My name is Nikki Desgrosellier and I’m the founding dean of college counseling at Mansueto High School. I have been a college counselor at Noble for the past five years, first at Rauner College Prep and then UIC College Prep. I came to Noble specifically to be a college counselor. I was inspired not only by Noble’s mission to prepare all students for success in college, but also the strong college supports available to ALL students, which isn’t the case at many other schools in our country.

I’ve worked at many schools throughout my career, and something I’ve always asked for was leadership development. I knew I wanted to become a school leader, but I wasn’t sure how to gain the management skills I needed to reach this goal. My principals were always positive and supportive, and they passed on learning opportunities to me when they arose, but I wasn’t getting the development I really wanted.  So, when I heard about Noble’s Diverse Leaders Fellowship (DLF), I knew right away that I wanted to apply. Not only would I get the leadership development I was seeking, but I would also have the chance to connect with other leaders of color at Noble.

When I was accepted into the fellowship, I was excited but also nervous. You see, I have a complicated racial identity. I identify as Asian American but was adopted by a white family and grew up in a predominantly white community. I was never very connected to my Korean heritage, minus a few months of Korean lessons in my small, fairly rural hometown in Central Washington State. I’ve always felt more strongly connected to my identities as a cisgender woman and a first generation college graduate who came from a low income background. However, while I don’t always see myself as Asian American, I am constantly reminded that it’s often the first thing others notice about me. Such as when people ask me where I’m really from (yes, that happens) or are surprised when they find out I only speak English and Spanish and not an Asian language. Going into our first session with other leaders of color from across the network, I was a little apprehensive because of this complex racial identity. However, during our first discussions, I quickly found that my group could relate to my experiences. We connected over not feeling like we were “enough” for each of our races. And through this dialogue, I found myself relaxing with the knowledge that identity is complex for many people and that being in DLF would continue to push me to work through my own experiences and identities. I also wouldn’t be going through it alone; I now had a community I could turn to that cared about and wanted to support each other.

During this same first session, the fellowship’s creator, Jennifer Reid, principal at DRW College Prep and my former principal at Rauner, said something that struck me: she and other leaders at Noble knew that we weren’t doing our best to develop and retain our future leaders of color. She said we had to be better at this if we wanted to continue to grow as a network and have a true diversity of perspective on our leadership teams, which is why Noble started this fellowship. Seeing the DLF mentors, leaders of color themselves from many campuses and the network support team step up to own this growth point was inspiring and made me proud to be a part of the first class of the fellowship. However, the importance of this idea – developing and retaining our leaders of color – didn’t really hit me until the other day. I was driving a colleague home, and I asked if he was interested in becoming an assistant principal at Noble one day. He said yes, but he wasn’t sure how to start that process now in his career. I immediately encouraged him to seek out some of Noble’s leadership pathways. As I started describing the benefits of the Diverse Leaders Fellowship, specifically the support, guidance, and critical feedback I have received from my mentor, Vince Gay, principal at Golder College Prep and the community I have felt in our DLF group sessions, I realized that the fellowship isn’t just about my own professional development.

“There is power in our kids in seeing someone who shares their identities leading their school, and I am excited to see the lasting impact that these amazing leaders have on our students.”

It’s about Noble realizing there was a need and actually doing something about it. It is our top leaders recognizing that Jennifer had a vision and giving her the support to see it through. It’s Noble actually living out our core value of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. One of our network leadership principles is: “You don’t have to be perfect, but you do have to be self-aware.” The Diverse Leaders Fellowship is this tenant in action. Diverse Leaders Fellowship has really driven home for me the idea that Noble knows we still have a ways to go, that our results can always be improved, and that we’ll get there by following through on our core values and making Noble a place where talented individuals from diverse backgrounds can have a successful career and become the leaders we need. While I’m not sure where I will end up in my career, I know that the fellowship has put me on the path to continue my pursuit of long-term leadership at Noble.  And beyond that, I know that it has identified the future leaders of color that our schools need. We often talk about being both windows to different aspects of diversity for our students, but also mirrors that reflect their experience. There is power in our kids in seeing someone who shares their identities leading their school, and I am excited to see the lasting impact that these amazing leaders have on our students. This work is critical so that our students can persist through college graduation – and then become the diverse leaders that our world needs.

At Noble, we are college bound. As the largest charter public school network in Chicago, Noble’s high school program exposes our students to higher education options and guides them through the collegiate application process. Through college trips, college fairs, summer college immersion programs and required academic courses, Noble demystifies the college experience and shapes students’ beliefs and confidence about higher education.

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