Dr. Marion Smith Jr, Assistant State Superintendent - Instructional Programs & Services at Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE)

Dr. Marion Smith Jr. is a transformative educator, scholar-practitioner, and racial equity leader. He brings over 20 years of visionary leadership impacting and managing complex organizational growth and change in PK-12 education, post-secondary institutions, and EdTech. He has served as a public school teacher, school principal, school district chief academic officer, and school district superintendent of schools. He currently serves as an assistant state superintendent with the Maryland State Department of Education. He is a lifelong learner with an earned doctorate degree in educational leadership and change from Fielding Graduate University; an inaugural graduate of the AASA Urban Superintendents Academy from the University of Southern California (USC); Public Education Leadership Project (PELP) Summer Institute alumni from Harvard Business School; Men of Color in Educational Leadership (MCEL) National Leadership Institute Inaugural Fellow; and a Spring 2024 graduate from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.


The presence of Black male leaders in K-12 education remains a rarity, despite our invaluable contributions, positive impact, and unique perspectives. As a Black man who has navigated the K-12 education system from student to superintendent of schools, I have experienced firsthand the challenges and complexities that come with being a Black man in positions of leadership. These challenges are not only personal but deeply rooted in institutionalized inequities and systemic biases. In this article, I shed light on a variety of struggles faced by Black male education leaders, learned through my own experiences and by engaging with other Black male educators throughout my 20+ year professional career, and I offer a call to action with guidance on how to uplift and to empower these much-needed leaders in our educational institutions.

The Current Landscape

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, Black men account for approximately 2% of teachers in K-12 education in the US. There is no database that provides current information identifying the number of Black men who hold leadership roles across the K-12 landscape because “leadership” is defined differently across the many K-12 systems. However, in a 2023 Education Week article it was noted that 12% of school district leaders, those who serve as superintendent of schools, are Black. This data was not separated by gender. These statistics underscore a sobering reality: Black male voices are severely underrepresented in the decision-making processes that shape our educational systems.

Challenges Faced by Black Male Leaders in K-12 Education

As Black male leaders in education, we confront a myriad of challenges that stem from both internal and external sources. We often find ourselves walking a tightrope, navigating the intersection of race, gender, and identity. History documents a few key challenges we face:

  1. Stereotypes and Bias: Black male leaders are subjected to stereotypes and biases that question our competence, intellect, and authority.
  2. Isolation and Tokenism: Being a Black male leader in the field of education, a field represented by an 80% female workforce, often leads to feelings of isolation and tokenism, where we are relegated to the role of disciplinarian, athletic coach, or operations lead versus a leader of curriculum and instruction.
  3. Microaggressions and Discrimination: Over time, acts of discrimination and microaggressions chip away at our psyche, confidence, and overall well-being.
  4. Lack of Mentorship and Support: The absence of mentorship and support networks tailored to the unique experiences of Black male leaders presents barriers to professional growth and development.
  5. Unequal Access to Opportunities: Structural barriers often limit the advancement and visibility of Black male leaders, depriving us of opportunities for career progression.

Strategies to Support Black Male Leaders in Education

To create the conditions for Black male leaders to thrive and to foster inclusive and equitable K-12 education systems, it is imperative to uplift and empower Black male leaders. I offer a few impactful and innovative strategies to support us:

  1. Cultivate a Supportive Network: Establish mentorship and sponsorship programs, and affinity groups that provide guidance, encouragement, and a sense of community for Black male leaders.
  2. Professional Learning: Offer targeted and differentiated professional learning opportunities that address the unique needs and challenges faced by Black male leaders.
  3. Promote Diverse Representation: Advocate for policies that promote diversity and representation in leadership positions, ensuring equitable access.
  4. Address Implicit Bias: Provide training and resources to address implicit bias and create accountability structures to promote a culture of inclusivity within educational institutions.
  5. Create Courageous Spaces for Dialogue: Model open and honest conversations about race, equity, identity, and leadership, creating courageous spaces for Black male leaders to share their experiences and perspectives.
  6. Celebrate Achievements: Recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black male leaders, highlighting our impact on students, schools, and communities.
  7. Policy Advocacy: Advocate for policies that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in educational leadership and work towards dismantling systemic barriers.
  8. Wellness and Self-Care: Prioritize the well-being and self-care of Black male leaders by providing resources and support for managing stress and burnout, amidst navigating dominate culture.
  9. Celebrating Success: Recognize and celebrate the achievements and contributions of Black male leaders in education to inspire future generations and to foster a culture of excellence.
  10. Continued Learning and Growth: Encourage and provide financial support for ongoing learning and professional growth opportunities through continuous education, research, and engagement with “best we know right now” practices.

The journey of Black male leaders in K-12 education is fraught with challenges; however, it is also filled with immense potential for impact and transformation. By implementing targeted strategies and approaches to support Black male leaders, we can create more equitable and inclusive K-12 education systems.


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