We are thrilled to announce De-Lea Deane-Allen as AF’s first Chief Equity Officer.
For the past six years, De-Lea has led the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work at Achievement First – as a Director, Senior Director, and Vice-President. Thanks to De-Lea’s strong leadership and partnership, we have a significantly stronger and more diverse principal pipeline, a more inclusive and equitable culture amongst our principal cohorts, and a much more robust commitment and strategy around our Student Experience. She has also been a thought leader and partner to support a critical examination of our approach to instruction and organizational culture with an intentional Lead for Racial Equity lens.
De-Lea has a strong vision, change leadership skills, organization-wide relationships, and the ability to champion more equitable design, culture, and outcomes at AF. In her role as Chief Equity Officer, De-Lea partners with leaders across the organization to build the infrastructure and strengthen our strategy to center our value of Leading for Racial Equity and to to lead us toward our vision of becoming the anti-racist school network we need to be.
A Conversation with De-Lea
You have a long history at Achievement First! Tell us about your time here before you became Chief Equity Officer?
I started my teaching career at Amistad Academy and helped found AF Amistad High School, worked elsewhere for two years and returned to help AF found Brooklyn High School. In many ways, my experience at Amistad was very different from my experience when I returned . That contrasting experience has fueled my passion for noticing, understanding, and interrupting the many ways that systemic racism—and other intersecting forms of oppression—can undermine the noble purpose behind our mission.
After 13 years in schools, I became AF’s Director of Diversity and Inclusiveness in 2014. When I started, I focused on addressing the racial disparities I saw and experienced in our principal pipeline and continued to broaden my impact to create stronger conditions for principals and lay the groundwork for the important changes we are making to Student Experience and Instruction. In the past two years, I strengthened my coaching and gained an appreciation for the equity challenges in the sector by supporting and learning from leaders across the country through our AF Accelerate Charter Network Accelerator Program.
What was it like for you working at the first Achievement First school?
I came in year three at Amistad Academy and I was the youngest teacher. There was a critical mass of teachers of color—specifically Black men and women that were born and raised in New Haven and other cities in CT—who created an affirming space for me and influenced how we operated as a school. Our values were centered, building community was prioritized, and high expectations were reinforced through relationships and positive reinforcement (I remember an entire PD on the power of posi-notes). Since we were in our early years, there was more opportunity for creation and innovation. Existing as one school is fundamentally different than supporting 37+ schools across three regions in a very different context almost 20 years ago. However, there were strengths that were present at our first school (and our first NY schools), that we need to more greatly value and enhance as we look to the vision for the next 20 years.
How does your experience teaching inform your approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at AF?
As I have deepened my understanding of culturally responsive teaching and pedagogy– pulling heavily from Zaretta Hammonds book — it has affirmed and given language to what I loved about teaching 8th grade U.S History in my early days at AF. In my role, I helped build our high school placement and alumni program for our initial eighth grade graduates. In many ways my kids/our alumni were my coaches. I had a first hand account of the challenges our scholars faced as they adjusted to high school and why—especially in History and Science. So, I designed my class to re-create the moments of challenge and independence they struggled to navigate in high school, let them feel that moment of being overwhelmed, confused and frustrated in my classroom, and then coached them through it. It taught me a lot about what it looks like to support independence AND how much of that is about supporting students emotionally through those moments.
I also believe we must be intentional about reinforcing positive academic and racial/ethnic identity to counter the barrage of negative racialized stereotypes and messages in the world that erode students’ academic and intellectual identity. I brought that intentionality to my opening rituals, micro-moments, and to the content every day.
I am excited and encouraged by the steps we are taking to improve our curriculum and program to reflect some of these foundational elements of culturally responsive teaching.
You’ve mentioned that conditions matter greatly, and that’s a big part of your vision for your work. How do you think about conditions for excellence in DEI at AF?
Conditions are so important—especially for marginalized groups—and the degree to which conditions matter is a huge part of my theory of action. If you shift conditions, you never know how powerfully things can change. I believe the future of the organization is in the voices of those who have felt silenced – that they must be listened to and supported to thrive. In order to create more equitable and liberating outcomes for the young people we serve, we need to create more equitable and liberating outcomes for the adults working towards our mission and that requires examining the conditions because the root cause of both are the same—racism and oppression.
Race, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion work will never be done, it is hard emotional work. However, every day I see us take steps forward. This year has been a year like no other where we have faced unprecedented challenges; however through it all we have maintained our commitment to Lead for Racial Equity and we continue to push ourselves and each other to lead differently and be responsive to the experience of our students, families, and staff. I am energized and inspired by our commitment to center our value of Leading for Racial Equity and this year and next year is about positioning ourselves for lasting and impactful change vs. a quick fix in response to a crisis.
One important shift we will continue to make at every level of the organization is proactively centering racial equity as we plan and execute at every level of our organization instead of a separate add on or in response to a crisis. For example, we are about to launch our visioning process in order to determine the new vision for AF and the strategic priorities over the next 3-5 years. This will be an opportunity to shift traditional power dynamics by engaging with stakeholders across our organization- including students, families, and alumni—to co-create our new vision for AF, and we are proactively centering our value of Lead for Racial Equity through the entire process as opposed to trying to retroactively bring that lens to execution and/ or create a separate strategic plan. All of this work is big, requires us to reimagine and learn along the way, and I am lucky that I get to do it alongside a group of people as committed, thoughtful and devoted to kids as our team and family at Achievement First.