A fellowship enabled Michael Gebreslassie, an immigrant from Eritrea, to gain the skills and network he needed to transition from teaching to administration.

For decades, leaders of color have been underrepresented in our schools, compounding inequities in California’s classrooms.

When I first began teaching in the U.S., I quickly learned that building relationships with my students is central to my work because they see themselves in us. We are role models and co-create an environment where all can thrive.

Developing a school culture where every student and teacher feels welcome and thrives starts with diverse and inclusive leadership.

I immigrated to the United States from Eritrea in 2015 and am familiar with the challenges many of our immigrant students experience every day. I am now an assistant principal at a high school in Oakland, and I know it makes a difference to have school leaders with diverse backgrounds and experiences like mine, and the data backs it up.

Research shows that all TK-12 students in California, especially students of color, experience better educational outcomes in schools led by diverse leaders. Students see higher test scores, decreased suspension rates and are more prepared for college and their careers when school leadership is responsive and representative.

That is why I, and so many other educators and leaders across our state, have joined the Charting the Course to Equity Coalition in following the leadership of state Sen. Steven Bradford, D-Gardena, and Assemblymember Mia Bonta, D-Oakland, to call on our state to invest in the Diverse Education Leaders Pipeline Initiative.

With an $18 million investment, drawn from previously unused federal funds earmarked for education, this initiative would allow California’s credentialing institutions and qualified community-based organizations to work with schools to recruit, train and place 300 aspiring school leaders of color. The funds would be used by qualifying organizations to provide aspiring leaders with support to receive necessary credentials and mentorship opportunities and build deep networks to better prepare them for their new role as school leaders.

The state’s current budget outlook makes this investment more critical and timely: Diverse school leaders ensure that other current and future investments in California schools can be maximized, take root and be better positioned to positively impact campuses.

These aspiring leaders would not otherwise have access to the type of credentialing, support and guidance that the pipeline would provide. Beyond supporting these 300 individuals, the budget allocation would also fund the reporting and measurement of progress made to close equity gaps related to school leaders, which helps inform future policy decisions and state investments.

This is an investment in a pipeline of leaders that has ripple effects for students and the efforts to close the decades-long achievement gap for students of color. Three-hundred leaders are the initial goal, and we hope that this budget allocation becomes a seed investment in representative leadership on California campuses, paving the way for more leaders like me in the future.

I became an assistant principal with the help of a similar program: the Diversity in Leadership Institute’s Aspiring Principals of Color fellowship.

This fellowship provided a critical foundation for my own leadership journey. I gained resources, a network and knowledge on how to be a more effective leader — allowing me to create change on my campus. The initiative will open up doors for many aspiring leaders, many of whom are currently teachers and looking to make the step to administrator in their careers. Supporting hundreds of administrators like me, California’s investments will strengthen our educator workforce and better inform future policy decisions by tracking recruitment and retention data.

The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on our state’s schools is well documented. While all students have experienced learning loss and struggled with remote education, Black and brown students in my school and across our state have fallen further behind. Over the past three years, the “readiness gap” between Black and white students has increased from 13% to 17%, while the gap between Latino and white students increased from 3% to 12%.

Studies show that Black and Latino students score lower on standardized tests and are suspended at higher rates than their white peers while falling short of academic accountability standards. In California, while 60% of K-12 public school students are Black or Latino, only 20% of public schools have a Black or Latino leader. Similar trends are reflected in the state’s diverse AAPI student population and school leader workforce, which show that the percentage of AAPI administrators in 2018-19 was 5.8%, while the percentage of AAPI students was 12.2% in 2018-19.

This is simply unacceptable. Our students deserve more. California’s leaders in the Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom have an opportunity to reverse this alarming gap.

Walking through the halls of Fremont High School, where over 73% of our population are students of color, I am reminded of how vital it is for our state to create pathways for equity-minded school leaders.

California cannot afford to prolong getting more educators of color into the leadership pipeline. The success of our students depends on it.


Michael Gebreslassie is an assistant principal at Fremont High in the Oakland Unified School District and a graduate of the Diversity in Leadership Institute’s Aspiring Principals of Color Fellowship. 

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  1. Senai Zere 1 week ago1 week ago

    Thank you for the Dedication and Inspiration Dr. MIKE.
    You are the Practical Lesson for the say “You should choose One pain of these two pains in Life. The Pain of dedication,or the Pain of regret!” You Chose the first Pain, and now a Leader.
    We are Proud of You..always!

  2. Sawait Hezchias Seyoum 1 week ago1 week ago

    Dr. Asefaw, thank you for highlighting the undeniable need for teachers and leaders that look like the students they serve. As a parent and education leadership, administration and policy studies leader, I support the Diversity In Leadership Program and respectfully urge Governor Newsom’s support.

  3. Julinda 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    All studies show a positive impact Black students having a reflection of them through Black faculty and staff improves the quality of their education. As a Black staff person at the community college level I do my best to reach and support students who need that extra boost with support, though it’s not my direct job responsibility. I have made a difference and we need Black faculty, staff and administrators. Race is part equity.