Making an Impact in DCPS and Beyond

The following blog was written by DCPS teacher Jonte Lee. Mr. Lee teaches at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School in the District of Columbia and brought a team of fellow educators to the 2017 Teacher Leadership Summit sponsored by Shell Oil Company and hosted at Howard University in February. The summit guided teams in creating logic models for attracting, retaining, and developing a diverse STEM teaching workforce. The SSEC would like to thank Mr. Lee for sharing his reflections on this program's impact.

Jonte Lee (right) and DCPS teammates at the Teacher Leadership Summit. Photo Credit: OB Grant, Fulltone Photography











It was the spring of 2001. I was in Dr. Echoles’ college Educational Psychology course. During her lecture, Dr. Echoles mentioned her father has a PhD and her sister has a medical degree. I was in awe. I couldn’t believe it. An African American family with multiple advanced degrees. I’d never encountered such an individual before. It was motivating and inspiring. Being an African American male, I searched for teachers that looked like me, but unfortunately, I had very few from preschool through graduate school. I only had two African American male teachers and two STEM teachers of color. My experience with Dr. Echoles taught me that African Americans with advanced degrees exist in great numbers, and I need to serve as a mentor for the next generation of students of color. 

The Leadership Summit goal is to recruit, retain, and train STEM teachers of color. This work is incredibly important to me because of my experience with Dr. Echoles. Having more STEM teachers of color will show students of color that it is possible to obtain advanced degrees, and we are not limited to the stereotypical careers as seen on TV and the movie screen. My team was composed of women and men of color, and each team member has taught or is teaching in the classroom. There were representatives from District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS; teacher and principal), the Office of State Superintendent of Education, and District of Columbia Public Schools central office. 

Our team will focus on training STEM teachers of color. It is our hypothesis that if we increase training, we will see a decrease in the attrition rate of STEM teachers of color in DCPS. Our plan is to have cohorts of new teachers, new to the District and to teaching and veteran teachers. Each cohort of teachers will also serve as a supportive network. We are workshopping what training would look like. 

Decreasing teacher attrition will have a positive impact on students’ performance. Students will have an opportunity to have a longer relationship with a STEM teacher of color and become mentees. Those two things are difficult to accomplish when the average teacher of color stays in the industry for less than 5 years. By no means is increasing teacher retention the golden ticket to increasing students of color in STEM fields, but this will help solve one piece of the puzzle. No student of color should reach college and not realize it is possible to obtain an advanced degree. 

About the Author

Jonte Lee
Teacher, Woodrow Wilson Senior High School

I always knew I was going to be in education. I would play with textbooks while other kids played with action figures, but the road to being a teacher was non-traditional. I loved science, so I majored in Biology and received my BS. In college, I had no idea what I wanted to do. My thought pattern went something like this: Have you seen the movie Legally Blonde? Remember when the law professor said, “I think she just woke up one day and applied for law school.” Yes, that was me. I woke up one day and applied for graduate school. I had no direction, which is why being an educator is so important to me. I graduated with an MS in Marking and 30+ graduate hours in Biology. My first professional job was at Payless Corporation. I was a distribution analyst, and I learned the story numbers can tell. After a year, I transitioned to the marketing team and I learned how to communicate to various audiences.

Still, no firm, solid educational experience. I applied the learnings of my educational experiences and corporate America while working for the nonprofit INROADS. INROADS helps college students of color find paid summer internships with Fortune 500 companies that would lead to full-time employment. This was the first time I was able to design curriculum to teach the students about interviewing, resume writing, and career development. During my time at INROADS, I became a part-time college instructor for the University of Phoenix. Finally, I’ve arrived. I enjoyed my part-time job more than my full-time job. I knew it was time for the transition.

I started teaching for DCPS in 2012, and I’ve enjoyed it ever since. I still teach for the University of Phoenix. It gives me the opportunity to see the full educational cycle. I am able to prep my high school students on college life. To understand the full scope of education, I became a fellow for the Deputy Mayor for Education. My fellowship allows me to witness the forming and monitoring of educational policy. Drawing from my experiences at INROADS, I am also an occupational literacy teacher for the District of Columbia correctional detention facility. There, I teach juvenile inmates employment skills. 

My goal is to use my experience to draft effective polices on closing the achievement gap and ensuring every child has access to a quality education.