Oregon’s public schools are more diverse now than at any other time in our history, but the number of superintendents of color in our state is not just stagnant, it is in a highly concerning free fall. Only a handful of the 197 school districts in the state of Oregon are led by superintendents of color, and we believe this is a serious problem.
In recent years, student demographics have continued to shift in Oregon. Today, nearly two of every five students (38.5%) are racially, ethnically and/or linguistically diverse. There are 25 districts in Oregon where students of color make up the majority of their school’s population. Meanwhile, the composition of our educator and administrator workforce is changing very slowly. The 2020 Oregon Educator Equity Report shows that just 11.7% of teachers and 12.5% of administrators are racially, ethnically and/or linguistically diverse.
This disparity is glaring in the ranks of our school superintendents. After five departures this spring, less than 5% of Oregon superintendents today are leaders of color. Put another way, Oregon now has so few superintendents of color that they could all ride together in one vehicle.
Why does this matter? Because these numbers indicate a frightening trend that will not benefit students, educators or communities. And this lack of visible representation conveys a perception that Oregon is not a welcoming or supportive environment for leaders of color, making it even more challenging to recruit, support or encourage educational leaders to consider the superintendent role.
Decades of research provide data about the positive impacts of educator diversity on academic achievement and social and emotional development for students of color and tribal students, as well as their white peers. Studies show that students of color benefit from higher teacher expectations and from seeing members of their own race/ethnicity as role models in respected professions. Our experience in Oregon has demonstrated that districts led by superintendents of color attract a more diverse educator workforce and welcome otherwise —unheard community voices in district decision making.
But today, our school boards are challenged to find and keep leaders that reflect the makeup of our schools. Our school communities — and the organizations we lead — are challenged to support and retain leaders of color. For this to change, we have to change. We need to change our systems, our behaviors and our approaches. Our students need leadership who directly reflect their identities, and we need both immediate and sustainable long-term solutions. It’s imperative that school districts communicate a goal to hire leaders of color, and prioritize their support and success. School boards have a specific role and responsibility here, given that superintendents are their one and only employee to directly support, supervise and evaluate.
The Oregon Department of Education, the Oregon School Boards Association, the Coalition of Oregon School Administrators, the Oregon Teacher Standards and Practices Commission and the Oregon Educator Advancement Council commit to immediately commission a study to examine the difficulties Oregon is facing in recruiting, hiring and retaining superintendents of color. The study will identify what factors contribute to their successes or career challenges as well as recommendations for change and improvement.
Also important is Senate Bill 334, which requires equity and governance training for school boards. We encourage the Legislature to pass this important legislation. These actions, and the hiring decisions around them, will have significant repercussions for students.
We have nearly 561,000 students in our K-12 schools. That’s 561,000 reasons to get this right.