A Former Students’ Perspective on Secretary of Education Finalist, Dr. Leslie T. Fenwick

Dr. Antonio L. EllisDr. Antonio L. Ellis

Dr. Leslie T. Fenwick, dean emeritus and professor of educational leadership and policy has emerged as one of the finalists under consideration to be President-elect Joe Biden’s secretary of education. During my matriculation through the doctoral program at Howard University, I had the honor of learning under the tutelage of Dr. Fenwick. I attest that her education philosophy aligns with Biden’s plan for educators, students, and the future of education. For example, in a forthcoming book titled Teacher Educators as Critical Storytellers: Effective Teachers as Windows and Mirrors to be published by Teachers College Press, Fenwick wrote: “all students deserve models of intellectual authority”. Thereafter she acknowledged that “more than 50 percent of the nation’s schoolchildren are children of color, yet less than 20 percent of the nation’s 3.2 million teachers are educators of color”. Similarly, Biden’s plan for educators highlights that administration’s intention to reinstate the Obama-Biden Administration’s actions of diversity schools. Moreover the plan states “Biden will support more innovative approaches to recruiting teachers of color, including supporting high school students in accessing dual enrollment classes that give then as edge in teacher preparation programs, and working with historically Black colleges and universities and other minority-serving institutions to recruit and prepare teachers.”

Fenwick contends that currently there is a yawning mismatch between public school students and the educators (teachers and principals) who serve them. Children and adolescents do not see or experience diverse models of intellectual authority in their schools. As secretary of education, I foresee Fenwick enhancing the teacher education and school leadership pipeline for persons of color in order to level the playing field for students of color, as mentioned in the Biden plan. Fenwick has criticized programs such as Teach For America, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, and for-profit charter schools and taxpayer funded private schools. Fenwick argues that these entities are money making schemes that aims to profit from public education. “The schemes are often viewed as new and innovative, but when you look at the history of these schemes – and I use the word ‘schemes’ purposefully – you find that they are rooted in resistance to the Brown legal decision”, “Fenwick mentioned in a video presentation titled Urban School Reform.

Furthermore, as Fenwick’s former doctoral student, I recall five personal core beliefs she often communicated about the educational system in the United States. First, she believes in creating stable learning environments that are intellectually challenging and stimulating, safe and nurturing. Second, Fenwick encourages teachers and educational administrators to study and know their students as much as they know the subject area they teach. In order to foster strong relationships with students, she believes educators must show students love, kindness, and understanding. Fenwick contends it is important that educators utilize a cultural eye and exhibit commitment to learning the language and/or cultural history of their students and utilize the students’ language and/or cultural history in the subject area they are being taught. Educators are called to affirm students’ intellectual and other abilities and connect them to resources that enhance their capacities.

Because of Fenwick’s extensive experience as an urban schoolteacher, administrator, professor, dean, and legislative aid to the State of Ohio, I believe that she is a well-rounded and viable candidate for the secretary of education position. If selected, she will be the first Black woman to serve in this capacity.

Dr. Antonio L. Ellis is a scholar in residence and Director of the Institute on Education Equity and Justice at the American University School of Education.