Maryland Superintendents Featured in "Black Women Superintendents Leading With Excellence" Panel
On Wednesday, May 10, 2023, The Education Trust and the School Superintendents Association (AASA) hosted a discussion forum entitled "Black Women Superintendents Leading With Excellence," which featured superintendents from across the nation, including two school leaders from Maryland.
Dr. Sonja Brookins Santelises, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools, starred as a panelist during the conversation, while Dr. Monifa B. McKnight, Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, offered remarks. Other guests included superintendents from states such as Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, California, and Washington, D.C.
The conversation explored methods to support students’ mental health, the pressures of leadership, recent book bans, and other prevalent topics affecting students nationwide. These school leaders discussed what must be done to diversify the school leadership pipeline and, notably, how to support Black women school leaders once they take the helm.
The event's description noted that while black women make up only 1.4% of people leading school districts nationwide, black women leaders are best positioned to lead in an environment where classrooms have become sites of cultural and political conflict:
"Black women know firsthand what it takes to thrive amid racism and sexism — overcoming systemic barriers and challenges that many of their peers do not endure. This lived experience fuels them daily as they work to meet their student’s academic and social-emotional needs and ensure that, despite the challenges of the pandemic, all students leave the K-12 school system with precisely what they need to succeed."
When asked about her motivation to lead and the people that inspire her, Dr. Santelises pointed to past, present, and future generations."I am very much about the idea of legacy," Dr. Santelises stated."This is generational work. This, for me, is about strong families and strong communities."
"That's why I still do the work." Dr. Santelises continued. "If we allow a narrative that our kids and communities are so broken that we can't do anything for them until everything is perfect, then we are selling a generation down the river without anything to get them through to where they are supposed to be. They are dying from a lack of hope. That is why...I am still here. I refuse to allow trauma to be all that people know about young people in Baltimore City."
During her remarks, Dr. McKnight stated that the one theme she took away from the panel is the idea of always leading with care and compassion. "At the end of both our toughest and easiest days, it's about remembering our why," Dr. McKnight said. "Compassion means that in the toughest moments, when people try you at every level, it's about [thinking] 'what do I care about the most, and how is this moment going to help me do what I care about, or how is it going to get in the way of it?'"
For a full list of speakers, or to watch the entire panel discussion, click here.