By Santura Pegram
Many people seemingly think the topic of public education in America is less important when compared to other pressing issues of today. However, there is one convincing figure who would respectfully disagree and debate why public education should not be dismissed or devalued. Dr. Sandy Womack Jr., currently an Area (Assistant) Superintendent with the Columbus City School District (which happens to be the largest school system in the State of Ohio), has always been a strategic thinker and advocate for underdogs.
Like most natives of disadvantaged urban neighborhoods, Womack gained an uncanny and often underestimated perspective of the learning process despite being exposed to a frequently challenging, yet character-building environment that private and parochial school systems do not offer. It was in the urban community that he learned a form of mental chemistry (a type of “toughness”) that is often cultivated in helping to define what it means for someone to possess a resilient spirit upon reaching adulthood. Those traits – essentially “chemistry” & “character” – are often heightened when adults, as Womack says, remember that “Exposure changes expectations, but it is the experiences we provide our children with that change their lives.”
No one in life has ever given Sandy Womack Jr. anything.
He has earned everything through those same forms of exposure and experiences he references. First, as a talented high school wrestler who was awarded a college scholarship in wrestling and went on to become a two-time NCAA All-American standout, and then in college classrooms as a knowledge-thirsty student and aspiring educator. Once he stepped away from the sport he excelled at, he fell in love with the infinite possibility of what he could accomplish through advanced education.
To broaden the scope of understanding the level of engagement (and privilege) involved in maintaining the economic stability of members of one ethnic group over others, one does not need to look far beyond the research. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) in Washington, D.C., the overall total number of college graduates awarded doctoral level degrees in 2018-2019 (the latest year’s statistics) reveals there were 187,568 doctoral degrees conferred throughout the U.S. in that year alone. Of that number, 100,880 were awarded to Whites; 19,507 were awarded to Asians; 14,087 were awarded to Blacks; and 13,277 were awarded to Hispanics and/or Latinos. And, out of that 187,568 total who received doctoral degrees in the U.S., only 13,020 total were conferred (awarded) such degrees for the category of education that year. Of that 13,020, Whites made up 6,963; Blacks made up 2,524; Hispanics and/or Latinos made up 1,110; and Asians represented 395 of those overall (education) doctoral degree graduates in 2018-2019.
Such statistics reinforce beliefs like those of noted scholar Richard Rothstein who said it best when he expressed that, “social class differences likely affect the academic performance of children.” In addition, Mr. Rothstein makes a valid argument when he quipped that “good teachers, high expectations, standards, accountability, and inspiration are not enough.” (Class and Schools, 2004). For children in today’s urban school settings to succeed, they need a Dr. Sandy Womack Jr. In a career that has spanned thirty-years in education, Sandy Womack Jr. got his start teaching in the Ohio education system with the Alliance City Schools in Stark County. Then, briefly with the University of Akron-Federal TRIO Programs in Summit County. Next came a teaching position in the Cleveland Metropolitan Schools, and a series of promotions led to becoming the Dean of Students and then an Assistant Principal with the Akron Public Schools. At the age of 29, he became the Head Principal with the Canton City Schools before being offered a series of promotions to become the Director of Curriculum and Development, and then the Director of Principal Leadership and Development with the Cleveland Heights-University Heights School District in Cuyahoga County before finally becoming a member of what he considers the best professional team yet – his current administrative position helping to lead the Columbus City School District. The man has literally served in practically every capacity (except a Human Resources and/or Superintendent positions) as an education professional…from teacher to counselor to Assistant Principal to Building Principal to Administrator.
To discover why he is so passionate about public education in America and not only a frequently requested speaker at conferences, organizations, and universities across the country, but a trusted figure of children, parents, and/or guardians alike, you would have to know his path and allow him to pique your curiosity. Equipped with an arsenal of amazing traits and an invaluable skill set, Womack is a classic example of what can evolve (potential-wise) from many, if not most, of the disadvantaged children he has interacted with for many years. In addition to being a best friend-life partner to his equally dynamic wife – Dr. Monica Womack (who earned her Ph.D. and is a behind-the-scenes problem-solver in public education herself), Dr. Sandy Womack Jr. earned his Ed.D. and together they share three razor-sharp daughters. Interestingly, Sandy hails from a background where one of his parents (his late father) was a convicted felon who spent time in prison at one point. A constant reminder that no matter how you start out or where you come from, it’s how you use that experience to transform a person’s own life and that of other people that matters. It has been that factor, along with growing up watching his mother sacrifice and juggle to make things happen, which has enabled Sandy Womack Jr. to resonate with and relate to countless children, parents, and/or guardians of diverse backgrounds like few educators or administrators have or do.
When asked what he believes are the three most critical concerns affecting education in urban school settings throughout America, Womack is quick to reveal, “the proverbial lack of proper funding issue, the expectation issue (of the people who work directly with urban school children), and the lack of collective community-wrap-around-support issue.” To many students, parents, and fellow educators across the nation, Dr. Sandy Womack Jr. is not only the epitome of a dynamic teacher-education administrator, but he’s also another “inner-city success story.” Understandably, this overachiever still has his heart set on attaining his biggest goal yet as an educator-administrator, which (according to him) is to “become the #1 influencer of African American children in public schools in the world!”
*Santura Pegram (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a freelance writer and socially conscious business professional who has helped to advise small businesses; nonprofit organizations; city, county, and state governmental committees; elected officials; professional athletes; and school systems. He was a one-time protégé-aide to the “Political Matriarch of the State of Florida” – the late Honorable M. Athalie Range.