Americans are more divided than ever, with each side convinced that the other comes up short. Is there any way to make our educational system less polarized?
Principals and education commissioners have some of the toughest jobs in America. To be successful, you must be a talented educator, a collaborative community leader, and an experienced administrator. The leaders of the system must be both ruthless and patient. Sophisticated and compassionate. Psychic and pragmatic. And that was before the COVID-19 pandemic – today leaders must have a subtle understanding of public health.
Despite a difficult job description, the members of the Leaders for Change network I lead work hard every day to give our nation’s children the excellent education they deserve. In addition, our leaders inspire other dedicated educators who want to make a difference in the lives of children to pursue the highest function and succeed.
Five years ago, Leaders for Change launched a development program for future leaders. Our mission is to identify talented and diverse educators from across the country and prepare them to lead education systems in states and large districts. Future leaders participate in collective learning on key topics of effective leadership in elementary and secondary schools and receive coaching and mentoring from our network members.
We recently proudly announced our sixth cohort of future leaders:
- Devin Fletcher, Director of Talent and Equity, Tulsa Public Schools (TPS).
- Jacob Oliva, Director of the Division of Public Schools, Florida Department of Education (FL).
- Heather Peske, Senior Assistant Commissioner for Instructional Support, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MA).
- Dr. Thomas Taylor, assistant principal, Chesterfield County Public Schools, Virginia
- Heather Towe-Eak, assistant superintendent, Mukilteo School District, WA
- Dr. Avis Williams, Superintendent, Selma City Schools (AL)
- Dr. Teresa Williams, chief operating officer, Plano Independent School District (Texas)
- Andre Wright, Director of Academic Affairs, Aurora Public Schools (CO).
- Iranetta Wright, assistant superintendent, Detroit Public School District, Michigan
As Chiefs for Change board member and residency leader Janice Jackson, former executive director of Chicago Public Schools, noted, these future leaders must lead in an unprecedented time. The pandemic has created major challenges, but also new opportunities. Future leaders will need to make decisions about how to use the vast amount of federal emergency aid to schools – more than ever before – and how to measure the difference these resources make. They must address the educational inequalities that already existed but have been exacerbated by the crisis. And they will need to introduce new school models and options to meet the changing needs of families. I have no doubt that our future leaders will rise to the challenge and contribute to the development of better education systems for the world of today and tomorrow.
In fact, graduates of the program are already doing just that. At a time of transition in many systems when incisive, principled leadership has never been more important, seven former future leaders are taking on new leadership roles this summer:
- Mohammed Chowdhury, State Superintendent of Schools, Maryland Department of Education (MD)
- Dr. Margaret Crespo, Superintendent, Laramie County School District 1 (Wyoming)
- Christine Fowler-Mack, superintendent, Akron Public Schools, Ohio
- Dr. Christine Grant, Acting State Superintendent of Education, Office of the State Superintendent of Education, District of Columbia, DC.
- Brian Kingsley, Superintendent, Poudre School District (CO).
- Dr. LaTanya McDade, superintendent, Prince William County Public Schools, Virginia
- Matt Montaño, Superintendent, Bernalillo Public Schools (NM)
Future leaders reflect the diversity of our nation. In the six years of our cohort, 79% of leaders are people of color and 54% are women. Although they come from different backgrounds and live in different parts of the country, these leaders and all of our leaders and future leaders are united in their core beliefs about what it takes to create schools where all children learn well. For years, political polarization and complacency have hindered the progress of public education. But we know the antidote: courageous and inclusive leadership.
As we look ahead to the fall, the upcoming school year and all the work ahead, our network members are taking the lead. Our leaders share their expertise with rising stars, and new leaders step up boldly to serve. After all our country has been through, their work makes us proud and gives us hope.