Why School Leader Diversity Matters

All students, regardless of race or ethnicity, benefit from having teachers and school leaders of color. School leadership is one of the most important in-school factors that affect students’ social, emotional, and academic development. Access to same-race school leaders can positively shape education experiences for students of color, including higher math achievement and greater representation in gifted programs. Further, students of color should have the same opportunity that their White peers have to see same-race school leaders which can positively influence their identity development and future aspirations.

In addition to their direct impact on students, school leaders are central to recruiting, retaining, and developing strong teachers. Since principals of color are often more likely to hire and retain teachers of color, increasing school leader diversity is a key lever for addressing educational inequities.

Increased school leader diversity positively impact s student social, emotional, and academic development (SEAD). Recent data indicates that only 22% of principals in the U.S. are people of color, compared with 54% of students. As the nation continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, state and district leaders must double-down their recruitment and retention efforts to ensure that students have equitable access to strong school leaders with diverse backgrounds who are focused on accelerating learning and building strong relationships with students.

To provide advocates and policymakers with context on this important issue, Ed Trust partnered with New Leaders to conduct a statewide and district-specific analysis of student and school leader demographics in Georgia public schools. This state has the potential to develop a strong pipeline of school leaders from diverse backgrounds: In addition to having a racially and geographically diverse student population, Georgia is home to 10 historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and 10 current or emerging Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs). This brief provides recommendations for state and district leaders in Georgia to develop these strong pipelines to create a diverse school leader workforce.

Policy Recommendations

Georgia is ripe for increasing equitable access to a diverse workforce of school leaders. State leaders can reduce inequities, create stronger school leader pipelines, and support school leader retention by taking the following actions.

Make data on school leader diversity publicly available and easily accessible...

Make data on school leader diversity publicly available and easily accessible at the state and district level.

The Georgia Department of Education should commit to providing publicly available statewide data on school leader diversity. In addition, Georgia should require districts to provide publicly available information on school leader diversity. Statewide data can provide an overall snapshot of leader diversity but does not reflect varying levels of access to diverse school leaders across districts. For example, according to Ed Trust analyses, in Atlanta Public Schools, where 83% of students are of color, nearly all students (97%) have access to a school leader of color; on the other hand, in Columbia County, where 41% of students are of color, 57% of students have a school leader of color.

Identify educator preparation programs that are well-positioned...

Identify educator preparation programs that are well-positioned to support districts in recruiting educators of color.

Principal preparation programs are key to developing strong school leaders. Partnerships with institutions committed to the success of people of color can help make school leader preparation more impactful. The Georgia Department of Education partnered with Albany State University, an HBCU, to improve principal preparation programs. Two other HBCUs — Clark Atlanta University and Morehouse College — have partnered with New Leaders to design an online principal certification and master’s degree program to train the next generation of equity-focused school leaders who reflect the students they serve. The Georgia Department of Education should highlight successes from these partnerships to build on and establish relationships with select HBCUs or HSIs to help credential diverse candidates, especially Latino candidates, through high-quality programming.

Assess the impact of recent changes to school leadership preparation policies.

Assess the impact of recent changes to school leadership preparation policies.

In 2016, Georgia made changes to school leadership preparation policies, including the creation of a two-tier licensure system. The Georgia Department of Education should review the impact of these policies with an eye toward increasing the number of well-prepared school leaders with diverse backgrounds. Questions to explore include: Has the updated approach increased the quality and effectiveness of assistant principals and principals across the state? Has it created barriers into leadership and, if so, for whom? This data can be used to inform continuous improvement of both state policy and program implementation.

Provide resources to help districts examine recruitment and hiring systems and processes...

Provide resources to help districts examine recruitment and hiring systems and processes to ensure educators of color have equitable access to leadership development opportunities and the proper resources and support needed to navigate hiring processes.

In a national survey of over 100 district leaders, only half of them indicated that there is a defined pathway to the principalship. Absent this, leaders of color are left navigating unspoken expectations regarding the leadership presence and the expected experiences of future principals. Georgia can support districts by establishing communities of practice and offering technical assistance for districts on auditing and improving recruitment and hiring processes through an equity lens. Georgia can also consider providing resources and training directly to hiring teams at the district or school levels to promote best practices for building diverse candidate pools (e.g., on the importance of same-race mentorship) and reducing bias in hiring decisions.


Build communities that support and retain leaders of color.

Build communities that support and retain leaders of color.

Georgia can establish statewide affinity networks, fellowships, and communities of practice for leaders of color, and take steps to encourage districts to establish similar local cohorts. The state may also tap these networks of expert practitioners to help inform policy development.

Expand efforts to recruit and retain teachers of color: the future pipeline of leaders of color.

Expand efforts to recruit and retain teachers of color: the future pipeline of leaders of color. 

Georgia must do more to build and support the pipeline of teachers of color. This could include supporting the creation of Grow Your Own (GYO) programming and other pathways for non-teaching staff to secure teaching credentials. Often, paraprofessionals and after-school staff are more racially and/or ethnically diverse than traditional teacher pipelines and they have real school-based experience and dispositions that are well-suited to teaching. Providing intentional support and defined pathways can support future educators in gaining necessary skills to move into teaching roles. (For more about how Georgia can prioritize educator diversity, see Ed Trust’s 50-state teacher diversity data and policy scan: