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 practiceWhen 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 Education Officer & President

Dr. Nancy B. Gutiérrez is Lead Education Officer & President of The Leadership Academy. Nancy joined The Leadership Academy in 2014 and has served as National Leadership Designer and Facilitator, Vice President of District Leadership, and Chief Strategy Officer. She was named President & CEO in July 2018 and continues to serve as an executive leadership coach and facilitator for school systems across the country. She was a Fall 2019 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow, and in February 2020 was named among the 100 most powerful education leaders in New York by City & State New York. Nancy is a frequent keynote speaker for local and national education organizations and has authored numerous pieces on education leadership and equity for national publications including Education Week, Kappan, The74, and Hechinger Report. 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 Administrator’s Region 8 Middle School Principal of the Year in 2010. 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 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 served on the national board of the Coalition of Essential Schools for more than a decade. She is an instructor at NYU and frequently teaches at the Harvard Principals’ Center institutes for School Turnaround Leaders, Urban School Leaders, and Race, Equity, Access, and Leadership. 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. Find Nancy on Twitter @nancybgutierrez or LinkedIn.