Diversity makes us smarter.
We have seen that in integrated schools, where opportunity and achievement gaps are shrinking and student learning and graduation rates are rising.
Just as it is critical to bring together a diverse set of students to enhance learning, it is also imperative to recruit, retain, and properly develop and support a diverse pipeline of effective school and school system leaders. Learning from educators who bring different life experiences and perspectives to their instruction challenges students’ thinking and helps improve their cognitive skills like critical thinking and problem solving. Students of color who are taught by teachers who share their racial or ethnic background, especially in high-poverty communities, tend to have fewer discipline referrals and improved academic outcomes and are significantly less likely to drop out of school and more likely to go to college. Principals of color have also been found to lead to lower drop-out rates and special education placements and higher graduation rates and placement in gifted programs for students of color.
Diverse teams of teachers and administrators can also create more transformative learning environments for the adults in the system. Interacting with colleagues who are different from ourselves inspires thought-provoking debate and discussion and can strengthen and transform our practice. When I led schools in my home community of East San Jose, CA, I was able to help teachers who were not from our community and/or didn’t reflect our community make connections to families and students because I knew the community and could literally speak their language.
We have a lot of work to do to turnaround the shortage of leaders of color, however. While more than half of public-school students in the U.S. are students of color, only 18% of our teachers, 20% of principals, and 6% of superintendents are leaders of color.
The NYC Leadership Academy was founded in 2003 to diversify the leadership pipeline in New York City, and we value not only building effective and sustainable leadership pipelines within school systems but in making sure they are diverse pipelines. We are proud to be part of a new innovative initiative to tackle the shortage of superintendents of color in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. This month we launched an effort to support and develop a racially and ethnically diverse cohort of aspiring district leaders to create more culturally responsive districts and realize better outcomes for students, particularly those who have been historically marginalized.
Pulling from the work we have done in other systems across the country, our team will work with Massachusetts education leaders to develop an equity-infused leadership curriculum focused on building the skills needed to effectively lead school systems, with a focus on identifying and addressing inequities such as those based on race, class, and among English language learners.
Our hope is that this initiative sets an example for the rest of the nation by proactively addressing the need to diversify our pipeline of education leaders who can inspire and lead the creation of school cultures that make every student, every teacher, every staff member feels welcomed, valued, and supported to learn and grow, and where biases are not tolerated and are systematically dismantled.
Intentionally diversifying our leadership pipelines and arming aspiring leaders across the country with the right skills to lead for equity will only strengthen our bench of exceptional leaders.
Nancy B. Gutiérrez, Ed.L.D.
Lead Executive Officer & President
Dr. Nancy B. Gutiérrez is President & Lead Executive Officer (LEO) of The Leadership Academy, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and developing culturally responsive school and school system leaders to create the conditions necessary for all students to thrive. Since 2003, The Leadership Academy has done work in more than 375 school districts, state education departments, and education organizations across the country, reaching over 12,000 educators in 39 states.
Nancy began her career as a teacher and principal in her home community of East San Jose, CA, where she was the founding principal of Renaissance Academy, the highest performing middle school in the district and a California Distinguished School. Nancy also led the successful effort to turn around the district’s lowest performing middle school. She was named the UC Davis Rising Star and Association of California School Administrators’ Region 8 Middle School Principal of the Year in 2010. In 2014, Nancy joined The Leadership Academy and served in various roles before being named President & CEO in October 2018. Prior to her tenure with the Leadership Academy, Nancy launched a program for executive leadership advancement for the New York City Department of Education that led to superintendent certification.
Nancy is a Fall 2019 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow and was named one of the top 100 most influential leaders in education in New York in 2020. In 2023, Nancy was named San Jose State University’s Distinguished Alumna.
Nancy is a graduate of the inaugural cohort of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program and is a graduate of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) Aspiring Superintendents Academy. She has served as an adjunct professor for NYU, Teachers College and American University as well as an expert guest at various Harvard Principals’ Center Institutes. Nancy is a frequent keynote speaker and has authored numerous pieces on education leadership for publications including Education Week, Kappan, The74, Learning Forward’s Learning Professional, District Administrator, and Hechinger Report. She is also the co-author of Stay and Prevail: Students of Color Don’t Need to Leave Their Communities to Succeed, a revolutionary guide to disrupting harmful mindsets and practices in our schools to ensure that students can thrive in their home communities.
Nancy is a member of the Board of Directors at the Hunt Institute, brightbeam, and Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC), and serves on the Latinos for Education teaching team.