A Crisis in Finding the Next Gen Leaders

Attracting top-level minority talent to the educational professions

by Dr. Rod Berger

With Christopher Stewart, it all started many years ago when his oldest son started school. That’s the reason why he got involved in education and as he says, “It’s the reason I'm here, and that's the only reason why we're having this conversation.”

Chris became a parent activist and a parent advocate. But, he says, “I'm sitting here in spite of the system, not because the system did anything good to draw me in.”

He sees a crisis in the education community across the country when it comes to attracting top-level talent to teaching and other educational professions. From the dynamic teachers in the classroom all the way up to software designers and beyond, the best minds are going elsewhere with more attractive opportunities. “We have a 150-year-old school system in a lot of places that hasn’t changed enough, and it doesn't make itself very attractive to the most talented,” Chris says. But even deeper, he sees a critical crisis attracting talented people of color.

“For black kids who have a black teacher once or twice in their school career, it makes a big difference in their graduation rates and their college acceptance rates,” he says. “There is a push almost everywhere to increase the rates of people of color leading educational initiatives, but it's not fast enough, and it's not producing enough leaders.” He says there is a real lack of incentives to attract the brightest minds to come back to education as a profession after college.  

“It will be a catastrophe if we don't get more kids of color and low-income kids across the finish line,” Chris says. “The land of opportunity only starts opening up the moment that you're qualified to participate in it. And we are not qualifying enough people of color to actually participate.”

About Christopher Stewart:

Chris Stewart is Senior Partner and Chief Executive of the Wayfinder Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20 year veteran of nonprofit work. Stewart has served as the former Director of Outreach and External Affairs for Education Post, the Executive Director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education where he was radicalized by witnessing the many systemic inequities that hold our children back.

In 2007 Chris was elected to the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education. In that role, he helped establish the Office of New Schools, an area of the Minneapolis Public Schools to implement school reform strategies. At the same time he created the Equity and Achievement Committee, authored a board-level “Covenant with the African American Community,” and advocated safe, orderly, and rigorous schools that prepare students for the real world.

In 2011, Chris organized community members for two campaigns in Minnesota: Action For Equity, a grassroots effort to spur innovation in family and education policy at the state level, and the Contract for Student Achievement, a coalition of community organizations working to achieve greater flexibility for underperforming schools through changes to Minneapolis’ teachers’ contract. Since 2009 Chris has been president and principal with Yielding Assets, LLC, a grassroots consultancy helping government, nonprofit, and foundation clients create self-sustaining, social good projects.

Chris serves as chair of the board of SFER’s Action Network and also serves on the board of Ed Navigators.

Chris blogs and tweets under the name Citizen Stewart and publishes at Citizen Education. He is based in the Minneapolis area.

Follow Chris Stewart on Twitter.

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