Over the next several weeks, schools around the country will open their doors for a new school year. This should be a time of excitement and anticipation of new learning for children and educators.
This should not be a time of fear. As educational leaders, we cannot allow our students and their teachers to return to school frightened, or to be too afraid to return at all.
Schools, under strong leadership, have a critical role to play in ensuring immigrant children have a safe haven in their schools. While federal officials’ threats of home and workplace raids have mostly been just that – threats — families are still understandably scared. School and system leaders have a critical role to play in ensuring our schools do not only what is right, but what the law requires: to educate ALL of our youth and keep them safe.
Two years ago, I wrote an op-ed outlining a few crucial steps that school and school system leaders can take to protect their immigrant students and families. This work becomes more relevant and urgent every day. As I wrote then, among the most important things leaders can do is:
- Identify a set of student-centered values and integrate them into the life of the school.
- Challenge discrimination and demonstrate intolerance for it.
- Encourage conversations that value all points of view.
- Widely share information about immigrant rights and resources with students and families.
Courageous leaders should also know that they are not alone. They can learn from each other, look to each other for ideas and guidance. We have recently seen some districts use the media and other means to remind families of the policies in place that make schools safe havens for undocumented families. I know of a principal who, with the support of his superintendent, recently blocked ICE officers from entering his school when they came looking for members of the school community whom they suspected were undocumented. We would love to hear and share with our community how you are leading with courage for some of our most vulnerable young people — share your stories with us at firstname.lastname@example.org or and we will handle them sensitively, or if you are comfortable, post them on Twitter at #HowILeadforEquity.
Let’s give all children access to the opportunity that is their right: a school year that engages them in the joys of learning by keeping them safe in an environment that values and respects all perspectives and experiences.
Nancy B. Gutiérrez, Ed.L.D.
Lead Executive Officer & President
Dr. Nancy B. Gutiérrez is President & Lead Executive Officer (LEO) of The Leadership Academy, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and developing culturally responsive school and school system leaders to create the conditions necessary for all students to thrive. Since 2003, The Leadership Academy has done work in more than 375 school districts, state education departments, and education organizations across the country, reaching over 12,000 educators in 39 states.
Nancy began her career as a teacher and principal in her home community of East San Jose, CA, where she was the founding principal of Renaissance Academy, the highest performing middle school in the district and a California Distinguished School. Nancy also led the successful effort to turn around the district’s lowest performing middle school. She was named the UC Davis Rising Star and Association of California School Administrators’ Region 8 Middle School Principal of the Year in 2010. In 2014, Nancy joined The Leadership Academy and served in various roles before being named President & CEO in October 2018. Prior to her tenure with the Leadership Academy, Nancy launched a program for executive leadership advancement for the New York City Department of Education that led to superintendent certification.
Nancy is a Fall 2019 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow and was named one of the top 100 most influential leaders in education in New York in 2020. In 2023, Nancy was named San Jose State University’s Distinguished Alumna.
Nancy is a graduate of the inaugural cohort of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program and is a graduate of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) Aspiring Superintendents Academy. She has served as an adjunct professor for NYU, Teachers College and American University as well as an expert guest at various Harvard Principals’ Center Institutes. Nancy is a frequent keynote speaker and has authored numerous pieces on education leadership for publications including Education Week, Kappan, The74, Learning Forward’s Learning Professional, District Administrator, and Hechinger Report. She is also the co-author of Stay and Prevail: Students of Color Don’t Need to Leave Their Communities to Succeed, a revolutionary guide to disrupting harmful mindsets and practices in our schools to ensure that students can thrive in their home communities.
Nancy is a member of the Board of Directors at the Hunt Institute, brightbeam, and Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC), and serves on the Latinos for Education teaching team.