Leadership Qualities of Equity-Focused School Leaders: Rafael Gaeta

By Rafael Gaeta, Ed.D., Nightingale Middle School, National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellow

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Equity can be defined as “the quality of being fair and impartial.” As a school administrator, the topic of equity can conjure up cognitive dissonance with the personnel we work with each day. Why does the topic of equity cause so much angst at times? We believe the answer could be in the way that the terms “equity” and “equal” have been used interchangeably. A person’s definition of these terms may be the very factor that causes the angst that many school leaders encounter as they try to make decisions to create and sustain an equitable school environment. As a first-year “rookie” principal, I present a perspective of an administrator who continuously works on maintaining equity at our schools.

I just celebrated my one-year anniversary as the principal at my middle school in Northeast Los Angeles. My middle school has a more diverse student body than most schools in my area. We are 70% Latino, 29% Asian, and 1% Black. My school is considered school-wide Title I due to the socioeconomic status of our student population. I came into my first principal assignment with my personal experiences as an immigrant to this country and an English learner. Coincidentally, many of those experiences are also those of my students.

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Leadership Qualities of Equity-Focused School Leaders: Marla Fernandez

By Marla Fernandez, South Bay Union School District, National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellow

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I have worked at South Bay Union School District for seven years. My wonderful elementary school is tucked away in a beach community that is located five miles from the Mexican border in San Diego. Our enrollment of 560 students includes 70% Latino students and 50% English learners. Additionally, 79% of our students’ families are low socioeconomic status; hence, we are schoolwide Title I.

When I was growing up, I was an English learner like many of my students. Although my mother was bilingual, I did not begin to attempt to tackle the academic demands of English until fourth grade. This was due to my teacher, who opened up a whole new world to me by teaching me to love literature. These experiences informed my teaching career, which has always included working in the field of bilingual education as a classroom teacher, resource teacher, and literacy coach.

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How We Can Improve the Latino Educational Pipeline

By Jose Enriquez, National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellow

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Current data trends show that the Latino educational pipeline is improving—within the last decade, both high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates have improved for Latino students. However, there are still challenges to closing educational gaps.

Until recently, data showed that for every 100 Latino students, 21 will go to college, eight will earn a graduate degree, and less than 0.2% will earn a doctoral degree. According to Pew Research Center, 49% of Latino high school graduates in the United States enrolled in college in 2012, while high school dropout rates continued to fall. This positive trend may be representative of Latino students moving through the education system more smoothly than before. Despite such promising trends, in comparison to other ethnic groups, Latino college students are:

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Speaking Truth to Power

By Angelica Solis, Director, Youth Policy Institute

(Cross-posted from the National Institute for Latino School Leaders blog.)

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NCLR Nat’l. Institute for Latino School Leaders fellows in Washington last month.

Our national leaders are charged with some heavy responsibilities: representing the community’s interest and ensuring that that representation reflects national policy. This is easier said than done. Competing community interests, disconnect between local realities and national perceptions, insufficient information about specific topic issues, and many other factors often challenge our leadership’s ability to develop policies that address the specific needs of Latino students and their families. For this reason, it is important that school and community leaders working directly with Latino communities actively engage policy makers around the issues that are vital to supporting the students and families they work with.

Informing and educating policy makers and their staff about important education issues such as NCLB waivers, college and career readiness standards, family engagement, and mental health, is critical to ensuring that Latino voices and experiences are not lost as our national legislators craft policies that will impact our community. Most importantly, having policy makers hear first hand the stories of how education policies play out locally, allows them to put faces to the issues and to contextualize the statistics and data that may or may not accurately capture the impacts of these policies in our communities.

On March 6, the current cohort of NCLR’s National Institute for Latino School Leaders (NILSL) had an opportunity to do just that – share their local stories, experiences and expertise around these and several other key issues impacting Latino students and families across the country. The NILSL fellows had the chance to meet with representatives from high-ranking legislative leaders such as Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Congressman George Miller (D-Calif.), and others, that are currently leading discourse and developing policies that impact our educators, schools, students and families. NILSL participants shared first-hand accounts of how their schools can use resources to support teacher development; how realignment of existing funds can impact a school’s ability to provide mental health resources to the child that has to overcome the traumas of living in a gang-infested neighborhood; and how developing clear accountability measures can ensure local schools are held accountable for erasing the achievement gap.

National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellows outside NCLR headquarters in DC.

National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellows outside NCLR headquarters in DC.

These were the stories the NILSL fellows carried with them as they walked the halls of Congress and met with the staff of the powerful leaders that will make decisions that impact their communities. Equipped with these stories as well as the hard facts and data related to the issue topics, the school and community leaders were unwavering in their commitment to the share the key recommendations that will ultimately lead to improved student outcomes, safe and healthy school environments, and improved community and family engagement.

Without the voices of local school and community leaders in Washington D.C., our leaders’ job of representing our Latino community interests will be difficult to fulfill, and it is in our best interest that they are successful at what they do so that our communities can be successful in return.

Preparing Our Students for 21st Century and College and Career Readiness Standards

By Janet Alvarez, Principal, Para Los Ninos Middle School
(Cross-posted from the National Institute for Latino School Leaders blog.)

GraduationI was recently asked what I think the most important aspect is to prepare our Latino students for the rigor of 21st Century Learning and College and Career Readiness Standards.  As I thought more, it isn’t the arts, literacy, science, technology, or math that we integrate into every content area. Rather, it is the inquiry and curiosity that we nurture, demonstrate and practice through our approach.

Our students are curious about the world around them, hungry for more information about why things work the way they do and how to make them work even better.  This curiosity is what ignites a thirst for learning in our students and energizes them to be innovative thinkers.

Typically, 21st Century and College and Career Readiness Skills, are referred to as; critical thinking, communication, creativity and collaboration. These skills are extremely important, and the structure and tools to practice them in school are crucial.

I would like to add two more “C’s” to that list: curiosity and confidence.

Curiosity is a student’s fundamental motivation for learning.  Without it, students would never wonder, never question, and never try again after failing.  Our students need to see curiosity in action through demonstration. They need the time, structure, and devices to guide their curiosity into inquiry, exploration and learning. They also need meaningful ways to reveal their innovations, challenges and thoughts along the way.

Building confidence in our students is one of the most powerful “C’s” of all.  Acknowledging student accomplishments privately, and in front of a group boosts their belief in their capabilities. Further, allowing students the opportunity to self-select their own activities will help them build their self-worth.

Encourage students, when they are performing a task or getting involved in an activity, to do better than they did before, NOT better than someone else!  And finally, express a positive attitude toward our students so they see that they are worth your time and attention.

How about you?  How are you encouraging 21st Century skills for our students?