And when they fail, they rarely get a second chance, Talison said.
Even among Michigan’s 59 school districts in which a majority of students are racial minorities, only 26% of superintendents are black.
Four of the state’s five Arab-American superintendents run districts (Crestwood Community Schools and Hamtramck Public Schools in Wayne County, Madison District Public Schools in Oakland County, and Godfrey-Lee Public Schools in Kent County) where 50 percent or more of the students are minorities. Paul Salah is the superintendent of the predominantly white Huron Valley Schools in Oakland County.
âFor years no one wondered if you had seen a white superintendent in a predominantly black neighborhood,â said Martin of Caledonia.
Martin served as superintendent in two predominantly white districts – Caledonia (85 percent white) and, previously, St. Johns Public Schools (86 percent white).
Bill Tennant was president of the St. Johns School Board when Martin was hired.
âSt. Johns is a pretty conservative white neighborhood,â Tennant told Bridge Michigan. âBut I don’t remember that (race) was mentioned once, by anyone in the audience or by any of the board members. We were right after the best candidate and Dedrick moved up to that level.
Tennant, who is now retired from the school board, told Bridge Michigan he was baffled by the lack of diversity among superintendents.
âMaybe we were just a single board (but) I can’t understand why there was slow progress,â Tennant said. “It was a bonus for our community that Dedrick was a leader in our community.”
Accelerate diversity efforts
There will be at least 80 superintendent positions to be filled this year in Michigan as principals retire, many with start dates in the summer.
It will be up to local state school boards to determine whether more minority superintendents are hired.
âThis is a conversation the Michigan School Boards Association needs to have with school board members,â Martin said. âUntil you have this conversation, you still hope to have one or two board members who have a very open view of leadership. “
The Michigan School Boards Association provides both general training for school board members looking for new superintendents and helps districts search for superintendent candidates.
MASB Executive Director Don Wotruba said more districts are making diversity in candidate pools a priority. âThey want to find these diverse candidates,â he said, but there are still not enough minorities in the candidate pool.
Increasingly, he said, superintendent search companies are looking out of state for minority applicants to apply for positions in Michigan schools. âYou can’t rely on your pool in your own state if you’re looking for minorities,â Wotruba said.
MASB is also beginning to encourage districts to âdevelop your ownâ diverse pool of applicants, encouraging black teachers to train and apply for administrative positions, and administrators to apply for superintendents.
âAs the demographics change, we need to find and develop minority candidates,â Wotruba said.
On Thursday, the Michigan Department of Education unveiled a New Paradigm for Education program for an alternative path to teacher certification that would focus on increasing teachers of color, especially male minorities.
Currently, only 1.6 percent of Michigan teachers are African American men.
The four black superintendents who spoke to Bridge agreed that a concerted effort was needed to prepare minority educators to eventually take over the corner office.
Construction of this pipeline begins with hiring more minority teachers, said Martin of Caledonia
âAnytime you have the opportunity to diversify your staff, it’s just as important or more important than having a minority superintendent because that building administrator and teacher interacts a lot more with families,â said Martin. “Then you build a pipeline of minority candidates for superintendents in the future.”
Support cannot end when a minority candidate gets their first job as a superintendent, said Talison d’Ecorse. “I am one of the lucky ones, I was able to go to two districts,” he said. “I have had colleagues as brilliant as me who … have not been able to bypass the landmines” that come with being a minority superintendent.
âIf we, as a state, say we want to embrace diversity, equity and inclusion,â said Zachery-Ross of Ypsilanti, âwe have to realize that we have to accept some discomfort in this process. .
Mike Wilkinson and Olivia Tucker contributed to this report