The Long Road to Education Equity: A Conversation With Leslie-Bernard Joseph

Leslie-Bernard Joseph is the Chief Executive Officer of Coney Island Preparatory School, located in Brooklyn, New York. Originally a Brooklynite, Joseph attended public and private schools and eventually Princeton University, where he focused on political science and African-American studies. He continued at Stanford University, earning a master’s degree in education and a law degree.  

Joseph then returned to his roots—beginning with teaching at one of the largest district public schools in New York City—and later as a founder of Coney Island Prep.  It would be easy to attribute his significant achievements wholly to hard work and education, but Joseph sees it differently. He explains why “this work is personal for me.” 

“I grew up in a single-parent immigrant household…in a district that was 99% black. By the time I was in 3rd grade, I was in my third public school. By the time I was in 5th grade, I was getting bussed out to a predominantly white district. So, at a really young age, I intuitively or implicitly understood that, if you wanted an opportunity, then you had to leave home for it.”

Joseph describes his trajectory: “I ended up with a scholarship to attend a private boarding school in Massachusetts and that was certainly a culture shock. It was expensive, tens of thousands of dollars tuition—and I was not from that—for me, it crystallized this idea that you don’t have to only leave home for an opportunity, but this education game and journey in America is really sort of built by luck. I never felt like I was the smartest kid in my class. I was never the hardest working. I was just lucky enough to have the mom I had to push me on my journey.”

Joseph notes that school performance and outcomes for students—usually measured by test scores—became pivotal as he began teaching in 2006. He observes “two big shifts” in the years since then.  

  • The first is the emergence of a focus on equity. “…To me, equity is a clarification on whom those outcomes are meant for and the idea that those outcomes mean nothing if we’re not clear about eradicating opportunity gaps across lines of difference, including race, income, IEP (Individualized Education Programs), and special needs status. Equity also implies to the allocation of resources to support kids who need them more…”
  • The second shift in perception he notes is the recognition of the importance of the role that educators of color play in leading high-performing schools.  “It comes from this recognition that schools belong in a community… this recognition that educators of color matter has been a shift that wasn’t true when I started in 2006. I think you’ve seen the pivot in lots of different areas and arenas. I think it’s a step in the right direction, for sure.”

We’re only scratching the surface of this important discussion with Leslie-Bernard Joseph, a true education pathfinder. To learn more, don’t miss Episode 5 of the Learning Can’t Wait podcast, hosted by Haley Spira-Bauer, Chief Academic Officer of iTutor.