As Latino/a/x Heritage Month comes to an end, The Fund is excited to share the launch of the new Affinity Group Program in partnership with the Latino/a/x Leadership Pipeline (LLP) and Center Forward. Together, we aim to advance 20 aspiring leaders — 10 Latino/a/x and 10 Black — into principal and assistant principal roles within Chicago Public Schools (CPS) by 2025.
This collaboration comes at a pivotal moment. While 81.9% of CPS students identify as Latino/a/x or Black, only 62.7% of principals identify as such. By providing identity-based mentorship and professional development, these affinity groups will help build a more diverse pipeline of school leaders that better reflects the students and communities they serve.
Bridging Long-Standing Gaps
LLP’s co-founders understand the need for diverse leadership firsthand. Felipe Perez brings deep experience working in different departments across CPS, Olimpia Bahena is a seasoned principal who knows what it takes to successfully lead a school, and Nicholas Guerrero is one of CPS’ youngest principals, bringing a fresh lens to his role. Finally, with over 23 years in education, Clariza Dominicci has a keen eye for relationship building, leadership cultivation, and allyship.
For LLP’s co-founders, the Affinity Group Program is a long-awaited next step in the journey for broader Latino/a/x representation in school leadership. Leaders draw on their personal experiences in outlining their vision for a more inclusive and culturally responsive professional environment.
Nicholas Guerrero is inspired by his mother’s determination as a Mexican immigrant and educator. He reflects, “If it weren’t for our Latino/a/x culture and the educators who resembled my mom, life would have been very different for her and me.” His mother’s journey from immigrant to CPS teacher and assistant principal motivated him to ensure similar pathways for families like his.
Nicholas’ story is not unique. The racial and ethnic disparity between Chicago’s diverse student population and its educators was evident. The Affinity Group Program aims to close this gap by offering identity-based mentorship and professional development support, looking to encourage more Latino/a/x school leaders.
“For 20 years, I had no Latino/a/x leadership community,” shared Olimpia, echoing a common struggle among the 18.6% of CPS principals who identify as Latino/a/x. The tailored coaching in this program will focus on nurturing each participant’s strengths while expanding their skill sets in instructional leadership, talent management, and strategic planning.
The Affinity Group Program emphasizes long-term professional development that reflects Latino/a/x educators’ cultural values — a consistent barrier to Latino/a/x educators pursuing the principalship. “I have seen a lot of leaders who have felt that they needed to fit a mold in order to progress in their careers and leadership,” Felipe said, drawing on his experience launching the CPS Teacher Residency program and the Teach Chicago Tomorrow program. “In order to fit that mold, they needed to put aside a lot of really important personal, familial, and cultural values.”
The Fund and LLP’s partnership is part of a focused, sustained commitment to develop future Latino/a/x leaders for Chicago’s public schools. As Olimpia said, “We’re doing more than just creating opportunities; we’re actively building a foundation for greater inclusivity.” Together, we aim to redefine school leadership in CPS to be more inclusive, equitable, and culturally responsive.
Progress Through Allyship
The Fund is also teaming up with Center Forward to support Black aspiring principals in school leadership. Rodney Thomas, an experienced educator in organizational design, executive coaching, and leadership development, will help lead this second affinity group.
LLP is greatly looking forward to working with Center Forward and the Black affinity group. “What gets me really excited in this work is that we’re focusing on bringing up Black and brown voices in Black and brown leadership, especially our Black males,” explained Clariza.
The purpose of the Affinity Group Program isn’t just to develop principals; it will also provide leaders of color the time and space to collaborate, learn more about their identity, and reflect on their leadership. As Julie Burnett, The Fund’s Director of Partnerships, shared, “It is even more critical for schools and leaders to emphasize unity and shared humanity during this crucial time for the city and the nation.”
As The Fund sharpens its focus on supporting a diverse and representative pool of principals and aspiring principals, we are prioritizing partnerships with local organizations deeply embedded in Chicago’s rich cultural landscape.
Affinity groups are a new part of The Fund’s wide-ranging programming. To learn more about our work, our commitment to nurturing future leaders, and how you can get involved, we encourage you to visit our programs page. Together, we can create lasting change and ensure that our school leadership reflects the vibrant diversity of our students and communities.