In an effort to have K-12 administrators be representative of the growing number of nonwhite students, Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College are pushing for teachers of color to step up to the plate.

The initiative is described as a “first-of-its-kind online principal certification and master’s degree program designed to train the next generation of equity-focused school leaders who better reflect the students they serve,” and it’s being done in collaboration with an organization called New Leaders.

“There is quite a bit that has to be done to make sure we remove barriers that prevent Black males from wanting to teach so they can have access to these career opportunities,” Morehouse‘s Dr. Nina Gilbert said. “Some of our students, especially our Black male students, are still experiencing some of their own trauma from their K-12 experiences. Careers in the classroom are the farthest things from their mind.”

For context, the entire state of Georgia has 1,686,318 students, per the state’s Department of Education. Of this number, 62.6% identify as nonwhite, with Black Americans making up 36.5%. New Leaders also points out that, while over 54% of U.S. public school students are nonwhite, only about 20% of principals reflect this demographic.

On the flip side, administrators with Atlanta Public Schools note that 72% of students and 80% of faculty members are Black. Clayton County Public Schools has similar stats, as 86% of teachers and over 98% of students are nonwhite.

“They have similar core, cultural experiences that they’re able to help students navigate, particularly other students of color,” La’Keitha Carlos, an Atlanta-based parent, said. “With all that’s going on in America, having little Black boys be able to see a grown Black man as their teacher, be able to have them as a role model and sounding board, as someone who imparts knowledge — not just about the book, but the world they’ll be walking into — is something I can’t describe.”

Gwinnet County Public Schools administrator Dr. Clay Hunter also spoke favorably of the initiative.

“We have not created the right pipelines or circumstances. There are too many impediments in terms of allowing people the opportunity to serve,” Hunter said. “Right now, our focus is on can you pass the test. Then if you pass the test, we assume you should be around children. Instead, we need to know do you love children and people? Then we’ll help you learn what research has taught us how to make sure children achieve.”

“When I see success connected to someone who looks like me, I also believe I can be successful,” he added. “When we make up our minds that we need a vaccine for this crisis, then time is not the issue. Leadership is the issue.”

The National Aspiring Teachers Fellowship is currently in its pilot stage with 20 aspiring school principals. All teachers with a minimum of 3-5 years of teaching experience are eligible, and more information is available upon request through the program’s website.