By: Francemise Kingsberry, Ed.D.
As a second-generation immigrant student, born of Haitian descent in Newark, New Jersey, navigating through the (hidden) rules of school wasn’t an easy feat. I was what you would call an English Language Learner who learned to speak Haitian Creole first and then English. Although I was a good student, having foreign-born parents, they were not always comfortable in the school setting due to the language barrier. At the time, I didn’t know that a passion to serve under-resourced and underrepresented communities was being borne.
After high school, I attended and graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH). My entrance into education was non-traditional; I joined Teach for America (TFA) in 2002 because I wanted to be a part of a movement where we collectively, as teachers, made positive impacts in the lives of our students despite their socio-economic statuses in rural and urban areas where we taught. I fulfilled my two-year requirement teaching in Atlanta, Georgia and in Henderson, North Carolina. This was a rare occurrence because most TFA corps members teach in one site; I relocated due to my marriage, back to NC. When I completed this assignment, I went on to serve as an English/Language Arts teacher at a Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) School in East Point, GA.
As a KIPP teacher, I began to see ways in which I could affect change in a greater capacity as a school leader versus as a teacher. This was interesting given my decision to stay at home with my first child, Amira. The desire to lead, however, never subsided. So, in 2007, I enrolled in UNC-CH’s Master of School Administration program. I was hired early, out of my internship to serve as an Assistant Principal in an elementary school in Franklin County Schools in Louisburg, NC. After about four years, I decided to pursue my doctorate full-time at North Carolina State University in Educational Administration and Supervision in 2012. The death of Amira motivated me to accomplish my dreams and aspirations.
In many ways, this pursuit was a fresh start as I was pregnant with my son, when I started the program. I continued to excel in the program while personally facing challenges. I miscarried my third semester there. I recall suffering anxiety attacks after that because I was reminded once again, that I had no control over the course of my life especially since this wasn’t the first miscarriage I had suffered. I didn’t quit the program, however, with counseling and the help of the Lord, I persevered; and in the Fall of 2014, God blessed us with a set of twin girls. Having three children under the age of two really motivated me to stay focused. On October 21st, 2015, after three years in the program, I successfully defended my dissertation Protective Factors and Resiliency: A Case Study of how African American Women Overcome Barriers en route to the Superintendency.
Gender has been a barrier for women, in general. Based on existing research, women face barriers en route to the superintendency. While women comprise most teaching positions, there is a predominance of white male leadership in K-12 superintendent positions. Both women and people of color remain underrepresented in the positions despite increases over the past decade. Although African American women deal with some of the same challenges all women face in
seeking the job, there are those that are exclusive to African Americans. For African American women, they face barriers such as race and gender, discrimination, negative stereotypes in the media, and a lack of opportunity.
Since my graduation in December of 2015, I have been focusing on establishing my publishing record. My research interests are: Diversity, school administration, women, race and equity, resiliency, African Americans, and urban education. I am currently an adjunct assistant professor at UNC-CH. Much like the women in my dissertation study, I am resilient. No one ever wants to face adversity, however, when challenges come, you must not quit and find a way to surmount your hardships. I am learning to embrace life’s ups and downs with the belief that in time, I will look back and see the beauty in my journey.