Leveraging Strategic Leadership to Close Excellence and Innovation Gaps in the AC-Stage of Education

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Dr. Dawn DuBose currently serves as the Chief of Schools for Stafford Municipal School District and as an Adjunct Professor. Most recently she served as the Leadership Development Officer in Houston ISD, as well as, a Smithsonian Science Education/Shell Oil Summit Mentor. Dawn served in Houston ISD for 22 years.

Dr. Michael Conner

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening from where you are. Thank you for tuning into this lovely episode, Episode 11 of Voices for Excellence. But more importantly, this is our Black Excellence series, where the Agile Evolutionary Group is celebrating Black History Month. How are you? I am Dr. Michael Conner. I am your host of the Voices for Excellence Podcast series, but also the CEO and founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group. And for our Black Excellence series, I would like to welcome this esteemed educator. Now, I’ve heard so much about Dr. Dawn DuBose as a principal. Now, every time that I engage with educators across the country and I’m standing next to Dr. DuBose, everybody goes up to her and tells her how much they have impacted either their son, their daughter, or their kids, plural. And now Dr. DuBose is the Chief of Schools for the Stafford Municipal School District in Stafford, Texas. But more importantly, she is a huge change agent in the Education ecosystem. Her advocacy for black students goals goes beyond years, I would say over over 25-30 years that Dr. DuBose has been in education. And I say that in a context of not only wisdom and experience, but also guiding aspiring leaders within this field. Also, Dr. DuBose served as the president of the Houston NABSE affiliate, which is Houston TABSE, is that it? Okay, Houston TABSE. And then also, she served as a longstanding board member for TABSE, which is the Texas affiliate of NABSE. And right now, she is one of the facilitators for the aspiring superintendents in the TABSE cohort. So without further ado, she is a well-respected educator, a personal friend of mine, we are fraternity brothers and sisters. Yes, Dr. DuBose belonged to Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated. As you know, I belong that Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., so there’s that 0608 bond. But just from the standpoint of learning for this episode, I want to welcome Dr. Dawn DuBose. Good to see you.

Dr. Dawn DuBose

Thank you for having me on. And thank you for the introduction and accolades I treasure our field of study. And so, again, it’s an honor to be here, especially going into Black History Month. 

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah. Yeah. This is a great, great, great, great month to celebrate black history. In January, we heard about policy that was adopted and implemented in Florida, where it denies the AP course around African-American history. Now, just for me and again, this is a really high level immense dissonance that I’m experiencing with this, where there’s that equilibrium, or I should say that correlation between CRT and Black history, I don’t understand it. But again, there’s a lot of things in society we don’t understand. Here for the Voices for Excellence series, podcast series, we are celebrating black excellence and that is why you are on Dr. DuBose. So as we go right into the the podcast, I’m interested in hearing what your response is, because I know… I remember I was at NABSE, and I’ll never forget this, and Dawn and I, you and I, we were, I believe this was at my book signing, and we were having a conversation. And there must have been at least six individuals that came up to you who were talking about how you impacted them or impacted their their own individual children. I mean, are you a rock star? Can I get your autograph? But when you are presenting nationally or when you’re at a huge Texas event or when you’re acting as the chief of schools for the Stafford Municipal School District… I stole this directly from Dr. Tracy Davis. I can’t take any credit from this, but I’ve been asking this question because it kind of opens up who you are as a person, but what is your equity song? When you walk in that room, what defines that equity song about Dr. Dawn DuBose?

Dr. Dawn DuBose

So I’m a huge music lover, so that meant that I had to go through like my playlist and I had to look at a lot of pieces of music. Plus I listen to multiple genres, so it took me a while to get there. I thought I was going to do like a politically correct gospel song, but it didn’t work out for this. So what I went with… when I’m in that space, one of the things that we talk a lot about in TABSE is rise. So one of the songs, one because I selected two, was Rise Up by Andra Day. And so our goal was to always just sort of rise and bring everyone up together for the purpose of our kids and not just all our kids, but when we’re in that space, we know that that’s an opportunity to really come together to determine, not to determine, but to figure out what we’re going to do to continue to improve the plight of African American students. And then the other song that I selected, I’m a kid of hip hop, so I went with the hip hop song as well. So I went with Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, by The Way. And so with that, one of the things we have to have, we have to have grit in the work that we do. And so we can’t give up. So Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, we’re not talking about Sean Puff Daddy Combs Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop. No, we’re talking about the original right here. Yes, that did the gloss. But when you rise up. That, I mean, when I hear that song right now and know your word, know the importance that you have, not to just Texas but overall in totality to the education field, your work underscores that title of rise up. But now when we talk about Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop, I don’t want to get into that, but Dr. Dubose, Can’t Stop, Won’t stop and Rise Up. You are a staunch advocate for early childhood education. You and I shared that that love with the babies, as we call it. When I went to the Stafford Municipal School District everybody, no lie, for a site visit, Dr. BuBose took me in the infant and toddler room. She knew where to have my heart. And I saw this beautiful baby and I was like, oh you brought me in here for a reason. But yes, early childhood education specifically closing… And I want to do a little level setting with the broad research that I think everybody knows about, it’s the Hart and Risley Study, the 33 million word gap, we know about that. But let’s look at a specifically closing the preparation gap in the context of the Hart and Risley study. We know that. We see, I like to say, this achievement disconnect where we know that the achievement gap is pretty much a symptom, it’s not the root cause. The root cause is really addressing that preparation gap. And already people perceive that the achievement gap is the root cause. But when they enter kindergarten, what have we done strategically on the back end to strengthen our early childhood education model, to eliminate those gaps so they are quote unquote, kindergarten ready? But you have done a really good job of creating that vertical sequence within the education ecosystem in Stafford, that connectivity between our early childhood learners and K-2 literacy structures and systems, even numeracy, if you want to add that in. But just from a literacy standpoint, how did you create that structural coherence of excellence as it pertains to ensuring that your student, your early chapter education learners, they enter kindergarten ready as they come in at kindergarten? We see a lot of that disconnect. But how did you create that connectivity?

Dr. Dawn DuBose

So one of the things you’re going to hear me do today, I’m going to use a lot of pronouns like we and our. So you’ll hear me say that a lot today. First of all, let me state that I am a traditionally trained teacher at the harp, meaning that I was an education major and I actually majored in early childhood education number one. Two, my first job in education was in pre-K. That was my first job. And I am so grateful for that experience because what that experience did for me was it really taught me what kids can do. So a lot of times when I hear people say they can’t, I’m like, yes, they can. When I think about… we’re going to touch on literacy some. And so oftentimes with literacy, you have your teachers that… they’re kind of afraid of the work stations and scared the kids are going to be all over the place. And I’m like, no, no, no. I’ll be like, surely if a three year old or a four year old can function at workstations independently, then certainly the older students can. So certainly that’s something that I feel strongly about. But one of the things when I think about the space of early childhood education and literacy are that we’re definitely on the path of increasing early learning. And we definitely have to start with three year olds and in some cases even younger than that. We’re just now getting to the place that people understand the importance of pre-K4 and depending on the exposure of the child… in all honesty, all kids don’t need it depending on the opportunities that they’re already receiving. But we know that you are, Dr. Conner, a strong proponent of equity. So when we look at this through the equity lens, we certainly understand that it’s important for our kids as early as three year olds that might already be experiencing that language gap for them to be in that space. I’m going to… hopefully I won’t go off too much. 

Dr. Michael Conner

No, no, no. This is good.

Dr. Dawn DuBose

But one of the things that is happening in education right now, and hopefully I won’t offend anyone, is that we’re in a space where we’re, because of COVID, we’re the AC mode of course, that we want to keep our teachers, and a lot of districts are moving towards lowering their days for how often their teachers have to report to work. And so in all honesty, working four days a week and a lot of people want to do it for saving money. It’s… for me I love to travel, four days a week would be awesome for me. But when you get to the core of what’s good for kids and then we get into this gap, word gap, is that good for kids? And so all of these things go into equity. It’s funny because of course we’re coming off of not too long ago, Martin Luther King Day. And sometimes people feel like the only advocate of African-Americans that we talk about is Martin Luther King. But we also know that in terms of causing this gap, we know that poverty plays a really huge role. And when we think about Dr. King towards the end of his career, a lot of his emphasis was on poverty. You have people now that are picking up that torch like Reverend Barber, who’s at Yale, who’s picking up that torch in terms of what poverty is causing. So one of the things in tying up this response is that in our communities, we definitely need to work with our partners. We need to work with Head Start, we need to work with our nonprofits to increase the resources for our kids, because that’s what that does when we do that. And one of the things, even based on the study that you were referring to, is that we definitely… there was a campaign out there and it was called STAR, which stands for Sing, Talk And Read. So those are things that when we think about our babies, when we think about them in the womb, when we think about them getting ready for learning, Sing, Talk and Read are things that we have to do to get our kids aware, to get them prepared. And we also cannot… we cannot, we cannot, we cannot forget that we have to address all aspects of literacy, meaning comprehension, phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, listening, writing, fluency. And guess what I’m going to say, spelling. We got away from spelling for a while. But I will say this, if a kid knows how to spell, they know how to read. 

Dr. Michael Conner

Okay, Dr. DuBose.

Dr. Dawn DuBose

I have strong feelings about early childhood education. 

Dr. Michael Conner

That’s a that’s a bold statement, Dr. DuBose. But you know what? I was just sitting here and just writing down everything and themes. So many themes that I targeted when you were providing that answer and that answer, I’m a huge proponent of direct instruction, point six on Hattie’s effect size. We want to talk about that now. We bring in the element of disruption from asynchronous, because I know that after after this recording and even when we air this for our Black Excellence series, I’m going to listen to that answer again, because there are elements that can easily be abstracted into an individual thread to integrate it into this. This cross-reference in building an efficient system for kids, especially early childhood learners, high expectations from birth to four. You really highlight it strong at age three, that pre-K level. But if we really want to close the preparation gap, it’s really first for what is the community and integrate it like a local education agency, even a state education agency. But you had this thing of all aspects of reading, underscoring that with an equity lens, this is the first time I’ve heard, which I really love, Dr. DuBose, because now you’re getting into the reading. I love that. Or the love that I have for reading is this fact of oral language development. Going through the process of oral language development to the whole. I like to say the phonemic series and then leading to this higher level of comprehension. But let’s go into this all aspects of reading. I’m going to take your phrase with that and ask this question because we’re seeing a national debate and you already know I’m going to bring this up because I consider you a reading czar, an expert. So I want to hear your take on this. And there’s been this debate. And reason why I’m laughing is because it’s kind of like… it’s interesting hearing both dynamics of it when in reality, the strategies should be a true polarity, i.e. how to integrate both of them with like a strategic confluence so that now you’re being a true diagnostic literacy practitioner and providing the necessary strategies and methodologies to what that individual student needs. So if you’re a true diagnostic practitioner, there shouldn’t be a debate between which approach is better. That’s why when we get to that level of personalization, there’s this debate between whole language and structured literacy block. And what I mean by that is, you have your individuals who are proponents of science of reading, and proponents of the whole language approach. So this has been a focus for the United States Department of Education, even to the fact of policy adoption at the state level. My only anecdotal that I have for this is that, and this is a very broad quality, if you can argue that it is subjective, a subjective notion is that we really need to have K to levels where there is explicit instruction at the foundational levels. Because we’re building students capacity to know how to read. So from a science aspect of it, we have to look at specific routines and focuses and be able to look at standards of foundational standards and incorporate that with the science. I think that’s an obvious . We can’t have students jumping into a chapter book as soon as they enter kindergarten, so I think that’s obvious. We need some components of phonics. But there’s there’s that, there’s that argument. So where are we really at when we see this data exacerbation, where K-2 students, students that haven’t had pre-kindergarten experience because of COVID. We know we’re seeing students from each–

Dr. Dawn DuBose

A lot of them sat out during that time.

Dr. Michael Conner

And they sat out. So help me understand how do we build a true, coherent literacy system of success around the country. 

Dr. Dawn DuBose

So one of the things you said, a key term, and the key term was diagnostic. If you are utilizing your diagnostic tools, because one thing about it is you don’t have to spend a lot of time teaching a child a particular area if they already know it. You can move on. And so do you have the tools available to move kids to where they are? Because what you will find is you may have a kid that is… they may be very well… maybe they can recognize words, but they don’t have phonemic awareness. Or, you know, their fluency is not quite where it needs to be. So you’ve got to find those holes because all of those pieces that I mentioned, they’re all needed. 

Dr. Michael Conner

And, Dr. DuBose, If I can just interject because you provided a great example of what that diagnostic lens is demonstrated in that context because we have to be that data savvy just like what you were talking about with each individual student, because that’s where now the fluidity or the relativity of how you’re using your formative data to make those diagnostic decisions around, should we focus on phonics or is there a key focus around comprehension that undergirds anchor standard 4 which is vocabulary? That level of differentiation for the practitioner I think is the, I think is one of the symptoms of problem practice we need to build upon. Please Dr. DuBose, because we can go on for hours with this conversation.

Dr. Dawn DuBose

Yes. So what that means is that you’ve got to find the holes because if you’re doing whole language as an approach, you’re not going to find that whole. It’s not going to show up until later on because that kid never got that. But if you’re using a diagnostic tool, looking at all of those different areas, you’re going to catch it. So later on, it doesn’t become an issue. Many of you or people out there, people that will be listening, there are a lot of kids that intellectually they have no issues, but they’re dyslexic. And a lot of that is because and sometimes, again, like the example that I use and I hope I said it correctly, they might know the word by memorization, but they don’t know how to attack that word. Correct. So that’s why it’s critical that even your kid, even your kid that is high functioning, you don’t want to make any assumptions that you’re not covering all of these these areas of literacy. But one of the things that I wanted to say in the state of Texas, and I’m glad that… I guess I would say I would commend in the state on this because prior BC, our scores in Texas, I mean, we’ve been floundering as it relates to literacy and so through House Bill, I think is House Bill 3, if I’m not mistaken, several years ago, the decision was made that all of our teachers pre-K through third grade and our fourth and fifth grade teachers would actually receive the same training. They would have to go through the reading Academy. And that Reading Academy approaches literacy from all those different components. And then from there, they have to go to these different modules and there has to be calibration and they have to pass those tests. So I think that it’s smart that our state is doing that because now there is a more concise way to teach literacy because there have been a lot of people that have come out of alternative certification programs, as well as teacher education programs that aren’t ready to teach kids how to read. And that’s just the truth. And so definitely I believe we’re moving in the right direction to make sure that our teachers are stronger and really have that understanding. Because remember, and you kind of started out with this question, there has not been agreement on how you should teach kids to read. So now we’re moving in a direction of, okay, research tells us this. So this is the model that we’re going to use and we’re going to be on the same page in terms of ensuring that our students can be stronger academically in reading. And you can tell just by your responses that Texas has a focus on pedagogical efficacy. Ensuring that there’s that efficacy on how to teach reading. And whereas the appropriate mode of pedagogy. But when I think about identifier targeting. Yes, there are best practices within that literacy structure that need to be implemented, but I think there should be levels of flexibility because of the diverse range of literacy learners and their ability and readiness levels at the baseline or wherever they’re at. 

Dr. Michael Conner

So, you know, Dr. DuBose, you make a really, really good point with that because collectively I think that we need to identify that yes, there needs to be structured literacy components in place, but I think that we should move away from the argument of whole language versus the science of reading and really move towards building practitioner and leadership capacity around these broad elements of whole language and the science of reading, so that when leaders go in to their classrooms, they’re able to support the growth in the continuous development of literacy teachers that range in that variety of the science of reading. Because when I was a fourth grade teacher, the reason why, and looking back at it, reflecting on it, the reason why I really didn’t hit, really celebrate, I would say a collection of students or a cadre of students is because when I look back at my pedagogical practices, what was missing was an entity of being able to deliver high quality, routine instruction around specific instruction focuses as well as aligning to explicit practices that are grounded in the foundational skills. So that’s kind of like a reflection of…and I was in a high poverty district. So yes, they need that even at the fourth or fifth grade level in order for them to reach those higher level comprehension skills. But Dr. DuBose, I can go on a diatribe with that. I apologize I asked that question, because you and I, we’ve had some really, really, really good long conversations about this. And I wanted our audience to experience the discussions that you and I have offline about really critical topics with this. But moving into another area I think that you are an expert at and people obviously validate it whenever they see you. So I know you’ve worked in Stafford for a couple of years, but you are revered… This is what you’re known as. And I’d rather be known as, you know, a revered principal or a revered teacher as opposed to being known as a revered superintendent because you know why? Principals and teachers, they interact with the most important customers every single day. They establish relationships every single day. Yes, we make big decisions to make system changes, to create opportunities for those kids in the classrooms. But there’s nothing better than being with students and staff every single day, being able to walk into the schools and smell the cafeteria food as the lunch waves are about to happen. There’s nothing like that. But you’re revered as a principal in Houston, so it really speaks about your testament and your strategic approach about developing culture within your school district. So Stafford, we see innovation from a gamification program within the STEM school. Your K-2 babies, even though we were talking about a static design and what I mean by static that means it’s over time within the industrial model, talking about the debate between whole language and the science of reading. But I saw, in Stafford, kindergarten and first graders coding on a specific program. Wow, wow, wow, and wow. But the whole element of this is closing gaps intentionally, specifically around culture. And I want to reference yes, gap elements from the disruptive excellence framework, but I want to go back to Edgar Shine’s work with the model of organizational culture framework. Yes, the three tiers. You did, I mean, you even went down to that third level where we were talking about disrupting genetic structures within an organization, within a school. How did you do that? Because I hope that every educator reached that level of what I saw at NABSE with you. How people… and I’m talking about revered educators pulling you aside, saying thank you for what you did for my child. 

Dr. Dawn DuBose

Well, thank you. I appreciate that. So let me… I want to discuss this from two points of view. I worked in Houston Isley for 22 years and then I came to Stafford. Now, the good thing is, before I got to Stafford, there were a lot of things that were already in place. I work with the superintendent, who is on the same path as well as our our chief academic officer. We are very, very passionate about STEM education. So coming into this district as a chief of schools, we all have different areas of expertise, and so it works very nicely for us. So, for example, my superintendent that I work with, he’s big on robotics and drones and we have a launching pad here. And, even when I was a principal, our kids had exposure to wind energy and robotics as well and coding. So I was a good fit for this district because the district was already moving in that direction. And STEM has become like… it’s a just a very, very strong passion for me. And so even in Houston, starting in that space, everyone that I hired, everyone that I hired, it was these are the expectations. This is what we need for you to do. This is the training you’re going to. Yes. We need to learn about the engineering design process. That’s an expectation. And so fortunately, I came to Stafford and we’re having the same conversations. That’s how come I purposely said I will be watching my pronouns because there’s a collective of us that have the same vision in that regard. And with that, that means that now that has become deep seated. Now that doesn’t mean that you’re not going… there’s not going to be people– you understand implementation of change and all of that and early adopters and all of that. So it’s rare that you’re going to have 100%. But if you can get 80 to 90% of your people on board, hey, it goes a long way. 

Dr. Michael Conner

That’s a great number.

Dr. Dawn DuBose

Eventually what’s going to happen is the ones that are like, you know what, I’m not into tech. I don’t like this. I don’t do that. They’re going to find their way elsewhere on their own. So again, I was really lucky to come into a culture that was already heavily stem focused. Again, it’s kind of like my– I’ve done some work with the Smithsonian Education. We’ve done a lot of work on trying to attract folks that have actually worked in those various fields to education so that our students are going to have the best exposure. Plus I know and I understand that even if a kid doesn’t go into a STEM area, even if they don’t become an engineer or they don’t become an M.D., I know we’re preparing them for college readiness. So I know that if we can have… you want a space where you’re not scared of math, you’re not scared of science. And even if you choose not to do those careers, we’re still going to have you on the right pathway to to college and being ready. Because at this date, I mean, we’re adults. And along the way we have made decisions about our career and have changed our minds. And we should almost expect the same thing from children who are still learning and trying to figure things out. But our duty as educators is to give them those opportunities or at least make sure that they’re prepared. So if they do want to do those things, they’ll be prepared. They’ll be ready.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And you know, Dr. DuBose, what you’ve… and I like to say– let me rephrase that out. Your team has developed certainly captivating from an innovation lens when we talk about the STEM school, but also culture. And you’re really, really focused on culture because without culture, no strategy or even any type of creative advancement would happen. And you create that natural environment, even when I visit your district, where every stakeholder at each level, I was paying attention to that, just admires you. So, Dr. DuBose, continue what you’re doing, and I admire your work from afar. But now going into your advocacy role because this is where I think you have recognized, not only with your work as a principal and chief of schools… And we hope that you go into the role of superintendent because, I’m saying it selfishly, we need more black women in that role. The data is deplorable in the context of representing action. But your advocacy role, or your former role as the President of the Houston TABSE, longtime board member of TABSE, really involved in the context of developing their aspiring superintendents, really the Houston TABSE as well as TABSE itself, is a model affiliation across the country. It brings a really good name for all black educators across the country. But more on the lines of we know that as black educators, TABSE is the place where we see best practices occurring, that some of the most innovative programs are coming out of the state of Texas. But you’re behind the scenes, in front of the scenes… So tell us what’s going on in Texas with regards to TABSE, Texas, Houston TABSE, as well as the conference that’s coming up in what, next week, I believe? Or this week? Yes, this week.

Dr. Dawn DuBose

Yes. So TABSE is an organization that is really, really close to my heart. And I have been in this organization now for 25 years. I had a principal, at the time I was a counselor, that brought me in Miss Naianza Price. And then along the way, there were so many people, a gentleman name Mr. Ed Kline, Dr. Elaine Bailey. All those people brought me along and they nurtured me in this organization. And so they taught me so many lessons and they taught me so many things. And that’s really a part of what makes this group so special. We are– so some of our folks that were like our, like our president, we had the same president for a very, very long time. There were also founders of the state organization. And I definitely want to make sure I shout out the current president, Dr. David Harris and the president elect, Dr. Christopher Pichon, because they’re doing a lot of work across the state. And we’ve had some excellent presidents along the way that have done a lot of work, Dr. Michael McFarland, Dr. Kim McLeod, they’ve all done excellent work in terms of even making sure that the plight of African-Americans, students, that that discussion is taking place even in our halls of legislation. So we’ve got that piece that’s going on. And one of the things that we have done is we really just picked up the torch of our national organization and we carry it through. We have commissions in which we have commissions for campus leaders, superintendents, retired teachers, because what we do– and actually not retired teachers, let’s say retired educators, because the thing about it is we have… there’s a wealth of people out there that may not be… they’re done with their teacher retirement system, but they still have a lot to offer. And so we’d like to create… we have those windows so that we can still work together, so that we can still keep all kids and again, more specifically, African-American kids at the forefront. And we consider ourselves that entity in terms of of being those advocates. So as we go into the conference that will be coming up shortly, we’re a vacuum of teachers and I shouldn’t say vacuum. I don’t think that’s the best word, but I’m just going to say we’re a large group that is comprised of teachers, campus administrators, district administrators, school board members. We even have pieces in the conference that will focus on even athletic directors and coordinators and we do our best to bring the best thought leaders. And I’m glad to know that you’re going to be one of the panelists for the sessions at the conference. But we try to bring those folks together. So not only are we getting the expertise that we need, we’re also getting that motivation that we need to continue on, because this isn’t this isn’t easy work. You know, and it can wear you down. We all know that. So, you know, so it’s not it’s not easy work. It definitely serves as a place for… not only for us to build our toolbox for when we go back to our districts, but it’s also a place for us to continue to be motivated so that we can go back and do the work. One of the things… one of our keynote speakers this year, because we know in AC that we’re dealing with a lot of mental health issues. Yes, and not just from our students, our teachers and just in general, just as a side of society. And so one of our keynote speakers is is going to be Dr. Napoleon Higgins, who is an African American black psychiatrist, and he’s also the executive director for the Black Psychiatrists of America. So he will be there to address and talk about some of those liberties and current trends. Because one thing about it, and I know you understand that we have to come together, not always even just as educators, we have to come together so that we can really learn how to figure out these really big issues that we need to remedy. 

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, and Dr. DuBose, it was funny that you bring that up. Yes. So looking forward to my participation at TABSE. It’s the first time that I’m going to be at TABSE. So it’s going to be a wonderful experience. I will definitely see you on the golf course. I know you’re going to be golfing, so I’m going to do that. 

Dr. Dawn DuBose

Because the scholarships, they go back to our high school kids. So, yes.

Dr. Michael Conner

I hope you shoot better than me. Dr. Dubose, but you bring up mental health in the AC stage of education. And to give our listeners out there kind of a sneak preview. Yes, we will have two mental health, African-American mental health experts, that will be our guests within the Black Excellence series. And Dr. Napoleon Higgins is going to appear on Voices for Excellence. And we have Dr. Tanisha Ranger, who’s out of Las Vegas. So we’re bringing the dynamic of black excellence through the support of mental health and psychological services as well. But you are so right because we’re seeing a lot of our students, even adults, I would say, disregulated. And it’s a time where we’re seeing more of the shirts of be kind. I hope people are truly being kind to people because we really don’t know what people are going through in the backstage and the mask and and everything. And also our students, too. I can’t remember who I was talking to, Dr. DuBose. But we see this alarming data point where there was, I believe it was, in roughly at 120-130% more two-on-one calls than we had before in the BC stage of education and suicidal ideation is at this alarming rate. I forgot, I believe it was in American pediatrics, I was reading an article about that with the data but it was just alarming Dr. DuBose.

Dr. Dawn DuBose

Well even with that and it’s funny that we mentioned Dr. Higgins. But and then I’ve also work with another renowned person in the area of counseling. Dr. Janice Beale. Yeah, we have been in a situation where they’ve been able to provide services to our district. But the number that is really, really, really alarming is the fact that there has been an increase of suicides of African-American kids by 80%. That’s the number that’s out there – 80%. So there is no doubt that we need to be addressing this and talking about this because that number is astounding. 

Dr. Michael Conner

This is a problem of context. And Dr. DuBose, thank you for actually bringing that up because I hope our listeners will be able to take, specifically looking at it from a segment standpoint of just looking at it from the linear metric of black students hearing that data. I hope that our superintendents, executive leaders, even principals are looking at their data, unwrapping it and asking those questions of who are those kids? Because nine times out of ten, ten times out of ten, they’re in your schools. So moving on, just to keep rolling, because again, I know that this could be a five hour podcast. I’m not trying to scare away my listeners, but I tell you, they don’t know the synergy that we have because of our commonality of our love for black and brown students, the advancement of black students, especially our black leaders, black and brown brothers and sisters, but black leaders across the country. Dawn, let’s keep this real. Every single black or African American woman who’s a leader comes up to you and asks you something. I witnessed it. And you can’t back out of this because I know there’s truth to this, because I was like, am I with, who am I with, Beyonce? Who am I with because I can’t take five steps and somebody is asking you something. And Dawn, you just give it away like, Yes, because that’s good. Because you know why they see you as a pillar to reach the levels that people need to reach, especially your respect in Texas and across the country. But, Daw, since this is the Black Excellence series– and focusing on how we can really advance the agenda of black and brown leaders, black students specifically. Our black women or even black and brown women leaders out there, who have not embarked upon or are able to…

Dr. Dawn DuBose

Because it’s not just African-American women, it’s Latina. 

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, black and brown. Listen, black and brown men, Dawn, I learned from you. It don’t matter. But I’m just saying from a glass ceiling standpoint, just purely from a linear metric standpoint, what advice do you have for executive leadership specifically? Well, let’s leave out the black and brown men, because statistically, there’s more black and brown male superintendents and executive leaders than black or brown women in those roles. So let’s push us aside. Let’s get you out there. It’s time for y’all to lead it. But how do we get that? What advice do we have for that? 

Dr. Dawn DuBose

So I’m going to go back to my equity song, okay? Can’t Stop, Won’t stop. Let me go back to that song. But a lot of it, of course, we know that parallel is the same in terms of even in corporate America, other industries, executive leadership is lagging in the world of education as well. And so one of the things that we’re having to do, and it reminds me of the story, the tortoise and the hare. Oftentimes we have be the tortoise because we have to be… first of all, we feel more compelled because there’s numbers out there that say that oftentimes men are willing to get it out there quicker, meaning they might be 50% ready to take on the superintendency, whereas a female, you know, a lot of times will feel like I need to be 90% there or 100% there. So we typically take that tortoise approach. And I will say I, I would definitely say I’m one of those too. Now with that, I’m trying to balance that even with myself personally, because one of the things I want to do is I also want to run my own race because everyone’s race is different. So my advice would be certainly run your own race, and when you run your own race, that means you kind of have to… don’t look to the left, don’t look to the right. Don’t worry about if someone is getting ahead of you. You have to run your own race and you have to know when you’re ready. Personally and don’t be afraid. And so that is like the big– and you have to be willing to try and try and try. That’s like in my head I had to go back to my equity song. This is something that you really want to do. And you know the numbers. The truth is the numbers aren’t in our favor. But the other part of it is this. There are lots of opportunities out there. And then you have to make that decision as to what’s good for your family. Because typically, women have to take that into consideration more so than men. Are you in a position to stay locally or within the state or across the country? And so those are all decisions that you have to make in your race. 

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And talking about what I really love about that. I think that even beyond leadership, personal is when you run your own race, you’re worried about the variables that you can control. You. And I hear a lot of the times, oh, you know, this person has been a CEO or whatever for X amount of years and this and that. And when they’re going to make the jump, run your own race. It’s kind of like I always use the example factor to boss is that differentiated instruction. If we want to be able to know why isn’t the student reading, why isn’t the student reading but the student isn’t reading because we still have to build the foundational skills to get that student to read. Same thing with leadership. Running your own race, we don’t have to compare ourselves with anybody. Worry about what we do. Control the variables. But don’t be afraid when you know you’re ready for that next step. I love that. Dr. DuBose, I am going to put this. I got to make something out of this. Run your own race. But last question. And truthfully, this question has been chopped up in a variety of different ways throughout the podcast. Nobody listens to me Dawn, so– with the exception of one so far. And I was shocked because he actually is not a rule follower in the real world. So I’m like, Oh man, you stopped. But Dawn, I’m going to identify the frames for this. Take it or leave it. Now I’m at a stage where I’m saying take it or leave it. I would try to limit to three words, but again, I know it ain’t going to be three words, so Dr. DuBose, in three words. What do you want our audience to lead with regarding excellence, leadership, and innovation as it pertains to leadership and personal mental health? I added that in because of your great answer with regards to that. But three words, which our participants or our audience today should always adhere to as they reflect on this balance per se, between leadership and life. 

Dr. Dawn DuBose

Okay, so three words. I followed instructions. So three words are the first one is grit. And some people may agree or may not agree. But I’m going with grit is the first one. We’ve talked some about mental health, but I’m also balancing that conversation with people, with you can do almost anything for a year. Finish what you start. When I was a principal, I remember when I would hire people, I would say, I need you to give me two years. I mean, two years. So grit. I think it’s perseverance. There’s a piece that we’ve got to keep talking about. There are some legitimate things going on in terms of mental health, and we need to address that. But with that, how can we help people build grit? So number one. Two was integrity, and that was more from a leadership standpoint, if people trust you, if people know you have character, good character, they will follow you to the ends of the earth. So that is definitely a piece. And then I’m sorry I used your word, balance. But balance encompasses for me, mind, body, soul. So where I use those clubs, organization and finances. So we’ve got to feed our minds. We’ve got to keep ourselves healthy. Whoever you pray to, that’s who you pray to for soul organization, you’ve got to try to keep that balance. Home, work, even your car. We spend a lot of time in our cars. That organizational piece and finances because if you don’t have your finances in order, it becomes… it kind of takes you to maslow. We’ve got that bottom layer, those first two layers. Then it makes it very difficult to get to self-actualization and to help others when that’s bogging down. So, yeah, balance, which includes mind, body, soul, organization and finances.

Dr. Michael Conner

So this is a first on Voices for Excellence. I asked Dr. DuBose for three words and she gave me three words and an addendum that consists of one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight more new words. Dr. DuBose, yes, grit, integrity, but that balance, those variations of balance, you have to have balance with your mind. You have to have balance with your body. You have to have balance with your soul. You have to have balance within your organization. And you have to have balance within your finances. Wow. I think a lot of people would pay a lot of people money just to hear that, because you’re right, balance in every aspect in your life. And I think the biggest, or I would say not just the biggest, but it’s an arduous question to ask yourself, how do you create that balance between all of the sub variance in the aspects that you identified that are so hard to balance, especially in the AC stage of education? 

Dr. Dawn DuBose

And you know me well enough now to know. So that’s give. Grit, integrity, balance.

Dr. Michael Conner

Alright, so you got that and I got the model grit and the hustle. So on that note, Dr. DuBose, I want to personally as a fan, as a friend, as a colleague, but more important, as a change agent that’s aligned to you in this work, thank you so much for being a guest on Voices for Excellence, The Black Excellence series that we’re doing for Black History Month. It’s such an honor, Dr. DuBose, thank you.

Dr. Dawn DuBose

Thank you. Thank you. And just I appreciate the opportunity. There’s so many people that you could have contacted to to do this because there’s so many people out there that are passionate about this work like I am. So just, thank you for the opportunity. I really appreciate it. 

Dr. Michael Conner

Well, you know what, Dr. DuBose thank you for being on, because, again, the nugget that everybody’s going to receive is so vitally important. And again, just a well-respected, revered educator like you. So glad to have you on. So, everybody, thank you for tuning in to Voices for Excellence, the Black Excellence series, I truly appreciate you. Happy Black History Month, continue to celebrate. Onward and upward, everybody. See you next episode.