Our Defining US network of educators are providing much needed clarity for unity, healing, and hope in our nation. These experts, a part of America’s classroom, an inclusive community classroom without walls, are leading the way for all of us to listen, learn, and act. We proudly share the most recent work and accomplishments of these important voices that are educating our hearts and our minds for a better tomorrow.
We were already impressed with the leadership Bennett Lieberman has provided to NYC Schools Central Park East High School during his 15 year tenure. Serving primarily students of color, 81.5% eligible for Free and Reduced Lunch, CPEHS’ most recent data (prior to COVID shutdowns) included a 100% graduation rate, a rating of Excellent on all 7 indicators of Framework for Great Schools (i.e., achievement, strong family-community ties, supportive) and a 97% student attendance rate. Impressive indeed. But we have to say we were doubly impressed to learn of Principal Lieberman’s commitment to students and families by also taking on another job as the morning site supervisor at the PS 180 Regional Enrichment Center (REC) site during the height of COVID-19. On site, Lieberman and DOE staff have provided essential care for the children of essential workers – such as firefighters, police, nurses, and employees of drug stores and grocery stores. We love these meaningful supports that have been provided during such a difficult time in our nation and world. Please see the interview with Principal Lieberman about this support initiative at The Morning Bell.
Kenyatte Reid champions the supports that benefit students in his role as the Executive Director for the NYC Department of Education’s Office of Safety and Youth Development. As part of his work, he oversees the implementation of such initiatives as social emotional learning, restorative practices, anti-bullying, and discipline practice reforms. Most recently, Reid has advocated for rethinking the traditional roles of his district’s school police officers (known as School Safety Agents). This advocacy includes rethinking necessary trainings School Safety Agents should have to be most effective for their work with students and the issues that may arise, but his advocacy also calls for additional social workers and counselors in schools so issues could potentially be mitigated prior to agent intervention. His holistic efforts to support students, their families and their communities are at the forefront of similar changes we see happening across the country, but it is especially impressive to see this commitment by Reid and others in our nation’s largest school district.
Dr. Patrick Jean-Pierre
Dr. Pierre, whose career spans both the pre-k through 12 and higher ed spectrum, serves as the Director for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Schenectady City School District in Schenectady, New York. His work has focused on providing supports for vulnerable students and the adults who work with them. Looking at systems-wide change within his current role, the district created an anti-racism task force and anti-racism leadership team to look at why their systems were not working for the students they served. One innovative measure included dismantling building leadership teams, “We revamped them, made sure they were all diverse in terms of not only position, but also identity. And then we aligned them to all the different committees we did within each building to ensure coherence. And then we trained everyone on having an anti-racism lens. So now those groups across the district meet monthly to talk about not only key issues that are happening nationally, but then connecting that to how it’s impacting our work within the district.” Forward thinking approach Dr. Pierre!
Lydia Acosta Stephens
Finally, we must highlight the important message from Lydia Acosta Stephens, Executive Director of Multilingual and Multicultural Education Department (MMED) at one of our network districts, LA Unified. In her posted message (link in the heading), Stephens lists several guiding principles for the work she oversees, including asset-based education and sociocultural competence. MMED “meets the needs of our diverse learners by looking at the whole child; an instructional approach that recognizes and personalizes the needs of our learners. By understanding and appreciating their assets, language and culture, we support teachers and students in creating learning environments that actively integrate student interests and needs at the center. The whole child approach engages and motivates students, developing life-long skills and building upon them for future success.” After reading Stephens’ vision for her department that serves over 200,000 students, we encourage you to scroll to the bottom of the page and listen to her reading of her personal Where I’m From poem. Her reflections are a great reminder that our students also are not one-dimensional and the richness of their identities, cultures, and experiences are gifts we should recognize and celebrate everyday.