One Year Later: Where are We Now in the AC-Stage of Education?

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In honor of one year of Voices For Excellence, we are rejoined by our first guests, Dr. Alex Marrero and Zandra Jo Galvan. What steps have been made, not made, or achieved in the past year with regards to education? Listen in and find out!

Dr. Michael Conner

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. Welcome to another episode of Voices for Excellence. I am your host, Dr. Michael Conner, CEO and Founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group and proud host of Voices for Excellence. And today’s episode is a celebratory episode where we are celebrating one year of VFE! And the two most extraordinary leaders that are on this episode to celebrate one year is Yes, who started Voices for Excellence, who started the momentum, who started the coalition. And it is absolute honor to have back again. This might be a reoccurring thing, Dr. Marrero, and soon to be Dr. Galvan, to have you guys on, you know, just to continuously to bring your thought leadership, your inspirational leadership, your elegant, your leadership signature and unwrapping it in totality. So all the way from episode one, Season one, now episode two. But I wanted to align it around the time frame of when we started Voices for Excellence. So it is absolutely my honor to have back. Ms. Zandra Jo Galvan, Superintendent of Greenville Unified School District, Greenville, California. She absolutely is one of the best superintendents. She won the Alaska National Superintendent of the Year 2023 National Superintendent of the Year for ALAS. So we welcome Zandra back, mi hermana from California and of course my hermano from New York via Denver, Colorado right now coming back for an encore of Voices for Excellence. I am absolutely tremendously honored to have Dr. Alex Marrero, Superintendent of Denver Public Schools. Alex and Zandra, one year later, what’s going on?

Dr. Alex Marrero

Well, happy to be back. Zandra, it’s good to see you again. I saw you not too long ago when you were receiving that coveted award. Mike, good to see you as well. Question I have is, do I look older? Because I kind of feel it.

Zandra Jo Galvan

True, I know. That was my first first impression was, my God, I hope we still look good a year later. Mike, I just want to say, Dr. Conner, honored to be here a year later and to see your journey as a leader in this space and to have made such an incredible impact as you have in your career. But most importantly, this last year, to watch your movement navigating the nation is really impressive. So congratulations to you for making this a one year anniversary.

Dr. Michael Conner

Thank you. Zandra and Alex and I tell you this right, watching the both of you the past year, Alex, your work in Denver, Zandra, your work in Greenville. But more importantly, both of you, your work nationally is just truly invigorating. It is compelling with your leadership signature, how you’re really moving the needle for kids. And it is absolutely profound the impact that you are having in the education ecosystem. And I want to each well, first, I want to thank both of you for supporting me in this endeavor, supporting me and my work. Zandra and Alex, you have been on the forefront with, I would say, motivating me to continue this work. So one year later, wow. You know, I can only say that, but to have you still in my company, to have you still in my close knit of our models, in our mind, as I really, truly, truly, truly Alex and Zandra, I appreciate it. And that’s what I want to have you back because, you know, I got to have the best on the minds best minds in in the world on this podcast. So thank you, Zandra, thank you, Alex. I’ll tell you, you know, I can’t wait to see both of you again. I think I’ll probably see both of you at the same time, maybe AASA. So I saw Alex already. Zandra, I’m going to see you for our academy. That is going strong. Going to talk a little bit about that, but let’s get right into the podcast, because I tell you, when I look, when I listen to the first episode, Zandra and Alex, that was bad. I’m talking about the host. I was… I mean, I was nervous. I was I didn’t know what to ask. Kind of like, you know, am I doing this correctly? And then, of course, when you get into, you know, being a host of a podcast and having brilliant minds such as yourself, Zandra and Alex on this podcast is something that I’m like, wow, I got to get better at this. So now I promise…

Dr. Alex Marrero

That’s what we both put on the evaluation, by the way. I don’t know if you got to you.

Dr. Michael Conner

Dr. Marrero, below basic. So I was below basic. I hope that now my improvement plan would actually show some promise with this, but I want to start with both of you. Right. And then each of you are going to get individual questions. But Zandra and Alex, this is the one year anniversary show in a lot has occurred in the ecosystem since we last spoke about 365 days ago. So, Zandra, exactly one year ago, your equity song that you chose, it was the first question ever asked on VFE and you answered the first question on VFE. That’s going to be a trivia five years down the line. But your equity song that you chose was Rise Up by Andra Day. So Zandra when you walk in a room, what song comes to mind when participants like Alex or myself or hearing you speak for the first time?

Zandra Jo Galvan

So my song, when I think equity and just empowering our young girls is Rise Up by Andra Day.

Dr. Michael Conner

And Dr. Marrero, you disrupted the first question ever on VFE with two songs Fight The Power by Public Enemy and U.N.I.T.Y by Queen Latifah.

Dr. Alex Marrero

Equity song is Fight the Power by Public Enemy. I want to give you a female one as well. Am I allowed to, Michael Conner?

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely.

Dr. Alex Marrero

So U.N.I.T.Y. from Queen Latifah.

Dr. Michael Conner

Now I want you to both analyze this year, right? First, have we made progress in education in the context of the equity song?

Zandra Jo Galvan

Love it, yes. So I think we, with the song I selected, Rise Up, I think there are so many facets and areas within education that we’ve had to rise up. We’ve had to take ownership of the moment and we had no other choice but to lead nationally. And I speak for myself, but I also speak for a series of national superintendents across every state that has had to deal with things that they’ve never had to deal with in the history of their time as a superintendent. We were just coming out of the pandemic. Kids were back in school. Little bit of the honeymoon stage. Well, that’s over. And so, so much of what we’re seeing in our schools with the bringing to school of weapons, the mass amounts of students that have experienced a lot of trauma and mental illness during the pandemic, that we’re seeing the aftermath and effects of that. So we’ve had to rise up and not do the same thing, but to do things differently. We’re not just going to suspend and expel a kid without responding and analyzing the root cause and what is going to make this child better. You know, so that’s one aspect of things that we’ve had to deal with, but we’ve also had to deal with political issues at the diocese and coming at us full speed ahead with the shunning of our LGBTQ plus community. You know, kids are kids and they need to be able to live their fullest life. And so having opportunities for us to support than we have, we’ve had to rise up against speaking, you know, speaking truth to power in protecting the livelihood of children so they don’t commit suicide and take alternative approaches because they don’t feel seen, valued and heard. And one other thing I’ll mention, there’s so many, but I don’t want to, I want to make sure my hermano Alex, you know, has his opportunity to speak on this topic as well. One more I’ll share is just honoring our history. We have had to rise up and speak truth to power on many occasions when we need to speak about the honest truth about our history as people of color being able to take up space and be our true, honest, beautiful, bold, brilliant selves when that is that the popular choice and we have across the nation been disrupting comfort know because we want to make sure that we are able to be our true, honest selves. And the children are watching us. The children are watching what we do and how we create space and place for them to be their true selves and to be able to receive a wonderful education and to be able to have their post-secondary dreams fulfilled. So and those are three occasions when, as a nation, superintendents have had to rally together to rise up.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Well stated. Well stated, Dr. Marrero. And before we get to Dr. Marrero, it always resonates with me Z, when you always present speaking truth to power. I think that sentiment is so powerful, right? I always say speaking truth to power is the equivalency of vision and action. So really love that and disrupt and confer. That is exactly what the AC stage of education is. Yes, Alex, go right ahead, please.

Dr. Alex Marrero

Well-said, Zandra and I have the two songs on our in terms of our in context of each of these great pieces. And have we made progress? I’m going to take a similar approach. I’ll start local and I’ll start with U.N.I.T.Y, which is unity we had here. I had the toughest year in my career, arguably one of the toughest years that I’ve seen anyone had to endure from controversy, all school closings, firings to data breaches to cyber attacks to violence and something that had been covered nationally, a shooting that resulted in loss of life, very serious things. So in the concept of in the context of unity locally, we did unite as a group. Right. And we persevered and we and I was able to lead through. Did we did we do it perfectly? Absolutely not. The point is we’re here and I believe that we are stronger than ever locally. However, when I look at the ecosystem, I don’t know if we’re as unified as educators as we need to be considering. I believe that we’re under attack. So this is now beyond a state level at a federal level. So, yes, local because of unfortunate circumstances that we had to endure. No, I would say when it comes to what’s happening in our ecosystem of education and politics in terms of fight the power, sadly, I’m going to say that we have not made progress in education in the context of that song. Zandra, you mentioned I and there are several of our colleagues and to me they’re always going to be colleagues, but former superintendents who have fallen victim to them speaking out and doing what’s right and supporting us students specifically. There is a lyric in Chuck D says, You’ve got to give us what we want. You got to give us what we need, our freedom of speech. Is it or is a freedom a death? And we’ve seen in many states where you’re not allowed to do this, still banning books. And I guess that’s one thing that I have yet to have to to battle. But I take it on as it’s my Bible as well. So truly the essence of that song, fighting the power. And there are some folks in power do not want. Let me put in perspective you to have this podcast and definitely not to have these guests initially, much less repeated. So imagine that, right? They would try to silence us and they’ve been successful in silencing others. So we’re at a crisis. I’m still up for the fight. But as as every box that keeps moving up. Wait, no, you could keep winning, but eventually now you’re going to get your blows and you can’t continue. So I just hope that there are Zandras’ and Mikes’ and Alexs’ who are ready to come in after us.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah. Yeah. Well stated, Dr. Marrero, because, you know, when I think of U.N.I.T.Y, and you know, I when you look at perseverance, I would say your leadership was tested, but it was elevated at the same time. And Alex, what you did this past year, absolutely remarkable. Thank you. Thank you. I mean, multiple trials and tribulations throughout last year that you had to deal with and continue to lead, which at high and lead with this level of, I like to say, measurable resilience, because what you did for that community was absolutely amazing. But fight the power. You’re right. And one thing when I when I think about quite the power is that you know the question that bodes is you know really the change agents or I should say the equity agents if you’re an equity agent, what is your longevity? Both of you are equity excellence, innovation agents and have had sustained successful superintendent tenures. Right. Sad to say, it is the anomaly now and we we we can’t have that as the anomaly it has to be the the actual polarization which is the mainstay or the standardization but that segways nice in the question to and Zandra please open this up with us and then we’ll have Alex follow up with this. But, you know, we talk about the landscape of the superintendency both right. And Dr. Marrero alluded to it in his last sentiment that we have seen many extraordinary leaders transition into new roles within the ecosystem. But each of you have had defined measurable and objective success as superintendents of school. When we’re examining this leadership. Current climate. Right? But what encouragement? Because we’re starting to see more. There was one state, Alex and Zandra, I believe last year had 29 openings, and we’re not talking about one of the big states. When I talk about California, Colorado, Texas, Florida, Right. We’re New York. We’re not talking about we’re talking about 29 openings and a very small state. So what encouragement you provide leaders to stay in the executive role and then also to the subquestion is what creative strategies can be employed to support aspiring leaders to continue this trajectory of leadership, because I’m hearing now nationally is do I really want to go in this when we’re seeing superintendents leave at this exponential manner? Zandra, we want to start us off.

Zandra Jo Galvan

I would thank you for that question. And I think the role of the superintendent has shifted. I remember being a teacher and not even knowing who my superintendent was. Yeah, you know, the presence gone are the days where you can be a manager. You have to be a communicator, you have to be a storyteller, you need to be a champion, you need to be present, you need to be in spaces and places in every function. Almost of your district to have that presence. And so the role of the superintendent has really shifted in terms of our presence and what we want to do. But I will also say that it’s also the expectation of the public has shifted as well and the role of the superintendent. And I say that because when you see contentious exits of a superintendent or a superintendent fired or asked to leave, it is not unity within the governance team. Board members may have a different expectation of our role as superintendents, and they need that superintendent to execute their directive. And in many cases that is not in the heart or in the ethical standards of that superintendent. And so when you see these mass exodus of superintendents leaving, it’s for a wide variety of reasons. It could be because of the board dynamics, it could be because of a group out there that’s trying to get them eliminated. It could be because it’s just not a fit. You know, there are some superintendents that thrive in certain communities that they don’t thrive in other spaces. So that may be it may be, you know, tried and true. The old, you know, making a mistake as a superintendent. And one thing that everybody wants to make sure that there is there’s a balanced budget every year and there aren’t errors because we took our eye off the ball.  You know, there’s so many reasons that this is a reality. But now I’m going to turn to the alternative of that. I am now seventh year in my superintendency. I have had staying power in this community, able to establish some really powerful relationships with the people. I haven’t had a grievance in since my first year. So six years clear of no grievances, six years clear of people coming and, you know, screaming at board meetings for things that we as a team were doing wrong. And so I say all of that because your your question is getting to the root of why does the exodus but then what’s the promise? The promise is I want to encourage everyone to be a superintendent, if that’s in your heart, because I’ll be honest with you, I love teaching. And that was the greatest calling ever. But I love being a superintendent. I love it. I love being the person that gets to say yes, I love greeting kids, I love leading my team. I love creating strategic plans and vision and mission and core values. I love analyzing organization and seeing where our where our pitfalls are, to rally the team to help support it. And so I say that to encourage others that if I can do it, you can do it. And when you want to say yes to the job, never, ever think that you’re alone because you never are. Alex is someone I know I can call anytime. He can call me, I can call you, like as a previous, you know, holding that position. And you can I can ask you any question I’m so proud to have. You know, in my arena people that I can that mentor me, that I can go veterans that have done this work successfully, that I can call them and say, hey, here’s my dilemma. What would you do if you were in my position? And I respect that. I also have circles of people have hermanas, I have sister circles that I can call on. I have a sister soup group all over the nation that are successful women that I respect, that I turn to, and we mentor others. I’m proud to be a mentor with a say, with the Latino cohort as well as the female cohort, proud to be with allies in our board that are grooming the next generation of Latinos.  Those affinity groups are so important. But anyone who’s never been a superintendent and say, Should I do it? I’ll give you some advice. The one thing you always want to do is have your circle, your sense of belonging with the group, but also be on the same team with your board. Have clarity with your board. I’m up for my mid-year evaluation next month and you better believe it. I’m going to seek clarity when you say you need to know item X is happening, give me an example what that looks like. And if I do that, is that meeting your expectation? I am all about clarity because I don’t want anyone to wonder if we are on the same page. I will seek clarity. And when you seek clarity with your bosses, which is our board as a superintendent, then your work can be done and we understand each other and I will meet their expectations. But I will also be able to serve the district to the to the degree that they need that. So that’s what my answer would be. Really? Yes. Here’s the why people are leaving, but it’s the perfect time to get in the game. It’s the perfect time because you’re never alone. Seek clarity and seek a team that will support you in the work.

Dr. Michael Conner

Amazing answer. Amazing answer, clarity. The impact of the network effect the density of the network effect. And it is such a rewarding job. Absolutely. Dr. Marrero, please. 

Dr. Alex Marrero

Yeah. Yeah. It is an incredibly rewarding job, but it’s also incredibly thankless if you allow it to be so. There’s not much that I can offer on top of what Zandra said, Not the fact that as she’s uttered some of the same things that I’m planning to say. I’m just going to if I can take it to to, I guess, a more practical level. So the network I also go much beyond networking with this country of arenas where you can engage and and tap folks on the shoulder. The the the severity and the need for great leaders that can that can manage and develop relationships with the board and sustain the consistent blows is insurmountable. Right. So the need is there, the demand is there. So you need a support system, as Andrew mentioned. So this was taught to me years ago and I kind of functioned this way, although I don’t call them board of directors and not referring to board of directors, the ones that you work for. Right. So take heed to what Zandra mentioned, that it is your duty not only to level, set, define how you will engage and also how you will be held accountable, quite frankly. So there’s no surprises. Unfortunately, it has come to that point that you have to have that clarity because it’s happened many times that they’re quick to say, okay, you failed to do this, so you have to practice a little bit of a about protecting yourself that has unfortunately defined a role which which comes with the territory and fortunately doesn’t have to, was frustrating that it passed. But when I say board of directors, I mean your own selected folks, whether it’s your former professors, fellow superintendents, know someone who can provide you some life coaching or executive coaching folks who are going to give it to you in the most an honest, direct way that you are going to appreciate it. I whether it’s advice, whether here’s what I’m thinking or what do you think about that? So although they don’t know, they’re my board of directors. I have books. All right. A good amount of them are released. So that works well because a78m call year is 9:00 there. Right. So and when I’m when I’m tapping them, they think it’s hey, Alex is just checking in. No, I’m really picking your brain. So those trusted folks who will hold you accountable. so so that’s what I would say. Get your board of directors because we’ve had a tremendous amount of folks who have, unfortunately. And here’s where I’m going to go to something that and I don’t want to I definitely don’t want to age my colleague and good friend is Andrew. But the the ones that I look up to and still do, because just because you were doing the work, you’re still great in my eyes, right? Unfortunately, circumstances have prevented you from impacting change at a macro level and influence in the lives of kids who need it because of of of boards that flip or an attack on their journey towards equity. And they’re still around there in our ecosystem. Unfortunately, a good amount of them aren’t leading districts anymore and at present bigger. There are some that we are hoping are able to withstand what they’re going through right now. So we may even have some more fallen soldiers. Sadly, I know that this is the case for you. It was seem like yesterday we were looking and getting you back. And right now people are coming to you, I bet, and coming to me as if we’re now the guard of the folks who are supposed to lead the way for the next wave leaders.  And although you and I are more than capable. Right. And yes, we’re proven superintendents and I put that in quotes. Right. Because what does that really mean? Yeah, that means that our bit that Arnold’s our mentors have been taken out of their pulse way too early. So, Zandra, you and I are the vets, at least in the Latino sector. You would agree, Zandra, right, that I, though, were prepared and willing. That speaks volumes. So what’s happening across the ecosystem that the greats who still have so much more to offer, a lot more in the tank have been pushed aside. And that’s incredibly frustrating. And many of those are part of that board of directors that I just mentioned. So a Zandra Jo Galvan, I’m still up for the task. I know you are, but it’s an absolute travesty that we have folks who have so much to offer who are no longer in the post and some who may not even make it based on some. Now the craziness that they’re dealing with in their respective districts. 

Dr. Michael Conner

Man, yeah. Alex, well-stated, because I tell you, you know, we we can we can probably just name those individuals, you know, who need to get back in the game. And you know, we we I was talking to somebody and this was our counsel, Alex and Zandra. And the analogy that, you know, she provided, she said Mike is like is like, you know, you’re at the same pool and you had your group of people that you had first and you came you became so connected with. And then a few years later, you go back to that same pool and there’s a whole new cohort of people that you just don’t know. And I was like, Wow. And that’s when we started talking about, you know, is this superintendent role, the super in tendency becoming a cycle of people that are just leaving to make change or want to make change. So and yes, you know, Alex and Zandra, you you’ve taken the torch you’re one of the individuals, the superintendents that are the leading voices throughout this country. And we have to continue to encourage people to stay in it, encourage our aspiring superintendents to double down on this work. Because I love your I love what you stated. I would have directors fighting your own individual board of directors. And I think that is very, very important, i.e. your mentors, your coaches, people that you can just lean on, just to cry. I cry on the shoulder for because sometimes we do need that. Yes, leaders do show levels of vulnerability showing that level one ability is good. But Alex, I want to start with you, because you had mentioned the work about equity. Right. And you last year at our on our first episode. Alex, you unpacked and Zandra You did too, but Alex you unpacked the multiple layers, right? The multifaceted, multidimensional layers of equity, but are the title of our show. Last year was Equity in Education, right? But from your perspective, and again, I want you to be able to analyze this from an observer theory manner, very loose, abstract, high level. We don’t have anything to measure it, but I just want you to rely on your experience for one year, 365 days. Have we made progress? So Germany equity driven designs and the AC stage of education and what continued work needs to be accelerated based on your observations to reach this level of awe and Zandra you say so eloquently or I means are so Alex can start us off with that.

Dr. Alex Marrero

Broadly surely again two different perspectives here locally I believe that we have made significant progress necessary progress. I would say no we have closed, if you will, that covered gaps all under the AC stage. Truly after Cote with here at DPS. No, we’ve gotten to our pre-pandemic I guess, levels. However, with that being said, when we put in perspective, the disparity still exists. So the gaps have been perpetual here and in many, I guess, urban larger districts when it comes to are most are not are historically and even present day marginalized communities.  So what I’ve been are saying no. Yes, we’ve celebrated the fact that we are at all time highs when it comes to graduation. No, we’re hovering around all time proficiency. High is especially coming out of the Colgate. And that should be celebrated if we’re familiar with the heart of change and the theory of change that comes along with it. We have to celebrate those short wins. But when you put in perspective, I’ll know 70, 60% aren’t proficient. And that’s hard when that’s the reality. When you get you know, when you just do the the the opposite story of those who are easily point to us as a system that is not meeting the needs. So what I say is returning to the old normal will be a missed opportunity to build from a normal that was not serving our students or ourselves. Right. So to help us move forward, it’s our vision here that our learners must do more than succeed. They must thrive. And I love that word because it goes beyond the test score, right? And when I look at my migrant population now, they need to survive. They need they need housing, They need to be greeted and have no literature and conversation in their language. Right. So to help us move forward, it’s our vision here that our learners must do more than succeed. They must thrive. And I love that word because it goes beyond the test score, right? And when I look at my migrant population now, they need to survive. They need they need housing, They need to be greeted and have no literature and conversation in their language. So we have the saying that every learner thrives because every learner at every level, but in particular even our adults who have resoundingly told us that they are fatigued and at times usually neglected when it comes to organizations and in particular education, because we always think of our students. And that’s the right thing to think. But we forget that teaching good teaching leads to good learning that cannot be debated. That’s not a theory, that’s fact. You would agree? I feel we can honor the good teaching. There will be no right. And if folks are saying that we need help. So historically here, I mentioned this last time, there has been a history, history deep, deep rooted history of inequity. We’ve seen our moments where our predecessors were called to action to dismantle oppressive systems, preventing them from thriving, as we’re saying we’re going to do now back to like 1969, where 150 Latino students walked out of one of our flagship high schools was high school to demand diversity amongst the district faculty and into curriculum. No cultural training for teachers and the outright dismissal of those racist teachers that happened in 69. So you do the math. It’s half a century later. It’s someone like me to say, Why haven’t we moved the needle when it comes to our marginalized population, Latin America, population in particular? And why did I commission a study? And we still show the same segregation that was in practice in the 1960s and seventies. Well, why is it that I’m now commissioning our professors to to do a La Raza report to point at concrete reasons why so we can actually shift the organization to do something about it. So yes, there’s been progress in terms of BC/AC in terms of COVID. But the gaps are perpetual and it’s frustrating. But I know that with this intentionality will shift it.  And that was long low. So yes, with some bumps, I don’t think that we’re moving the needle the way that we’re supposed to because the politics at the national level so how it will be great if I’m able to accomplish it here will be great if it happens in certain parts of California. What’s going to happen in Texas? What’s going to happen in Florida? 

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And it’s well stated because when we think about the current climate, right, the current political climate, especially superintendents with local boards, for you to even just bring up the history, the research behind the history, and then be able to commission a study to announce the recommendations or announce the findings based off of that study where it correlates to the segregated practices that still exist. It takes, again, a bold and intentional and unapologetic leadership right now, or I should say, intentional, bold and unapologetic leadership in order to be able to unwrap that to the community and have story points apply to that, to explain the why we have to be able to dismantle these disparities and inequities with that. So we’re seeing that. Alex, at the local level. But again, I think an overarching such central question that we’re going to continuously to ask ourselves is how are we are we able to build the coalition for impact and influence to have that deep examination around systems and to be able to make bold and courageous changes so these transformation transformative practices are systematized. Zandra, please, your perspective on this.

Zandra Jo Galvan

Yeah. Gosh, there’s so much to unwrap around this question. I’ll start with what is success? You know, how do we measure success? And I think the equity card is loosely used nationally in terms of throwing it out there. We you know, we are doing this district. You know, we make sure that we do this, that what you truly know is when you see their strategic plan or in California local control accountability plan, that every district must submit to for approval. Right. So it’s called the LCAP. And when you look at that and you see the funding that you receive for the most neediest students, how are those funds being utilized to be as close to kids as possible? Because if it isn’t making a direct impact to break kids free from the cycle of poverty or or make sure that the shoe fits, like we’re going to give everyone a shoe because we’re an all means all district. But does do they have the right she does it fit them and does it take their data from point A and move them to point Z? And so I say all of that because when we look at equity, children of color have always been failing. They have it’s been a national crisis, but only since the pandemic has it now been America’s problem. Now, because all of our students are now suffering. And so what it’s done is it’s put a flashlight and a spotlight on the need to support students with some of the learning that they didn’t be able they weren’t able to accomplish because they were out on distance learning. And here’s what we know about equity. It’s not the same for every kid. Everybody had a boat. But some of us had a little canoe. Some of us had a little cardboard box going down the river and some of us had yachts. So let’s just call it what it is our Latino kids and our black kids, they are at home plate trying to work to get to first base. Then they got to run to second base, then to third base and then to home plate if they’re lucky and they don’t drop out of school because the system was designed to make sure that they don’t make it out in it already is stacked against them. Whereas we have our more affluent kids, the kids of teachers, my kids, your kids who start at third base. Why? Because we know how to break the system. We we know how to manage the American system and break the code to receive a public education because we are now very in positions that we know how to how to how to work that that’s what parents are. So my kids are on third base. They only have to run home and they’re going to get to a university or college. So I tell you all of this because kids are at home plate. It is our ethical, moral responsibility to be their advocates and to design systems to ensure that they have success. I am a super fan of the briefly, and so I’m the proud superdelegates leading school district where I attended as a child. But my experience as a child are very different from the experience of the children that I now serve as the superintendent. And I will say this when I was a kid in Greenville for no fault of anyone else, perhaps we didn’t have the money or the funds or or the means. I never visited a college or university ever, ever. Not even in high school. Did I go visit a college or university Today? Every single child and grateful goes to a different college or university every single year of their school career. With me. They get on a school bus and. They travel to a state university, a private university, a U.S. university, a community college. You know everything, because I want them to know that it’s possible. And the message that the adults in our organization talk about is you can it’s just about when and what you want to do. And so organizationally, we have to design systems to respond to the needs of our students. I’m at 95% district of students in poverty. 98% of my students are Latino. 70% of my students are English learners. 14% of my students are special education, but 100% of them are intelligent, bold and brilliant. And so it’s how we respond and how we move in that added value, acid based, really acknowledging the skills that they bring to us and nurturing those gifts that they do have. The other thing I will say is how we refer to retreat routinely. Respond to data is really, really important. Prior to the pandemic, we focused on test scores, test scores, test scores and all academic. And so that’s why my initial question was, well, how do we measure success? Is it because a student can master a test and get highly proficient or exemplary, or do we also want to nurture the side of them that their mind may not be? Well, because they’ve experienced trauma? Do they know how to play well with others Can they collaborate? Are they creative or can they only take a test? So we’re looking at equity through the lens of designing systems and experiences for kids to ensure that they not only are academically prepared, but they’re socially and emotionally stable. And so we do that by making sure that our counselors and our teachers know how to start Every day with empty in the top is what we know about students in poverty. They’re dealing a lot at home. And predominantly our black and brown children come from homes that are in poverty. So how do we support them to empty the cup with a lesson that grounds them every morning so then they are fully present to participate in the lesson with the teacher. So I see, you know, lots of examples of what we’ve done in our work. And you know what I’ve learned over the last seven years. But one thing that for us with equity is we have to take a bold stance. And when we see inequities existing in our organizations, we do have to call them out and to be brave, to advocate for the students that are parents trust us. Let the parents who send their kids to us, trust us to do the right thing. And ethically, morally, we need to make sure that we are doing whatever it takes to support them and ensure that they have opportunities once they leave.

Dr. Michael Conner

Well stated. Well stated, Zandra. A bold stance, right. And that’s the common thematic thread that I’m hearing between you and Alex since how we’re able to continue to be bold, be tension all around, develop in these systems and empty in our cup for families. I think that’s going to be critical as we move into or start going deeper into the assistance of education is being intentional with that work and you know, we can always state on a paper or a position that we are doing, you know, DIY work. But when we really get to the root cause, the question that arises in and organically is are we truly designing for equity so that you say to that, Sandra everybody gets a shoe, but adjusting the shoe size based off of each individual student. So Zandra, almost stick with you. So again, as I stated from the outset, congratulations on being named 2023 of us, National Superintendent of the Year. Yay you right So and this was like the worst Zandra and Alex I’ll tell you this Zandra this was like the worst kept secret for like so long. And I just kept my I think that’s probably the only secret I ever kept shut or quiet ever in my life. But super, super happy for you. Super excited when you got I think I screamed louder than you did when I found out. So but congratulations again. It is also been an honor to co facilitate with you the CALSA Academy for Leadership and Innovation with you and Dr. Roxanne Fuentes, madam President, of course, but I want to go back to our academy, Zandra. Because I think that this is just not only problems of practice, that districts encounter or learning organizations encounter, but I think is more problems of contexts, very broad nationally with a level of causality around some of the broad file injuries that they’re facing within their learning organizations. Right. So when we unpack this, we hear a national narrative around this interpretation and moralizing theoretical concepts of, yes, the science of reading.  I know that’s been a common, you know, question and inquiry within our academy, but we’re experiencing the these issues across the nation, whether it be we start integrating these concepts from the foundational practices and our systems, from pedagogy and our MTS model and literacy based practices where practitioners or teachers are going to have to become practitioners where they’re active. We have this diagnostic ways to be able to change practices. Emulation of medical doctors. Right? But based on your expertise, Zandra, knowledge and also understanding of the landscape, what strategies at the systems, school and classroom levels would you suggest, would you suggest will ensure or a successful paradigm shift with literacy instruction?

Zandra Jo Galvan

And so with literacy instruction, I think it’s I will share a little brief history. You know, I’ve been in this business since 1993 when I became a first year teacher. I’m a great third grade teacher in 1993, first fresh out of college and realized it was in the era of the pendulum swing from really focusing on phonics, phonics, phonics only in class. And then I switched within my tenure as a teacher to Title one Part B, who was a large amount of funding with No Child Left Behind and reading first initiatives across the nation. We were to be very, very direct and explicit with phonics. And then we switched to an era with whole language where kids were not going to do not teach them intentional letters and sound and anchor them into those letters, but to make sure that they were reading only books and learning through a whole language approach. We learned a lot and we learned of what went well and what did not go well. Today, we are looking at the science of reading through a lens of, my gosh, this is something so new and it’s the recipe that’s going to just be the solution to everything of all of the world’s problems. There’s it’s not rocket science. It’s not. I’m here to tell you a person who was especially and I was a state consultant for California when I was a third grade teacher, and people came through and said, what are you doing? Like, how are you differentiating instruction? And you’re teaching them in a way, you’re looking at data and assessments and you’re responding to the data and giving them more doses of what they need and less doses of what they don’t need. And you’re sharing that data? Yeah, it was just good teaching, effective first teaching from the gate and responding to data and talking through with my colleagues in our professional learning communities about what responses are you doing? Outs has better scores than I do. What did you do? Let’s share an exchange. Mike has, you know, a class that needs extras of this who have that expertise. So the science of reading is not anything new. It’s just being intentional with the way we teach reading to students in small groups, in differentiate groups, the way we heterogeneous group them, the way we homogeneously group them for short periods of time during the instructional day to ensure that they have read takes. It’s all about the decoding phonemic awareness phonics, blending and segmenting all of the basic things that we know. But the difference is now we have to be uber intentional to look at the data to respond to that, and also to look at root causes of what is it that is missing. And I will give a shout out to my beloved CALSA, super proud to be the immediate past president for two years and a member for many years, and then also to my beloved allies, who we just love at the national level, to be able to have experts these across the nation is when we do identify bright spots and best practices. We share those with our members and we want to replicate those. So going back to you said about this innovative academy that culture has, we get to travel, you know, to the south, to the central, to the north of California, and find districts that are have solutions to the problems of practice that we’re experiencing. When we look at our data and we find districts that have elementary schools that students have not made adequate progress in reading, we’re able to find a district that is similar with the same demographics that have made gains. Well, guess what? We’re going to go visit them and we’re going to go learn from them and find out what are they doing differently that we could adopt so that then the work is lighter because we all have the same focus. But we have different solutions to that focus. And so this academy allows us to travel. So I’m really proud that in December you and I will be taking about eight districts comprised of about 30 to 40 people to go visit districts that have the science of reading down, that have visual intelligence down, like all these practices that we want to make sure that our solutions for our our, our members of our class and culture.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, yeah. It’s an excellent answer because I think the only way that we can really, really start memorializing these practices and reading, I like to send national common language around instruction. We have to be able to go see what these best in class practices look like and also talk in a shared many a shared manner, i.e. social capital, to be able to learn from each other. But one thing I admire about you about Zandra is executive instructional leadership, right? I always said that. I always say that the lead leader has to be the lead instructional leader of the district, just like every single principal. He or she has to be the lead instructional leader of their individual building. And to create a learning organization like that, Zandra, where you are not always just talking high levels from an architectural operating model sense, but you can actually go down to the classroom and apply these specific practices in a granular context. Absolutely. Love that need more executive instructional leadership at the helm. But Dr. Marrero, I want to pick on your exceptional expertise. Right. And this goes down to culture. You know, when we were when you were answering a question, one in question to Dr. Marrero, it just showed the practical level of implementation with your expertise around culture. Right. But now when we assess our culture as an industry, alright, we’re going broader beyond the republics goals. There are several things about optionality where we have to continue aligning new norms within our learning organizations in the context of culture. Now to macro theme themes among these cultural shifts, Alex. A.I. and addressing mental wellness as well as health for all. Now, as you continue to frame culture around your vision and strategy for public schools broadly, just sharing your expertise, how do we continuously to build social capital, human capital for culture in the context of these new elements From the DC stage of education, Zandra had mentioned it so eloquently that there is these new discoveries from the DC stage of education. Obviously A.I. and addressing mental health and wellness. How do we structure that or limit that in the core tenets of our organizations?

Dr. Alex Marrero

Great, great question. There’s a lot a lot that I can share, and it’s all rooted in in what we call the adult experience of our strategic roadmap, right? Because you mentioned I mentioned mental health and everything. That is the social emotional component. I believe, when it comes to our adults, the way that you rephrase the question, I’ll tackle A.I. first, because this technology is truly transforming our world. I and we here our member of the Council of Great City Schools, and we partnered with the Consortium for School Networking and Amazon Web Services to launch a readiness checklist to assist school districts in identifying readiness for A.I. adoption. So we’re one of four districts, so we have a little bit of a head start. We also have some brilliant folks downstairs, too, who can really give a response that make folks really scratch their heads. The checklist is a starting point to intelligently and thoughtfully implement A.I. technologies that, align with instructional and operational objectives all the time, honoring the adult experience so we can learn this together. This is not something that I know well either, right? So and what we’ve discovered, there are two two camps, districts, groups, if you will, all of that completely are adverse and ban generative A.I. because of potential issues like students cheating. Right. That’s like please don’t group and districts far fewer who are embracing technology and are looking for ways to advance student learning experiences through AI.  And that’s what we stand. I believe that this is a cultural phenomenon, has the potential to increase student engagement and quite frankly, ways that are unimagined, unimaginable. I often say we’re preparing students for jobs and careers and experiences that don’t yet exist. This is that right? We believe that there is some concerns, in particular when it comes to PII, personally identifiable information. So there are some things that we have to protect. As I mentioned earlier, we had a hack right? So bad actors are making this adoption incredibly challenging for us. And also there are some partners and companies who are just slapping a I attempt to make a quick buck, right? So there are some benefits, There are some major drawbacks. What I’ve learned in my exploration and I even saw a recent study, I think it was Stanford that indicates that the private industry are leaps and bounds ahead of higher ed, and it had no mention of K-12, meaning that we’re so far behind that if we do not embrace that, our kids are going to be yearning in in higher ed, as many are already, and remedial courses. Right. But when it comes to the workforce, we’re not preparing students for the future and that we should all be very concerned. So the greatest challenge of this cultural phenomenon is educating the K-12 leaders, teachers, parents and the public on its potential and also the areas of concern. So what we’ve done on a very practical level to your question, is that this upcoming mock December, we’re engaging in a local district review of that checklist that I mentioned. Then in a couple of months after that will host an air summit on air readiness. Then we’ll engage as a community meetings. And so that’s the best way to roll it out so folks can know what it is. And also students can know that we’re embracing it. But to tie it into equity, which is again, the focus of this podcast, the question that we’ve been asking is do we have policy and practices in place to ensure equitable access to all in the district for approved gen air tools for all students and staff? Right. And the answer is no. It’s more of that board analogy that Sandra mentioned, right? There are some who are using it right now and we have to just deal with the reality. Second part of your question is a bit more common. So that was the unknown. That’s that’s that area that everyone I shouldn’t say a good amount of folks are just afraid of when it comes to mental health and wellness, engaging with the community to understand their needs and identify and identify those areas where we can make the most impact. And this is something more familiar. We’ve we’ve done a great amount of like thought exchange surveys to to to really know what the issue is. And we’ve gotten very clear it’s the fatigue it’s a is doing the whole less is more so and the one critical piece of feedback just. So as we’re going down this journey, I think that we’re checking off all or what we’re doing in the intimate way. We’re doing it the way that everyone will like. It’s right, but one thing that put it in perspective and we put a lot of money, $80 million of our budget goes into student and staff mental health supports. Now that’s. So we’re all name right. But I had a para who said was also a parent who said all those companies that will remain nameless, all those folks that you have done in Central will remain nameless, giving me this one size fits all approach to SEL. My kid is black, I need black SEL, and if they care and they don’t know that my kid is going to learn differently, they need a different approach as well that put in perspective to be done. I go, here we are checking off the box, but it’s no different than how we meet the needs of the student, the classroom. Sometimes you just need to switch up the practice. All right. So I think that we all need to embrace all of these providers, which again, I won’t name because they serve a great purpose, but I have yet to see one to diversify their need for the kids that are the most neediest. And again, back to that migrant population. So that’s a very practical approach of we’re challenging both the we have it all figured out know, but, you know, we’re up for the challenge.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And Dr. Marrero, well-stated with that, prioritizing mental wellness and health in your district. Zandra, I remember you stated a while ago, if you want to look at someone’s priorities just, check their strategic plan. And we know Dr. Marrero is stating that. And then one quote before we get into the last question, I want to state from Karim Lakhani, one of my former professors at Harvard City, always stated that I won’t replace individuals a I with humans will replace humans without a I. So thank you for that, Dr. Marrero. And last question for the both of you, Alex and Zandra. I’m going to limit both of y’all to three, words this is the only time I’m ever going to say this. Only three words, one year later. So one year later, Zandra, Alex, what three words do you want today’s audience and listeners of VFE to leave with regarding the same question I asked you last year, achievement, equity, excellence and innovation in the AC stage of education?

Zandra Jo Galvan

For the leaders out there that are listening, that have been moved by the message between my brother Alex, myself and you, Mike. I want them to remember to stay, stay in the position and move up. Stay so that you can live out your passion and your purpose. Stay, passion, and purpose because kids need it.

Dr. Michael Conner

Love it, stay, passion, and purpose. Alex?

Dr. Alex Marrero

Very similar, but with a little bit of a twist. You kind of cheated too Zandra so I feel good Yeah here it is, do your job. But hold on, here’s my emotions to it. Don’t be afraid to do your job because you’ll lose your job and you are allowed to ask yourself and those that you are responsible for, can you afford that? And if the answer is no, that’s okay. But if you’re all in, you’re all in. Don’t be afraid to do your job, I’m being responsive as a student here, because you lose your job. At that point, you’ve compromised yourself. And at that point, I say get out of the way because Zandra and I are coming at it.

Dr. Michael Conner

Listen, I’m going to add in the other three, which makes it nine words. Stay, passion, and purpose, but do your job so you won’t lose your job. Alex and Zandra, this this means so much to me to come back on one year later to celebrate with my listeners and my audience of VFE. This is truly professional learning mechanism, asynchronous work. My audience and Alex and Zandra, because of you, 25 different countries, over 500 unique downloads per episode, and both of you started this evolution. So thank you, Alex. Thank you, Zandra. Zandra, if my audience wanted to reach out to you, how would they be able to contact you?

Zandra Jo Galvan

Sure, so on Twitter, Twitter it’s @ZJGalvan, Instagram @ZanGalvan, and then Facebook and LinkedIn with my full name, Zandra Jo Galvan.

Dr. Michael Conner

Thank you, Zandra. Alex?

Dr. Alex Marrero

I think all media platforms are the same. It’s @DrAlexMarrero, just as is, D-R-A-L-E-X-M-A-R-R-E-R-O, that’s for X, Instagram, I believe is the same for Instagram. We’re both on the ALAS board, go to www.alasedu.org and you’ll see some more contact information as well. You are free to contact us there.

Dr. Michael Conner

Thank you Alex and Zandra. We’ll do this again 365 days later and ask the same questions. Thank you so much and on that note, onward and upward, everybody. Have a great evening.