Black Leaders in Education: The First Black and Female Superintendent and First Black Female Principal in P-VUSD History

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Posted at 9:58 PM, Feb 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-07 00:58:04-05

Some kids played house growing up. At home, young Katie Russell played classroom with her brother.

“As a young child, I had a young brother, and I loved to teach,” Katie Russell, Superintendent of the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District said. “And I would teach him. Then I would get the neighborhood kids, and I would bring them. And I’d create the table and everything like my kindergarten classroom.”

Things have come a long way for Russell since those childhood days. Russell is now the first Black and female superintendent of the PBVUSD in their 145 years. These are some words she would tell her childhood self.

"It's so important that you go after your dreams and persevere, even when there are blocks in your way,” Russell said. “There's always going to be people that say you can't do it, but it's all about the importance of yes you can."

After years of being a teacher and principal in Fresno, Russell sees the significance of the PBVUSD superintendent role.

“I realized the importance of being a role model,” Russell said. “People asking me, ‘how did you do that?’ Kids coming up to me and saying, ‘really you’re the principal?’” Russell said. “I really think it’s important for kids to see themselves. In whatever direction they want to be in.”

Out of 2500 staff members, eight percent are African American. Out of their 51 principals and assistant principals, six are in those roles, making up almost 12 percent of their district leadership, according to PBVUSD.

The district wrote to us, “Even though we seem to have a higher percentage than statewide stats for public school teachers, we continue to work on recruiting people of color.”

Among them is Monica Hicks-Stout, the first Black female principal in P-BVUSD history. She's been in the position for five years. One of the things she's most proud of: connecting students with mental health resources including an on-site school psychologist, behavior intervention-aides, and counseling.

“I try to make our school a family environment,” Hicks-Stout said. “I celebrate the kids, I make sure we give them hugs, and high fives so they know that they are well-loved. Not just by me, but I try to make sure of our staff as well, because we want school to be a safe place for our students.”

While Hicks-Stout is excited to be a first like Russell, it’s not her main drive for doing what she loves.

“I don’t think you go into education thinking, ‘I’m going to be a Black educator!’ I want to be an educator, [and] I want to help all students,” Hicks-Stout said. “But I do recognize that it is special, because I do have students that look up to me, and see me as a role model. And I have parents that come up to me and become more comfortable with having hard conversations.”