A school is only as good as its administrators’ execution of their vision. It starts at the top. Building administrators — specifically, school principals — are the ones who do the hiring of teachers. So much rides on their cultural competence, and this factors heavily into the hiring of teachers of color — or lack thereof. Unfortunately, this is the prevailing case in the New York City Department Of Education. After all, teachers can’t very well hire themselves, now can they? When it comes to executing the vision for their school, what do principals look for when they are hiring?
My mind goes back to 2012 when I first got hired to teach in the NYC DOE. The first school I worked at was Eagle Academy for Young Men of Southeast Queens — a school solely for Black and Brown young men, erected in direct opposition to the school-to-prison pipeline that disproportionately plagues seven neighborhoods within the five boroughs of NYC and one neighborhood in New Jersey.
At that time, Mr. Kenyatte Reid was the principal of Eagle Academy. He and Ms. Linda Hearns, the assistant principal, hired me after a very rigorous, four-part interview process that included a demonstration lesson, an in-depth writing sample, and a panel interview comprised of students and parents from the school community. The administrators were Black and I worked with a very culturally diverse group of fellow educators there, many of whom I keep in contact with until this day. It was a truly memorable experience for teachers and students alike during those four years that I taught there.
As I continue to grapple with this issue of why more Black teachers are not being hired and what can be done to solve this egregious discrepancy, I decided to go to my former principal, Kenyatte Reid, and ask him a few questions about how he went about hiring teachers when he was responsible for that awesome duty.
The following is our exchange:
Vivett: Hi Mr. Reid, thank you for agreeing to meet with me. Let’s cut straight to the chase. How did you know which teachers to hire when you were a principal? You chose such a great group of teachers (case and point, lol). What did you look for?
Mr. Reid: I asked open-ended questions with no “right” answer so I could get a sense of what they valued. Additionally, I wanted to see who or what they were dedicated to.
Vivett: So you looked to see if the values the prospective teacher presented in his/her answers were in agreement with the values and culture of the school?
Mr. Reid: Absolutely! But you can’t just ask the question, which is why open-ended scenarios worked and multi-stakeholder reviews.
Vivett: Makes so much sense. The interview process I went through at Eagle was, by far, the most stringent, and teaching there was the best teaching experience I’ve had, thus far, because its mission was and is my mission. Thanks, Mr. Reid. I’m definitely going to write about this.
It seems to me that more principals need to, like former Principal Reid, strategically seek out teachers — teachers of color, especially — who will help create and further a school community that reflects the values and culture of that school. Clearly that’s not being done when so many schools comprised of predominantly all Black and Brown students throughout NYC are run by predominantly all-White administrative teams and staffed by predominantly all-White educators. That’s neither equitable, profitable, nor advisable at this crucial juncture in our country’s history of educational practices.