Strengthening Representation in America’s Schools: How We’re Making it a Reality

Dr. Catherine Burns

By Dr. Catherine Burns, Chief Academic Officer

When it comes to delivering equity in education, it’s imperative that the teacher and leadership representation of a school reflects the students that it serves. We simply must do more to increase interest and opportunities for young people of color to enter the teaching profession and then step into leadership roles.

Over the past two decades, the demographics of educators have not kept pace with the changing demographics of our nation’s students. Currently, slightly less than half of public school students identify as White, yet more than three-fourths of public school teachers and principals identify as White.

How (and why) should we close the gap?

Unfortunately, because leaders of color must operate within the models of White supremacy in which our political and socioeconomic systems are based, they sometimes run into obstacles or pushback from district or network leaders, board members, or even community members when attempting to implement substantive changes that could disrupt the status quo. This conflict is what so often deters people of color from the education profession altogether.

States and districts should prioritize initiatives targeted toward getting more leaders of color into principal roles and creating conditions that encourage long-term retention in their positions. In doing so, schools will benefit from a number of distinct advantages that principals of color have as school leaders:

    • Authentic understanding of community members with whom they share a common racial/ethnic background
    • Unique perspectives on academic programs and curriculum
    • Can act as role models in a position of authority for students of color
    • More likely to retain teachers of color, who they can later promote into leadership positions

What we’re doing to make it a reality

Accelerate Institute is committed to recruiting and developing a pipeline of leaders who reflect our country’s demographics. To this end, we are happy to be working with so many inspiring leaders in our rigorous, engaging, and affirming programs that strengthen advancement opportunities for educators of color and support them in developing the necessary decision-making power that should come with holding a leadership role.

In the 2022-23 school year, we are currently supporting 26 Chicago principals through the Growth Accelerator program and 40 leaders from across the nation in the Leadership Academy. Over 90% of our talented cohort are leaders of color, compared to the national statistic of just 22% of public school principals.

These outstanding principals and leadership team members have committed themselves to learning new methods to help create more equitable schools by developing systems and leadership skills that advance equity work in their buildings and lead to academic success for students.

Over the course of these programs, leaders will grapple with content in small groups, assess and reflect on the current state of their own school and personal leadership skills, and create a strategic plan to implement at their school—all with the support of an Accelerate Institute advisor.

Please help us in welcoming our newest cohorts!

Growth Accelerator Cohort 6

Pam De La Cruz, principal of Hanson Park Elementary SchoolPam De La Cruz (she/her) 

Pam, the principal of Hanson Park Elementary School, has been working in education for 26 years. She kicked off her career in education as a teacher at Amundsen High School for 10 years after earning her bachelor’s degree in special education from Northeastern University.


Patrina Singleton, principal of Brenneman Elementary SchoolPatrina Singleton (she/her) 

Patrina is a strong believer that children are a blessing and that it is her role to be their champion. She is currently in her second year as the proud principal of the diverse Uptown neighborhood school Brennemann Elementary School. Prior to that, Patrina served as assistant principal at Belding Elementary School for seven years.


Juwana Foster-Wells, principal of Carroll-Rosenwald Elementary SchoolJuwana Foster-Wells (she/her) 

Juwana was recently named principal at Carroll-Rosenwald Elementary School. Prior to her promotion, she served as assistant principal at the school for five years. By focusing on data-driven instruction, Juwana took Carroll-Rosenwald to Level 1 from Level 2 and improved the school to “well organized” from “organized” on the School Quality Rating Policy.


Yadira Guzman (she/her)

Yadira describes herself as a collaborative and data-driven bilingual school leader who is deeply committed to transforming public schools by implementing effective leadership practices that positively impact school culture and the academic performance of all students. Yadira, who attended Chicago Public Schools herself from kindergarten through 12th grade, is the principal of Whittier Elementary.

Claudia Lopez, principal of Fairfield AcademyClaudia Lopez (she/her)

Claudia has served as principal of Fairfield Academy since 2014, where she supports and nurtures a positive, safe school climate the emphasizes the social, emotional, and academic growth of all students. The daughter of immigrant parents, she is a lifelong Chicago citizen.


Carolyn Jones, instructional leader at Perkins Bass Elementary SchoolCarolyn Jones (she/her)

Carolyn Jones is the dynamic, innovative, and data-driven Instructional Leader at Perkins Bass Elementary School. She is a product of Chicago Public Schools, Edward Tilden High School. Making a difference is exactly why Carolyn became an educator and is now a Divergent Leader in the Englewood community. Under her transformational leadership, students and teachers vigorously engage in an environment that promotes voice, choice, and ownership in personal development, growth, and learning.

JuDonne Hemingway, principal of Gary Comer Middle SchoolJuDonne Hemingway (she/her)

As principal of Gary Comer Middle School, JuDonne’s mission is to support and develop scholars who become knowledgable, confident, and responsible leaders and realize their highest aspirations—in high school, college, and beyond. To that end, JuDonne and her team work to cultivate an anti-racist school environment in which joy, rigor, and relevancy are the key focuses and scholars are affirmed, challenged, and celebrated both for who they are and what they hope to become.

Lawrence Spaulding, principal of Percy L. Julian High SchoolLawrence Spaulding (he/him)

Lawrence was born and raised on Chicago’s South Side in the Roseland community and is a proud graduate of Percy L. Julian High School. Forever a Jaguar, he now serves as principal of the school. Having worn many hats throughout his career, Lawrence understands that fostering positive relationships with parents, students, staff, and community members is of utmost importance. His skill and passion for improving student outcomes is truly evident through his work.

Yalil Nieves (she/her)

A first-generation immigrant who came to the United States when she was 12-years-old, Yalil enrolled in a sixth grade bilingual education class at Logandale Middle School in Logan Square when she arrived in Chicago. Today, she is principal of Mary Gage Peterson Elementary School in the North Park neighborhood, where she draws upon her own personal experiences as a Chicago Public Schools student to collaborate with teachers, parents, and students to make sure their needs are met and that all scholars have access to a welcoming and safe learning environment. 

Rocio Tovar, principal of Namaste Charter SchoolRocio Tovar (she/her)

Rocio is principal of Namaste Charter School on Chicago’s South Side, which focuses on health, wellness and a dual-language curriculum. A bilingual (English and Spanish) leader with 18 years of professional experience in education, Rocio is passionate about empowering students and parents—especially those of color from Chicago’s historically marginalized communities—with an equitable education.

Natasha Jones, principal of Lawndale Community AcademyNatasha Jones (she/her)

Natasha, an inspiring school leader with 20 years of experience in education, is principal of Lawndale Community Academy. Prior to her current role, she served as assistant principal and case manager at King Academy of Social Justice, where she co-led the small neighborhood school in an under-resourced community. In this capacity, she worked to cultivate and maintain long-lasting, meaningful partnerships with community institutions—ranging from the private sector to nonprofit organizations—in order to enhance educational experiences and promote student achievement.

Edward Collins, principal of Luther Burbank Elementary SchoolEdward Collins (he/him)

Edward is the principal of Luther Burbank Elementary School in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood. Throughout his teaching and administrative career, he has continually sharpened his focus on student leadership and providing spaces that give children the opportunity to grow into their fullest selves during the elementary years.


Dorienne Canada Pendleton, principal of Perspectives Charter School, Rodney D. JoslinDorienne Canada Pendleton (she/her)

Dorienne has served as principal of Perspectives Charter School, Rodney D. Joslin for over three years. Prior to her appointment as principal, she served as assistant principal of instruction, assistant director of post-secondary planning, and a ninth- and 12th-grade teacher. Her expansive career in education goes back over 10 years, when she became a Prevention Initiative teacher at Illinois Action for Children. Dorienne holds a master’s degree in education leadership/curriculum instruction from Concordia University.

Keviyona Smith-Ray, principal of Asa Phillip Randolph Elementary SchoolKeviyona Smith-Ray (she/her)

Keviyona, principal of Asa Phillip Randolph Elementary School, began her career as an educator at the very same school as a lead teacher 18 years ago. Keviyona describes herself as a passionate educational leader with a commitment to equity for all students.

2022 Leadership Academy Cohort

Aziz Ahmad (he/him)

Aziz is the director for statewide impact for Teach For America in Cleveland. He is responsible for coordinating professional development, fellowship programs, and talent matching and hiring, as well as managing communications with teachers, school leaders, and TFA alumni across Ohio.

Onome Alabi (she/her)

Onome is the assistant principal for Carver Military Academy in Chicago, the same school where she began her career as an educator almost 20 years ago.

Bart (Kerry) Bartholomew (he/him)

As assistant principal for Chicago’s Moving Everest Charter School (K-5), Bart oversees all things attendance and discipline and works to ensure that the school culture and climate is conducive to promoting academic success.

Michael Benton

Michael serves as the principal of Richard Allen Prep (3-8) in Dayton, Ohio. He is an instructional leader who oversees the academic success of his students.

Bayan Brito-Shaku (she/her)

Bayan serves as the assistant principal for Acero – Brighton Park Elementary School in Chicago. She is responsible for monitoring and tracking student performance across all academic areas, while also driving instruction and teacher improvement.

Jerek Brown (he/him)

Derek is a principal in residence with Ednovate in Los Angeles. He will be the founding leader at Ednovate’s seventh school and is currently working to prepare for its launch.

Brandon Chung

Brandon is the principal for Richard Allen Academy (K-6) in Dayton, Ohio.

Perry Devlin (he/him)

Perry is a science educator/department head for Ginn Academy in Cleveland, where he is responsible for the instruction of all grade levels across the entire department.

Stef Dulak (she/her)

Stef is the director of MTSS for Moving Everest Charter School in Chicago. She provides social and emotional learning coaching, as well as training and support for instruction staff while also performing data analysis for reading and math.

Timothy Faust (he/him)

Following a tenure with the Noble Network, Timothy is currently in his third year as assistant principal for Chicago Academy High School.

Chrystal Fields

Chrystal is the managing director of student & family supports for CICS Longwood and CICS Lloyd Bond in Chicago, where she provides cultural and special education coaching for the schools. 

Andrea Franz

Andrea is the principal of Gary Lighthouse Charter School (K-3) in Gary, Indiana, where she is responsible for teacher coaching, professional development facilitation, and managing budgets.

Bridget Harris

Bridget is the principal for Chicago’s Moving Everest Charter School (6-8). She facilities instructional rounds and provides feedback to teachers while managing students and teams that are responsible for school culture, ILT, and BHT.

LaRita Henry

LaRita is the principal for Moving Everest Charter School (K-5) in Chicago, where she oversees day-to-day school operations and sets learning goals for students and teachers.

Janora Holmes (she/her)

Janora is principal for Gary Lighthouse College Prep (9-12) in Gary, Indiana. She oversees academic and social and emotional learning curricula, manages instructional staff, and provides a culturally responsive environment for students and staff.

Dunke Hughes (she/her)

Dunke is the assistant director for UChicago Charter School – North Kenwood Oakland (PK-5), where she has been on staff since 2017.

Shayla Ivezzy (she/her)

Shayla is an intervention specialist for John Adams College and Career Academy (9-12) in Cleveland. She is responsible for co-teaching across subject areas, implementing IEPs, progress monitoring student performance, and collaborating with families and community partners.

Gabrielle Jackson (she/her)

Gabrielle serves as the resident principal and director of multi-tiered systems of support for Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership (6-12) in Springfield, Massachusetts. She leads development of systems and structure, support for student behavior management, data analysis, academic coaching, and planning for emerging bilinguals and exceptional learning students.

Susan Kim (she/her)

Susan serves as the regional director of literacy for NWILCS (PK-8) in Gary, Indiana, where she is responsible for teacher coaching, planning professional development, and conducting walkthroughs to assess academic success.

Jeremy Krevat

Jeremy is the assistant principal for Aspire Alexander Twilight College Preparatory Academy (TK-5) in Sacramento, California.

Jenniffer Levya

Jenniffer is the assistant principal for Aspire APEX Academy (PK-5), in Stockton, California. She is responsible for coaching teachers, supporting data chats, curriculum, lesson planning, and managing student behavior.

Chris Lopez (he/him)

Chris is the assistant principal of Ednovate – South LA College Prep in Los Angeles, where he is responsible for coaching and developing instructional staff and overseeing testing.

Meagan Lumpkin

Meagan is the director of instruction for Moving Everest Charter School (6-8) in Chicago.

Katy (Catherine) Livesay

Katy serves as the director of teacher leadership services for Gary Lighthouse College Prep (K-8) in East Chicago, Indiana. She conducts classroom observations, coaches teachers, and supports PLCs and grade level teams.

Stephanie Macek (she/her)

Stephanie serves as assistant principal for Citizens Academy Glenville (K-5) in Cleveland. She is responsible for supporting the deans of culture and instruction and overseeing daily processes at the school.

Charnette Marshall (she/her)

Charnette is the assistant principal for Higgins Elementary in Chicago.

Kenyada Mason

Kenyada serves as middle school assistant principal for Moving Everest Charter School (K-8) in Chicago. She works closely with instructional and administrative team members to support a high-achievement academic culture and daily operations, while also overseeing scholar life activities.

Brandi McDaniel 

Brandi is principal of Richard Allen Schools (K-2) in Dayton, Ohio. She is responsible for conducting classroom walkthroughs and providing feedback on lesson plans, while also managing escalated discipline issues, attending various stakeholder meetings, and supporting daily transitions for arrival, lunch, and dismissal.

Karin McGuire (she/her)

Karin is deputy director of academics for Lighthouse Academies in Northwest Indiana, where she supports school principals with academics and coaches assistant principals.

Adrienne Mihal (she/her)

Adrienne Mihal is the director of student services for Gary Lighthouse College Prep (4-8) in Gary, Indiana. She is responsible for coaching and managing special education case managers and supporting interventions.

Shartara Miller

Shartara is the dean of students and principal in resident at Entrepreneurship Preparatory School and Village Preparatory School in Cleveland.

Kevin Nishi (he/him)

Kevin is the assistant principal of Aspire River Oaks Charter School (PK-5) in Stockton, California. He provides instructional leadership for the school site to maintain a school-wide focus on high standards of student achievement, coaching, professional development opportunities, and human resources assistance.

Jada Ray (she/her)

Jada serves as an instructional coach for Cleveland’s Breakthrough Public Schools (6-8), where she observes underperforming teachers and provides in-the-moment feedback and/or modeling, coaching, and development.

Leslie Renee (she/her)

Leslie is the assistant principal for Aspire Benjamin Holt College Prep Academy (9-12) in Stockton, California. She is responsible for the administration of special education, 504 coordination, behavioral support, and instructional coaching.

Emily Rogoff (she/her)

Emily is the principal for Citizens Leadership Academy Southeast (5-8) in Cleveland. She is responsible for setting school-wide academic goals, creating systems and routines, and leading priority work around cultural and behavioral management.

Dee (Deuanna) Susie Watson (she/her)

Dee is the director of family engagement for Citizens of the World Cincinnati. She is responsible for interactive and integrated cultural event planning; providing direct support to students through lunchroom facilitation, aftercare systems, and recruitment; and managing communications through parent newsletters and social media.

Alexandra Wazny

Alexandra is a diverse learning instructional coach at Moving Everest Charter School in Chicago.

Shannon White (she/her)

Shannon serves as dean of students for CICS Longwood in Chicago, where she develops and oversees rules, policies, and procedures to ensure that the school culture and climate is sustainable for student success.

Emily Wilkie (she/her)

Emily is the dean of instruction for Catalyst Circle Rock Elementary School in Chicago. She coaches and supports instructors, instructional aides, and teacher leaders with planning and execution of PLC, classroom instruction, and culture, while also administering school-wide assessments and analyzing the data.

Zakiya Williams (she/her)

Zakiya is the assistant principal for KIPP Bloom College Prep (5-8) in Chicago, where she originally began as a science teacher.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Elevating the influence of educators of color is one of the highest return on investment actions that our nation can take for delivering equity in education today. We are incredibly excited to be working with nearly 70 inspiring leaders in the 2022-23 school year—over 90% of whom are leaders of color—in order to help begin implementing meaningful change today. Here’s to a great school year for all—and to all that we will accomplish for students together!