Advancing Equity through the Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders’ Black Educator Pipeline

In the educational landscape, Philadelphia Academy of School Leaders (PASL) has been taking a step forward in advancing equity through its Black Educator Pipeline (BEP) program. An ongoing professional development experience for alumni of PASL’s Neubauer Fellowship in Educational Leadership (or Senior Fellows), BEP serves to support school leaders as they recruit and retain Black educators. The initiative goes beyond addressing the shortage of qualified teachers; it seeks to enhance the representation of Black educators, recognizing their profound impact on students’ lives.

Latanya Simmons, Program Director of the Neubauer Fellowship, was a key figure in the creation of BEP, which is facilitated by Sharif El-Mekki, CBED Founder and CEO and 2015 Neubauer Fellow, and Ray Fields, Chief Talent Officer for the Pennsylvania Department of Education and 2018 Neubauer Fellow; in the 2023-2024 year, Jeff Glowik, Executive Director of City Teaching Alliance and former principal of Mastery Charter School—Gratz Campus joined to facilitate a white affinity space as part of the programming.

The organization’s flagship program, the Neubauer Fellowship is a two-year, cohort-based professional development experience for dedicated principals that develops the critical leadership skills needed to elevate school performance. All PASL programming is grounded in enhancing the skill sets within four competencies, or what PASL calls Leadership Levers—Lead Authentically, Develop People, Advance Equity, and Drive Results.

“Year one of the Fellowship is really understanding how equity plays a part in identity, and how principals are doing that work within themselves to impact their schools,” said Simmons. “Year two helps Fellows to take a system in their school and figure out how to make that more equitable while continuing the ongoing identity work. That creates a bridge into the Black Educator Pipeline, where they’re not only doing the strategic work in their school but also the advocacy work that takes them toward impacting the system.

“Being a child who started [my education] in Philadelphia with Black teachers, and then having to move to South Jersey where I no longer had any Black teachers, the level of being affirmed and celebrated in those spaces was not there,” said Simmons. “That impacted me negatively—around my confidence, my belongingness, the safety that I felt in the school. We have to cultivate an environment full of joy and affirmation and celebration of self to support our children around becoming well-rounded citizens and achieving at their highest potential. Having Black teachers in a schoolhouse supports that and builds that environment that creates the sense of safety and belonging.”

BEP recognizes the power of representation in education, particularly in the early formative years. Findings from Research for Action’s report, The Need for Teachers of Color, underscore the significance of Black teachers in shaping positive student outcomes, including increased graduation rates and decreased school-to-prison pipeline dynamics. BEP highlights this correlation between improved educational trajectories and the experience of having a Black teacher, providing participants with the tools and skill sets to support the intentional redirection of resources and focus to hire and retain Black educators.

Addressing a national crisis in the teacher pipeline, Simmons identifies the challenges of finding qualified teachers of color and positions BEP as a beacon of hope in tackling this multifaceted challenge. The program provides actionable strategic planning, intricately linked with identity work and advocacy, to guide principals in enhancing talent management within their schools. Utilizing the Center for Black Educator Development (CBED)’s toolkit, school leaders can create action plans that improve the retention and recruitment of Black teachers. Simmons emphasizes the program’s commitment to moving beyond conversation, providing participants with the technical skills needed to support a diverse teaching faculty effectively.

“BEP is always great content and learning from others,” said Leta Johnson-Gardner, Executive Director of Educator Effectiveness and Evaluation for the School District of Philadelphia and 2016 Neubauer Fellow. “I look more at the system level and how I can apply this work to my current context.”

“[BEP] is not only full of learning and exchanging ideas, but it is also healing for me,” said Tangela McClam, Principal of Guion S. Bluford Elementary School and 2022 Neubauer Fellow. “It speaks to the power of creating opportunities for Black Educators to convene!”

BEP stands as an impactful initiative that addresses the immediate need for qualified teachers and tackles the long-standing issue of the underrepresentation of Black educators. By focusing on individual and systemic change, the program equips educational leaders with the tools needed to drive equity and advocate for broader impact, offering a practical and comprehensive approach to addressing the complexities of the teacher pipeline crisis and providing a model for educational institutions seeking meaningful change, emphasizing the transformative power of intentional efforts in advancing equity in education.