Leadership: A Framework for School & School System Leaders, which details the skills, knowledge, and dispositions needed at all levels of school district leadership to center equity as well as the actions leaders can take to disrupt inequities. 

In Des Moines, Iowa, district leaders entered a commitment with the Council of the Great City Schools several years ago and identified a need to better support Black males. Like many school districts, Des Moines Public Schools faces significant racial opportunity gaps. In addition, 93% of district employees are white, but nearly two-thirds of the student population are students of color. 

The Leadership Academy has worked with administrators for several years to expand and deepen a comprehensive, district-wide approach to equity. Administrators are working to identify inequitable practices and improve students’ access to great learning opportunities.

A commitment exists at all levels from the school board,which adopted an equity policy,to school and district leaders and teachers doing the hard work of reflecting on biases and looking for those biases in the data.

This commitment was put to the test in the 2019-20 school year, as COVID-19 closed schools and exposed challenges to equitable access to remote learning. In June, after nationwide protests against police violence in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, the district with support from The Leadership Academy organized virtual, anti-racism town halls with students and other stakeholders. 

Administrators wanted to hear about barriers to equitable student outcomes and what students need to effectively engage in school. “Our intent is to be more effectively anti-racist as an organization because we know that we are perpetuating systemic racism as an organization as well and we want to do our level best to stop doing that,” Tim Schott, executive director of talent support at the district, told the Des Moines Register

During the town halls, people spoke about the need to invest in staff members of color so that they can stay in the district. Based on feedback, Des Moines Public Schools created two new positions to support recruitment and retention of BIPOC staff, and to support new principals as they move into leadership positions. 

“Change needs to happen,” said Jill Grossman, senior director for strategic communications and policy. Now is the time for school leaders to evaluate what works for students, so they don’t replicate the same mistakes in a virtual learning environment. “These conversations need to happen with students and parents. That is such an important piece of culturally responsive leadership.”

Oct 16, 2020

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