The Independent School Talent Pipeline

The Independent School Talent Pipeline (“Pipeline”) is a core program of the Celeritas Center for Intercultural Equity, a nonprofit organization based in Boston, MA.  The Pipeline will convene thought leaders from the nation’s finest independent schools to develop effective support pathways for students of color. ISTaP’s goal is to provide a unique forum to help independent schools collaborate to shape a future in which students of color can realize their full development potential at independent schools and be equipped fully to proceed on to thrive and succeed at selective colleges and, ultimately, successful careers, by identifying and eliminating the barriers that all too frequently impede their progress.  By working together, with support from researchers and scholars, ISTaP member schools will identify the root causes of such impediments and develop sustainable ways to achieve real diversity, equity and inclusion.

Independent schools have long played a leading role in preparing promising young men and women for success in college and beyond.  In his 1988 book, Education of an Elite, Edward N. Saveth wrote, “Prep schools… contribute disproportionately to those who enter the most highly respected colleges, acquire high earning jobs, become chief executive officers, serve on corporate boards, and become directors of foundations and corporations.”

Beginning in the 1960s, with the Civil Rights Movement, elite prep schools opened their doors to small numbers of students of color.  However, despite modest gains over the years, students of color remain sorely under-represented at most of these schools.  Given the growing diversity of the population, if leading independent schools are to continue their role as incubators of American leadership, they need to find ways to recruit, welcome and support students of color as well as they have always done for their White students. With modifications to their historic policies and practices, independent schools can provide successful pathways for their full portion of our promising students of color, propelling them on to positions of leadership in civic society.  

ISTaP is designed to help private and independent schools transition to an increasingly multicultural future in which students of color are fully embraced, feel they truly belong and can achieve successful at the same level as equally talented White students.

In the Independent School Talent Pipeline, Heads of School and other senior leaders at the country’s leading independent schools will meet on a quarterly basis to:

  • Work with expert facilitators to Identify and document the systemic barriers that hold talented Black and LatinX students back as they move through their schools, and on to college and their early careers;
  • Share comparative data and review insights from analyses that will speed the development and proliferation of best practices that will make their schools more supportive of and appealing to potential students of all races; 
  • Maintain a trusted and confidential forum within which members agree upon specific performance targets and hold one another accountable to achieve continuous improvement in the years ahead; and
  • Enable expert researchers from allied universities to work with anonymized data to publish member-approved white papers that will share valuable insights with other schools, universities and employers to help them make similar improvements.

We invite you to become a member now because, in order to promote a more perfect union in the future, we must adapt our institutions to ensure all talented students can feel welcome, flourish and thrive no matter the color of their skin.

An Invitation

We invite you to become a member now because, in order to promote a more perfect union in the future, we must adapt our institutions to ensure all talented students can feel welcome, flourish and thrive no matter the color of their skin.  


Sadly, patterns of systemic racism are ingrained deeply at all levels of American society—individual, departmental, organizational and societal.  Perhaps the most pernicious aspect of systemic racism is its foundation in underlying ideas of White supremacy which, while often an uncomfortable topic, has operated as a dominant norm in America since our nation’s founding.  One has only to read Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution and the review the history of slavery, Jim Crow and the Westward Expansion to see this foundation.

First, what is systemic racism?  According to Brown University’s Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America (CSREA), “Systemic racism in the U.S. is the normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics — historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal — that routinely advantage Whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color.”

The effects of systemic racism are widely apparent throughout our society.  As illustrated in CSREA’s graphic on the following page, multiple dimensions operate like the gears of an engine powering a racially-driven, all-encompassing system that reinforces and amplifies pervasive, detrimental impacts on people of color.

While individual, overt acts of racism are reprehensible and inflict great anguish, the public discourse about race during 2020 has raised our collective awareness that ongoing, systemic racism is the greatest impediment to equality.

Focus of the Independent School Talent Pipeline 

ISTaP’s focus is on the flow of students through independent schools, proceeding on to higher education and leading ultimately to successful careers and lives, and on removing the barriers and currents that impede the progress of people of color. Working together, and with support from researchers and scholars, member institutions will identify the sources of these impediments and develop sustainable ways to end them.

Underrepresentation of and Lack of Support for Students of Color

In 2015, Black and Latino students accounted for 15.4 percent and 25.9 percent of public elementary and secondary school students, respectively, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). In independent schools, however, these students comprised only 6.5 percent and 5.3 percent of the student population, according to the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS).

Numbers alone are not the entire answer, however.  A 2019 article by Alice Pettway published in diversity IS writes that “…[N]umerical diversity is not the same as equity and inclusion.  Some schools, in a quest for… “easy diversity”… focus on recruitment and enrollment without putting in place policies that support students of color once they arrive.  In the absence of strategic direction, these children find themselves learning from curricula that aren’t inclusive, taught by faculty who aren’t diverse, and often subjected to racial micro-aggressions they may not be able to name, let alone feel comfortable telling an adult about.”

The relatively small numbers of students, faculty and staff of color at independent schools often leads to feelings of isolation and alienation experienced by many Black and LatinX students that contribute to a heightened experience of anxiety and depression felt by these students, often without campus supports designed particularly to meet their needs.  In some cases, by enrolling small numbers of students of color without having a culture of welcome and support, independent schools may unintentionally be visiting harm on these students even as they seek to convey advantage.  

In her 2010 PhD dissertation entitled, “The Lived Experience of Economically Disadvantaged, Black Students Attending Predominantly White, Elite Private Boarding Schools,” Dr. Tameka Jackson writes, “The normative stressors which accompany adolescence are significantly increased for students of color in elite private school settings given additional factor of race and social class related stress. It is important to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences of these students in order to improve the climates of these schools and to provide adequate services to address such stressors.” 

The Employment Divide

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that Black and LatinX workers are far less likely to hold the highest-paying managerial and professional jobs in America than Whites and Asians and are far more likely to hold the lowest-paying jobs.

Only four of the Fortune 500 companies are currently led by Black CEOs.  And despite the presence of a Black CEO, middle-management and other managerial ranks are most often overwhelmingly White. Absent intentionality and sustained efforts, old hiring and promotion patterns persist. Corporate America has realized this. Now it’s time for the country’s leading schools to realize this, too.  

The Scourge of Systemic Racism in America’s Talent Pipeline

In their analytical report, entitled “The Unequal Race for Good Jobs,” Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce has documented just some of the economic implications of systemic racism for Blacks and Latinos in the talent pipeline in America.

The figures above illustrate how much more effectively the pipeline that connects education and employment in America “works” for Whites than for Blacks or Latinos.  

By definition, no single person, institution or organization—no matter how enlightened or determined—can end systemic racism alone.  Solutions must also be systemic.  But where should the solutions start?

ISTaP proceeds from the belief that the best place to start is to engage a select group of independent schools. These schools have in common the mission to prepare talented students for admission and success at the nation’s selective colleges and universities which, in turn, prepare students for career success.  In the knowledge economy, there is no talent pipeline stronger than that which flows from the nation’s finest secondary schools to colleges and universities to employers.  Accordingly, our aim is to help institutions strengthen the connections between access to—and success within—secondary and higher education and the sustainable, rewarding careers to which such education can lead.  

U.S. Demographics and the Imperative to End Systemic Racism in America

What is merely essential and ethically imperative now is growing more critical by the day.  The nation’s demographic future is already well-established.  In just 30 years, the composition of America’s population will have shifted dramatically:

These demographic trends are moving even faster among our youth.  Accordingly, it is in America’s best interests to develop and implement strategies to end systematic racism now so all can flourish and thrive in the future. 

It is in our nation’s finest independent schools that we have seen the pedagogical, intellectual, and initiatives to build community that have shown other schools the way forward in the past. The next step forward to embrace a more diverse future is the sort of sustained and mutually-supportive collaboration that ISTaP is designed to provide.

Format of the Independent School Talent Pipeline Initiative 

ISTaP will comprise select groups of around 18-20 independent schools, diversity-supportive pipelines and foundations committed to taking up the challenge of systemic racism as it affects the education pathway to life and career success. The format of the meetings of each group is different than typical conference settings and is anything but a “classroom” where speakers address a passive audience.  The upper limit of 20 member institutions in a group is based on how many people can engage actively in conversation around a large, rectangular table.

Target Members

ISTaP seeks members from within the categories listed below:

Independent Schools  Non-Profits
Leading Boarding Schools & Leading Day Schools (K-8, 9-12) Diversity-Supportive Pipelines (e.g., Prep for Prep)Foundations

Note: Boarding schools and day schools will each comprise their own, respective groups of up to 20 members, each focusing on the issues most pertinent to its members.

Founding Members

ISTaP is recruiting an initial group of founding members, with whom we will begin gathering baseline data regarding talent pipeline metrics.  With the recent announcements of promising vaccines, our hope is that concerns regarding COVID-19 will have abated sufficiently for our in-person meetings to begin in October 2021.  

ISTaP Meetings

ISTaP meetings will follow a regular format and schedule.  Four times per year, usually in October, January, April and June, members will convene in person for one and a half days (over a Friday and Saturday) to engage with one another in order to explore tangible, actionable solutions they can implement and measure to end systematic racism and the limits it has placed on the development of talented students of color at the nation’s leading schools.  

The focus of the first meeting will be on the nature and history of systemic racism in our culture generally and the adverse impacts it has had on people of color.  Subsequent meetings will focus primarily on the ways in which systemic racism is manifest in independent schools.  For context, meetings will also focus on the impact of systemic racism in other sectors, including higher education, housing, banking and finance, health services, criminal justice and popular culture.

Members to Host the Meetings 

On a rotating basis, each member organization will host a meeting at its campus or headquarters offices.  Hosting consists of providing meeting space and catering (breakfasts and lunches only) at the member’s main campus, headquarters, or other facility.  Members provide their own transportation and lodging, typically arriving Thursday evening and departing Saturday midday.  

Meetings begin with continental breakfast on Friday morning and conclude with a box lunch on Saturday.  Friday dinners are hosted offsite by the program, usually at a restaurant within convenient driving distance of the meeting location.

Each meeting will focus on one or two dimensions of systemic racism, usually as they affect independent school students, faculty and staff, their causes and effects, and strategies to mitigate and/or eliminate them.  The Initiative’s core faculty and other experts will provide evidence-based materials, success stories, case studies, proof-points, etc., designed to guide and inform participants during these discussions. 

Over the years, meetings will focus on uncovering more and more of the ways — some of which are more difficult to discern than others — in which the culture and processes incorporate systemic racism and how to recognize and eliminate them.  Within ISTaP’s confidential forum, members will share their experiences regarding the approaches that have succeeded and – in particular – those that have failed.  

The hosting institution will have a special opportunity to present case examples of one or more challenges it has been facing in the arena of diversity, equity and inclusion and engage in a robust, facilitated discussion with the other members regarding potential tools and techniques that may help achieve desired results.  

Thus, approximately every three months, every member gets to participate in an informed discussion among peers of practical issues and solutions in what is unquestionably one of the most challenging and pernicious issues facing independent schools and our nation more broadly.

Pre-Surveys and Confidential, Anonymized Data-Sharing

In addition, the quarterly meetings will usually be preceded by confidential surveys, administered and analyzed by ISTaP’s staff in confidence and preserving anonymity.  The results of these surveys are shared and discussed at the meetings to provide a unique, fact-based platform for identifying different cultures and approaches.  Each member receives a report identifying that member’s data alongside anonymized data from the other members.  

Discussion continues over dinner on Friday evening, usually in a private room at a nearby, off-campus restaurant.  Meetings adjourn with box lunch on Saturday, facilitating departures.  

Members leave each meeting armed with actionable insights and innovative practices they can bring back to their own organizations to accelerate progress on their own campuses.

Attendance at Meetings

Attendance at Independent School Talent Pipeline convenings is limited strictly to two, specified, senior leaders from each member institution or organization. Reflecting the importance of this initiative to each member school, the Head of School is expected to attend each meeting and to bring with her/him either the Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion or, depending on the specific focus of the meeting (e.g., admissions, academics, college placement, etc.), another senior leader. 

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