Coffee Break: Scott Morgan Has a Stealth Plan for Getting More Leaders of Color in Education

Scott Morgan is the founder and CEO of  Education Pioneers (EP) a national nonprofit that recruits and develops professionals from diverse backgrounds and connects them with education leadership careers. With a network of 3,000-plus pioneers, EP works to bring thousands of leaders from diverse backgrounds into (non-teaching) education roles nationwide. Scott talks about what’s on his playlist and his backyard grill, why he started Education Pioneers 13-years-ago, and what we’re missing when we talk about education. You’re a San Francisco Bay Area local. What does your favorite day in the Bay Area look like? I grew up in San Jose and Santa Clara and have lived most of my life in the Bay Area. I love it here. My favorite days have family, food, and fun as a big part of them. I love spending time with my wife, Doran, and our two daughters, Julia (5) and Vivian (2). We’re a big breakfast family, and eggs are a favorite around here. I love starting the day with a nice breakfast, and coffee for that matter. After breakfast, we like to get outdoors for a family hike or bike ride. And ideally, we’d spend the afternoon hanging out in the backyard listening to music and grilling. Our family is obsessed with “Hamilton” the musical, so it’s been on our playlist for many months. And I love to grill, so if we’ve got wild salmon on the grill too; it’s a great day. You’re a big sports fan, from your alma mater Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish to the San Francisco Giants. What’s most appealing to you about sports? It’s really the mental side of sports that draws me in. When you watch the game, you see such a small fraction of what it takes to get there. On game day, all the preparation, practice and discipline show up. I can appreciate how much hard work players put in and what it takes to get there. Coaches play a critical role too. One of the greatest coaches in any sport was University of California, Los Angeles basketball coach  John Wooden, who had such a focus on practice, preparation, and the mental side of the game. Great coaches understand that championships are won or lost through that preparation and practice. Just like great coaches matter in sports, great leaders matter in education. You founded Education Pioneers in 2003 to draw more non-instructional leaders into education; why did focusing on non-instructional leadership spark a passion within you? I saw that leadership made a huge difference at Aspire Public Schools when I was there serving as in-house counsel. I saw how much it mattered to have organizational leaders with instructional expertise and to have leaders with business know-how in strategy, operations, data analysis, and more—aspects that are critical to build a high-performing organization. I saw that it was also true when I looked out at other organizations beyond Aspire. A lot of the idea and the spark for Education Pioneers came from seeing and experiencing the impact that non-instructional leaders who work outside of the classroom can have in building great organizations where students and teachers thrive. When people think or talk about education, the focus is usually on principals and teachers. What do we miss when we talk about non-instructional leaders in education? Instructional leaders—teachers and principals—operate within a larger ecosystem. We need that ecosystem to be a talent magnet that attracts, grows, and keeps great teachers and principals. We often miss how important non-instructional leaders are to support great teachers and principals. Unfortunately, too often education ecosystems can be a talent repellent that makes teachers’ and principals’ jobs harder, and can drive amazing educators out of the profession. When you have leaders outside of the classroom who can improve organizations and systems, teachers and principals are able to do their jobs better. So I see non-instructional leaders as totally connected and essential to having great teacher and principals in schools. Education Pioneers has focused on supporting racially/ethnically and socioeconomically diverse leaders through its fellowship, written  a report on recruiting and retaining people of color in education nonprofits, and partnered with leading organizations to recruit and develop more diverse leaders. Why is it so important to recruit and support diverse leaders in education, and what have you learned about this work along the way? It’s important to start by acknowledging how deeply our educational system is failing low-income families, students and communities of color. It’s tragic and unacceptable. We really need creative solutions that meet the needs of those students, families and communities. Yet, we’re not tapping into the wisdom of leaders who reflect those communities at the level we need to get to better performing schools and education organizations. In the report, From Intention to Action: Building Diverse, Inclusive Teams in Education to Deepen Impact, we found that racial diversity decreases as you look at more senior leadership levels in education. The racial and ethnic makeup of the students in our cities isn’t reflected in the leaders who serve those students and communities. We have a long way to go to change the face of educational leadership so that we can get to a much better place in terms of performance. Who is the leader you most admire, and why? Abraham Lincoln. We’ve all heard the phrase, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But the thing about Lincoln is that with power he got better. He got wiser. During Lincoln’s life, he experienced failure after failure after failure. And Lincoln used every experience to learn, grow and get better. He practiced writing and persuading until he was great at both. Lincoln was a man who had very little formal education but who used his lifetime to learn.
Katelyn Silva
Katelyn Silva is mom to a third grader and an education writer in Providence, Rhode Island. She operates her own education writing consulting business. She was previously the chief communications officer at Rhode Island Mayoral Academies, a nonprofit dedicated to opening intentionally diverse public charter schools. Prior to that, she was the communications director at the University of Chicago ...

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