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 jgrossman@nycleadershipacademy.org or and we will handle them sensitivelyor 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.

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Nancy B. Gutiérrez, Ed.L.D.

President & CEO

Dr. Nancy B. Gutiérrez is President & CEO of The Leadership Academy. Nancy joined The Leadership Academy in 2014 and has served as National Leadership Designer and Facilitator, Vice President of District Leadership, and Chief Strategy Officer. She was named President & CEO in July 2018 and continues to serve as an executive leadership coach and facilitator for school systems across the country. She was a Fall 2019 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow, and in February 2020 was named among the 100 most powerful education leaders in New York by City & State New York. Nancy is a frequent keynote speaker for local and national education organizations and has authored numerous pieces on education leadership and equity for national publications including Education Week, Kappan, The74, and Hechinger Report. 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 Administrator’s Region 8 Middle School Principal of the Year in 2010. 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 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 served on the national board of the Coalition of Essential Schools for more than a decade. She is an instructor at NYU and frequently teaches at the Harvard Principals’ Center institutes for School Turnaround Leaders, Urban School Leaders, and Race, Equity, Access, and Leadership. Nancy is a member of the Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) Board of Directors and serves on the Latinos for Education teaching team. Find Nancy on Twitter @nancybgutierrez or LinkedIn.