Cigna Supports Pipeline of Urban Superintendents with $250,000 Grant to School of Education

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Howard University School of Education has tackled systemic inequality in education by creating a pipeline of superintendents of color, specifically trained to lead in urban school districts for the past five years. Today, the AASA-Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy announced it received a $250,000 grant from Cigna Corporation, a global health service company, to expand the innovative program. Shawn Joseph, Ed.D., previously a faculty member at The Graduate School of Education at Fordham University, will join Howard’s School of Education as co-director of the academy.

In the face of a global pandemic and heightened visibility of racism and discrimination, communities across the U.S. are grappling with structural barriers to the success of students of color. Racism and bias not only impact health; they take a toll on overall well-being, and when face to face with the education system, threaten to deepen existing racial gaps in education. The AASA-Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy was created as a direct response to less than five percent of superintendents in America being persons of color. The program is needed now more than ever.

“We are grateful for the commitment that Cigna has shown in supporting urban education,” says Dawn Williams, Ph.D., dean of Howard University’s School of Education. “We find ourselves fighting a history of structural racism while also trying to safeguard our health against a global pandemic. With the generous support of Cigna, we can attract, develop and retain cohorts of educational leaders to advance change for more equitable and just school systems.”

Howard University is widely known for its legacy of tackling some of the world’s most challenging issues facing diverse populations. Howard’s commitment to training leaders who work to combat inequality is evidenced by its innovative programs, accomplished alumni, and prestigious faculty. As the program’s newest faculty member and co-director, Joseph brings a range of expertise in school administration and education leadership and policy to the academy.

“Superintendents of color have unique challenges as we are often tapped to lead high needs districts where millions of underserved students of color are in need of a high-quality education and where resources are scarce,” says Joseph, assistant professor of educational leadership and policy studies and co-director of the AASA-Howard University Urban Superintendent Academy. “It takes skill, courage, and an unconquerable spirit to improve outcomes under these conditions.”

An accomplished administrator and expert in educational leadership, Joseph served as the first African American superintendent in Seaford Delaware and Metro Nashville Public Schools. He most recently served as visiting associate professor of educational administration and policy studies at Fordham University. Joseph has received numerous awards throughout his career for his principalship, research, and leadership as a trailblazer in education leadership and policy. He earned a doctoral degree in educational administration and policy studies from The George Washington University and a master’s degree from The Johns Hopkins University. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Lincoln University.

“Cigna has a resolute belief in the power of diversity and inclusion and a long-standing commitment to health equity and equality that creates healthy and vibrant communities for all. In partnership with Howard University, Cigna is standing together in support to elevate a diverse next generation of leaders for our urban school communities,” said Mike Triplett, president of Cigna U.S. Commercial business. “Education is the path to economic prosperity for many. We are proud to partner on this initiative and wish the program participants every success in their studies and in their future careers.”