The Fresno Unified School District (FUSD), which is California’s third largest school district serving more than 73,000 students, has long been criticized for the absence of diversity among its professional staff. Until recently, the lack of diversity was no more obvious than having zero African American male principals at any of its more than 100 school sites.
The absence of African American male principals in FUSD from 2012 to 2019 was exacerbated compared to employment statistics in 1980. In 1980, there were nine African American male principals serving on all levels of school sites. Verdell Newsome, Nadar Ali, Stanley McDonald, John Shropshire, Roland Johnson, Curtis Hurd, Bobby Lee, Bob Edmonds and Dolphas Trotter were African American male principals who served as significant educational leaders, helping their students and surrounding communities prosper.
Today, there are four newer African American male principals working in the district to positively impact their students and communities. Courtney Curtis and Pastor Tobaise Brookins are headed into their second years, Curtis at Gaston Middle School and Brookins at Kirk Elementary. They are joined by new arrivals Javan Childs Sr. and Dr. Stanley Munro. Childs was recently promoted to principal at Computech Middle School, and Dr. Munro started at Ayers Elementary in December 2020.
In an online conversation with all four educators, each expressed excitement and enthusiasm for the possibilities and challenges facing them as new principals. They discussed their commitment to professional development for their staff members, the need for ongoing community engagement and their foundational high expectations for all.
They shared examples of visiting homes and speaking to parents to provide needed guidance and resources. The importance of bringing highly qualified and equally enthusiastic people to campus was also stressed. Dr. Munro noted that the hiring of personnel was one of his most important tasks as principal.
The conversation centered on the research of Dr. Kofi Lomotey, a longtime educational researcher on African American school administrators. He created the academic philosophy of “ethno-humanism” to describe how African American school administrators went about their business. Ethno-humanism describes effective principals by three characteristics:
- Their commitment to their students’ learning
- Their compassion for their students and the communities from which they come
- Their displayed confidence that their students will learn
The conversation with the new principals illuminated a variety of ways that they fulfill Lomotey’s ethno-humanist characteristics.
The most vibrant shared example of ethno-humanism was how Principals Brookins and Curtis described their first year as principal. Brookins constantly referred to his school as “the great Kirk Elementary.” He stated that “words are important. If I don’t think my school is great, no one else will either.”
Curtis shared that Gaston Middle had one of the highest attendance rates in the district for middle schools. These examples were a tremendous testament to the commitment, compassion and confidence they had for their campuses.
Being new to their campuses, Principals Childs and Munro shared their vision for meeting the ethno-humanistic characteristics. Childs, who is entering his first principal assignment, shared his intention to ensure that his teachers and staff had access to everything they needed to successfully instruct their students. He fully embraces that his school has no traditional boundaries and extremely high standards for student accomplishment.
Dr. Munro started his tenure at Ayers Elementary in the middle of the last academic year, which was abruptly interrupted by Covid. Despite the interruption, he shared his excitement for what has been accomplished. His site currently houses the African-American Academic Acceleration (A4) summer school program. The A4 program, under the leadership of Wendy McCulley, has strategically addressed why FUSD African American students have academically trailed behind other ethnic groups in the district.
In addition to addressing African American student needs through the A4 program, FUSD has committed resources to support African American school administrators. Men of Color and Educational Leadership (MCEL) provides ongoing mentoring and support for the 10 African American male school site principals and vice principals in the district.
Another professional group, African American Principals United (AAPU), offers support and provides time for all the district’s African American principals to collaborate. The AAPU group has eight members: four males and four females.
During the summer of 2017, I conducted my dissertation research on African American male principals serving in the Central Valley. The aim of my research was to highlight their work, ascension to principal and the struggles associated with remaining in the position.
That summer, there were only 10 African American male principals serving at the more than 730 school sites between Bakersfield and Atwater. Their numbers represented less than 1% of the region’s working principals. Also, in the summer of 2017, FUSD had no African American male principals and only four African American female principals.
In my research, I utilized the theoretical framework of critical race theory to elevate participants’ voices. Using critical race theory allowed for the participants to share their stories, through their eyes, and not the eyes society imposes. Dr. Lomotey’s ethno-humanistic characteristics guided the research questions.
FUSD and Superintendent Bob Nelson deserve commendations for their recent work with the district’s African American students and employees. The direct support provided to students and professional staff through the A4 program, MCEL and AAPU are providing a solid foundation for future academic growth and employment gains.
With that said, complacency is the enemy of success. I challenge FUSD Superintendent Nelson and the eight African American principals to continuously seek additional ways to accelerate academic outcomes, incorporate the larger community and hire more African American site principals, returning FUSD to the days of 1980, when African American male principals were employed throughout the district.