Telling Stories: Examining the Views of an African-Centered Female Minority Leader

Article excerpt

Abstract

Many educators believe that unless a determined effort is made to include cultural relevance in public school curriculums, public education will continue to fail African-American students. In fact, the quality of one's experience in education and in the community is often identified as a critical determinant for gaining a foundation for higher intellectual pursuits. This article examines the beliefs of an African-centered educator as she uses her own African-centered model to empower African-American students and solve this serious problem in her community.

There is an increasing interest in the leadership of schools. During the past two decades of school research and reform efforts, one insight from this focus is the realization that the leader sets the direction for a school and plays a pivotal role in facilitating change. According to Fullan (1993), the leader is not only an instructional guide and moral compass for the school, a leader is a key agent for change in the public school environment. Likewise, as women enter leadership roles in increasing numbers, research indicates that their experiences differ from those of men, both in their preparation for leadership and how they manage their leadership responsibilities in the school (Hegelsen, 1990). Research demonstrates that women appear to be less influenced by hierarchy in their thinking, integrate different roles more fully, accent the building of relationships, and work at making connections among organizations. Women leaders are also intensely concerned with efficiency and effectiveness (Gilligan, 1982). Despite this relative breadth of research, however, very little research has been directed toward how African-American women assume and implement leadership tasks. Most studies of leadership focus on White, European, and middle-class tradition and thought; they rarely consider the ways in which race, ethnicity, and culture influence administrative behavior and decision-making.

This article focuses on the life experiences of Dr. Freya Rivers, a minority female who acted as founding leader of a newly created African-centered charter school in Lansing , Michigan , Sankofa Shule. Dr. Rivers discusses her views and beliefs concerning teacher, student, and parent empowerment through an African-centered empowerment model. The school's African-centered model aims for continuous change and learning to take place on multiple levels among teachers, students, administrators, parents, and the greater community. In this model, the school becomes a learning organization for the entire community. The initial focal point of earlier research with Dr. Rivers' school was on how teachers changed their teaching perspectives and incorporated new ways of teaching and learning. However, the focus of this article will be the views held by Dr. Rivers, an African-American founding leader of the school and a female in her fifties, and her life experiences. This data was culled from interviews conducted during the earlier qualitative research concerning the teaching and learning at the school.

Methodology

According to Cotte (1986),

Feminist stress on women's socially constructed "differences" from men can go along with recognition of diversity among women themselves, if we acknowledge that multifaceted entity - the patchwork quilt, so to speak-that is - the group called women. (p. 60)

This research was an attempt to explore the importance of one woman's experiences in creating her leadership style and beliefs. It was an attempt to explore a woman school leader, her life, her perception and experiences, and its effect on her leadership style and aspirations.

As I observed the teaching and learning taking place at Sankofa Shule, I wondered how Dr. Rivers' life experiences impacted the development of her African-centered theories and ideas, as well as her role as a leader in this new, evolving organization. Shakeshaft, Nowell, and Perry (1991) proposed that research about women and leadership should be conducted from a female-defined paradigm that included a method of inquiry growing out of personal experiences, feelings, and the needs of the researcher. …