New group aims to create pipeline of black school leaders, entrepreneurs in Florida


In an effort aimed at boosting black student achievement, a new group is forming in Florida to develop a cadre of black entrepreneurs and executives to lead high-quality schools, including charter and private schools.

Black Floridians C.A.R.E. – which stands for Choice Advocates Reforming Education – is chaired by T. Willard Fair, a former chair of the state Board of Education and longtime leader of the Urban League of Greater Miami.

“It’s important because we believe that the rest of the battle for effectiveness and equality (in education) rests with us,” Fair told redefinED. “Why should I expect whites and Cubans to care about black children in Liberty City? It’s not their children.”

Fair said more black leaders in education – principals, owners, board members, chief executives – would galvanize support in the black community generally. But it’s especially critical for establishing deeper roots for school choice, he said.

“When you have a movement that comes out of the adults in the community, then it does not die,” said Fair, who co-founded Florida’s first charter school in 1996 with former Gov. Jeb Bush. “Then the community says, ‘We have ownership of this.’ “

The group’s executive director is Isha James. She too has strong ties to school choice efforts, including stints at the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers and Partners for Developing Futures, a social investment fund for people of color who want to open charter schools.

“Students who see people in power that look like them, they have higher aspirations,” James said. “I can’t continue to tell a child that he can be the principal of a school if the only thing he sees that’s ever looked like him is a janitor.”

Black Floridians C.A.R.E. will develop a leadership pipeline through training academies and mentoring programs, then serve as a conduit between black professionals and private, charter and district schools. James said primary recruitment efforts will be aimed not at educators, but at people with backgrounds in finance, law and business.

Black civic groups, professional associations and faith-based groups are among the potential targets for outreach.

“Everyone knows the value of a great educator,” James said. But “we have learned from school choice that business is just as important as understanding curriculum and instruction.”

Also on the group’s agenda: Raising awareness about the academic standing of black students in Florida, which has among the highest numbers of black students in the nation. Black Floridians C.A.R.E. will be publishing issue briefs and running public service announcements. It also plans to hold an annual summit for black educators across all sectors, public and private.

The group expects to be up and running by February. For more information, call James at 914-356-3590.

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BY Ron Matus

Ron Matus is director for policy and public affairs at Step Up for Students and a former editor of redefinED. He joined Step Up in February 2012 after 20 years in journalism, including eight years as an education reporter with the Tampa Bay Times (formerly the St. Petersburg Times). Ron can be reached at or (727) 451-9830. Follow him on Twitter @RonMatus1 and on facebook at

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