Philly district aims to support 75 aspiring leaders and diversify principal pipeline over three years

Three men is suits and wearing face masks stand together in a school hallway.
Darnell Bolds, climate manager at Edward T. Steel Elementary School, Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite, and Angikindslows Senatus, principal at Edward T. Steel stand together. The Philadelphia school district aims to fill 75 leadership positions with diverse candidates. (Johann Calhoun/Chalkbeat)

The Philadelphia school district is investing $3.1 million for district employees, specifically those of color, to consider leadership roles at schools.

The “Pathways to Leadership” initiative aims to offer 75 leadership positions — about 25 a year — over the next three years to Black, Latino, and Asian workers within the district. They are urged to apply. Educators who work in neighboring school districts like Camden, New Jersey, or Wilmington, Delaware, are not eligible.

“We have great leaders within our schools already, and want to ensure that we have pathways for those individuals to pursue leadership opportunities,” Superintendent William Hite said Thursday at Edward T. Steel Elementary School in Nicetown.

The effort comes as Philadelphia has one of the highest principal turnover rates in the state.

Over 24% of principals in Philadelphia left their schools between the 2007-08 and 2015-16 school years, according to a report on principal mobility by the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium, or PERC. Mobile principals in the city are concentrated in schools that serve higher-poverty, lower-achieving, and minority students, the report states.

Through this program the district wants to recruit more leaders of color, specifically Black males, to mirror that of its student population. In addition to principals and assistant principals, there are leadership positions like teacher coaches and other roles the district aims to fill.

Those trained in the program will receive a $25,000 stipend that will help cover costs for certification and training through a partnership with Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania.

There’s currently a teacher residency program in which those who have math and science skills can come in and learn alongside another teacher for a year before becoming a teacher by themselves in the classroom. The Pathways initiative is similar to the district’s effort to recruit educators who mirror the district’s student demographics.

More than 70% of the district students are Black and Latino, yet district teachers are predominantly white, according to the district. Similarly, Black males make up over 24% of the student population but only 13% of the district’s principals, said Deputy Chief of Leadership Development Michael Farrell.

He added Latino students, who represent 24% of the district’s student population, are 7% represented of principals; and Asian students, who represent 10% of the student population, are 3% represented of principals.

“We want the representation of these three groups to increase. Future leaders of color are strongly encouraged to apply,” Farrell said.

The program officially begins this summer. The district ran two cohorts to create the program, the first in 2019. Thursday’s announcement was made at Edward T. Steel School where two of its leaders were involved in the first pilot program.

The initiative  “provides school leaders with the foundational skills needed,” said Steel principal Angikindslows Senatus.

Steel climate manager Darnell Bolds said he decided to go back to teaching in 2016 because he felt a void in his life as an electrical engineer. “I wanted to identify my purpose in life.”

Before becoming climate manager, Bolds served as a special education teacher and dean of students for the district. He credits the leadership program for cultivating him as a district leader.

“I’d always thought of pursuing a leadership position within my first few years of teaching special education because I saw the effect my presence, dedication, and fair approach was having on students,” Bolds said. “This experience was valuable for me, because it has forced me to improve on my personal and professional areas of growth in order to become a better leader.”

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