The Superintendent Problem

Over the years, I’ve relied on the data complied by the NJ Department of Education to do research and analysis on the realities of Black students and Black educators. Where Black educators are concerned, I’ve found information about teachers, administrators and as of recent, counselors and curriculum supervisors… never any information on superintendents.

Of course, what I always found was regarding the data available to me was that Black educators weren’t the majority; white educators were. I suspected the same for superintendents. Maybe that’s why the data regarding the racial demographics of New Jersey’s superintendents wasn’t readily available. Nevertheless, it was interesting that no data was available.

According to an interview in Education Week, I wasn’t the only person who found this interesting.

Assistant professor at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville Rachel White saw what I felt to be true: the majority of superintendent’s around the country are white men. According to Dr. White’s research, 72% of superintendents are men, about two-thirds of superintendents newly hired in the past three years were men, more than half of superintendents hired between 2019 and 2023 were men who replaced other men, and another 18 percent were men who replaced women in superintendent positions.

Inspired by Dr. White’s research, I investigated the racial and gender demographics of superintendents in New Jersey, specific to Camden County, where I live and where my children attend school.

Of the 36 public school districts in Camden County New Jersey, 31 of those districts, or 86%, have a white superintendent. 23 of 36 districts or 64% have a white male superintendent. 26 of 36 districts or 72% have a male superintendent; similar to the results of Dr. White’s study. 5 out of 36 districts or 14% are led by people of color… all Black superintendents. None Latino/a/x, or Asian.

Yet, white students are not the majority of students in Camden County; they only make up 43% of all students. But they’re overrepresented disproportionately in district leadership—double the percentage.

It ain’t just school superintendents.

A few years ago, the NY Times released a report on how the majority of people in positions of power and consequence where white. They said that the faces of power were 80% white… chiefs of police, prosecutors, judges, university heads, publishers, major network heads, magazine editors, music industry heads, fashion leaders, owners of sports teams, congress… I can go on.

… and it’s no guarantee that representation will guarantee Black and Brown folks justice. But the odds are in our favor as representation increases.

Systemic racism, white supremacy, anti-Blackness, racial capitalism… that explains the current social structure as to who is in power and who is not. Yet some claim we live in a post-racial society. This is proof that society was never post-racial. Only post-truth, by I digress.

What can we do to change this? Is there anything that we can do to change this?

The general refrain is that we need more representation. In other words, we need to hire more Black and superintendents. Most advocates for Black children would agree. However Bottina Love cautions us: Schools cannot keep recruiting Black educators, or any educator of color for that matter, if school cannot keep the Black educators they already have, whether they are teachers, principals, counselors or supervisor or superintendents.

And the truth is they can’t keep us because they don’t want US. Sure, Black faces look great for checking off the diversity box, but the spirit of Black people—that has a heart and mission for Black children—may collide with that of mainstream education spaces; which are white institutional spaces and such spaces aren’t inviting to Black people, let along the objective of our care – Black children.

So, it is up to us.

Such spaces aren’t necessarily inviting to Black people, but we must remain consistent and flood our schools and make them inviting for those we want to attract and keep, even at the expense of making others feel uncomfortable. Besides, discomfort is good.

We must continue attend PTA meetings where we can, attend school board meetings, visit during the school day when we can, regularly speak with teachers and administrators, ask what our students are learning and demand that they learn in ways that affirm who they are… in other words we must make our presence felt. I know it is hard to do so. We live in an exploitative society that drains time, energy and resources, so that going to the schoolhouse isn’t the top priority. We can’t always make every meeting. 

Therefore, we must support one another and step up when others can’t. When we do, we send the message that the school belongs to the people and we are the people. Communicating that message communicates to educators that this is not only a place where we hold educators accountable but it is also a place where we support any teacher who loves on our children by giving them what they need to prepare them for a world ready to break them down.

If we want to see these statistics change in our favor, we need to get to work… together. Or else, it will never change.


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