Article by Cecily Garber
Since its founding 50 years ago, Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences has committed to supporting diversity. At the K-12 school in Santa Monica, California, 50% of the student body identifies as people of color, as do 38% of faculty. In recent years, Crossroads has prioritized increasing the number of people of color who sit on its senior leadership team, and in the past two years, the school conducted searches for three of these positions: associate head of school, director of finance and operations, and head of upper school. For each position, all of the finalists were people of color. As of July 1, 2021, when the new director of finance and operations steps in, four out of the nine members of this team will be people of color.
“It’s undeniable that the diversity of our school community is one of our greatest strengths,” said Head of School Bob Riddle. “This is something that parents in the independent school market increasingly understand and look for. We know that all students benefit from a diverse learning community. Parents are seeking out schools that welcome and support families, teachers and staff from all backgrounds.” In fact, surveys from the Enrollment Management Association indicate the next generation of K-12 parents are carefully researching prospective schools and expressing their desire to see diversity within every facet of a school community, including its administration.
While obtaining high levels of racial and ethnic diversity within an independent school administration may be more difficult depending on the school’s location, Riddle recommends the following strategies to increase your chances of finding the right candidate:
“I became Crossroads’ head 12 years ago, and in every administrative search we have conducted since then, I have insisted that at least one of our finalists was a person of color. I kept the candidate pool open until that condition was met.”
Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences
- Be patient. Sometimes, you might have many highly qualified candidates of color right off the bat. Other times, you may need to broaden your search. Be confident that the right candidate is out there and invest in the time needed to find them. “I became Crossroads’ head 12 years ago, and in every administrative search we have conducted since then, I have insisted that at least one of our finalists was a person of color,” said Riddle. “I kept the candidate pool open until that condition was met.”
- Expand your horizons. Don’t limit yourself to candidates with vast independent school experience. You can find seasoned professionals with the skills you need working in everything from nonprofits and universities to arts organizations and the corporate world. An added bonus: hires outside the independent school sector may bring fresh ideas and perspectives to your school.
- Choose the right search firm. Knowing that you may need to consider candidates from different sectors, consider hiring a search firm that works with a broader professional population, beyond the firms most commonly used by independent schools. Make sure the firm understands that finding excellent candidates of color is key, and that the firm has the track record to prove it.
- Support your workforce. You likely have teachers and staff of color with tremendous leadership potential. Nurture their growth through professional development grants and mentorship programs to prepare them to take on high-level roles at your school.
National education organizations can also play a significant role in helping independent schools diversify their administrations through programs that support a path to leadership for members of underrepresented communities. “We’re finally beginning to see the fruits of the work put in place more than a decade ago to support young leaders of color,” shared Riddle. “Thirteen years ago, I went through a new heads bootcamp run by NAIS. From what I remember, of the 60 participants, there were only roughly 12 women and three people of color. Thankfully, those numbers are changing.”
Due to the small number of senior leaders within any given school, it will likely take time to develop a more diverse senior leadership team; positions open up only so often. But when they do, make sure you are ready. Growing a more diverse leadership team takes commitment from the top, expanding your search criteria for candidates, picking the right search firm, and nurturing homegrown talent.
“Crossroads’ senior leadership team is responsible for making major decisions that impact every facet of school life,” said Riddle. “It’s crucial that those decision-makers reflect the diversity of our school, our city and our world.”