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New APSU teacher mentoring program to increase diversity among school leaders

Dr. James Thompson

CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – Four years ago, The Atlantic magazine asked, “Where are all the Principals of Color?” The article highlighted the shocking lack of diversity among administrators in the nation’s public schools. In 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics reported that things hadn’t improved much in two years. The center reported that “about 78 percent of public school principals were white, 11 percent were Black, and 9 percent were Hispanic.”

For years, this issue has long troubled Dr. James Thompson, Austin Peay State University assistant professor of education. He knows there are plenty of talented, underrepresented teachers working in schools, and he is now using a research grant to help some of the state’s minority teachers move into more active leadership roles.

“My desire is to attack the equity issue when it comes to looking at diversity among school leaders,” he said. “We’ve had this issue for a while. This is a national issue. What can we do to dismantle and disrupt this equity issue in school leadership?”

This fall, Thompson wrote and received a research grant from the University that will allow two cohorts of aspiring teacher leaders to participate in a free leadership program this spring. The first cohort will consist of 20 teacher leaders aspiring to become assistant principals.

“For those teachers aspiring to become assistant principals, we want to bring them in and help them understand what they need to do to take that leap into school administration,” Thompson said. “You might be a teacher of color in a classroom and aspire to become a principal, but you may wonder, ‘How do I do that?’ A teacher may be doing extremely well, but they are not being groomed or mentored. That’s what I hope we’ll do with this program.”

The second cohort will have 20 current assistant principals working in marginalized and historically underperforming schools. Thompson hopes this program will help those leaders conduct and analyze research to help their home schools.

“We want to see why is it that the students are continuing to underperform and what tools can we arm those assistant principals with,” he said. “We’ll look at the data and the kind of decisions that can be based on that. What are the strategies they can take back with them? Try to get them to look at it from a different perspective. Just because a school is underachieving, that doesn’t have to be its trajectory.”

In addition to increasing diversity among school leaders, Thompson hopes the program will help these teachers and assistant principals feel more comfortable in an academic setting. Once they complete the semester-long program, he wants to see them enroll in either Austin Peay’s Master in Educational Leadership program or its Doctor of Educational Leadership program.

If this grant-funded program is successful, it could lead to a Future School Administrators Institute, housed within APSU’s Eriksson College of Education.

“I will begin to screen applications in early January and admit students in the two cohorts by early February 2021,” he said. “Each month, participants will have a different topic to explore. Also, the grant will provide each participant with several books that they can add to their library.”

The grant serves people living in West and Middle Tennessee. Anyone interested should contact Thompson at thompsonjm@apsu.edu.  

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