For Leahy School Principal Ethel Cruz of Lawrence, MA, the superintendency once seemed like an unattainable goal. Cruz’s perspective shifted, however, thanks to Influence 100, a leadership program created by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education in partnership with The Leadership Academy that aims to develop a racially and ethnically diverse group of education leaders in the state.
“But sharing real life and personal life experience in Influence 100 and being so transparent in a comfortable environment changed my perspective,” Cruz said.
Twenty-four education leaders from 15 school systems across MA recently graduated as the first cohort of the Influence 100 program.
“We are excited to admit our third cohort of fellows this year, as creating a pathway to the superintendency for candidates of color is a priority in Massachusetts. This collaboration between DESE and The Leadership Academy has created a valuable platform for future leaders in the Commonwealth,” Influence 100 Director Dr. Stacy L. Scott said.
Over two years, the aspiring superintendents explored what it takes to lead culturally responsive schools and reduce achievement and opportunity gaps, particularly among students who have been historically marginalized. In addition to developing leaders with the skills needed to identify and dismantle inequities in schools, Influence 100 aims to increase the number of school system leaders of color across Massachusetts. Statewide, 4% of superintendents are of color serving a student body that is 40% students of color. For many participants, an essential part of the program was the mentoring they received; their district superintendents served as mentors, supporting their district-level projects and including them in the district decision‐making processes.
“Influence 100 is developing an exceptional and diverse group of leaders who are uniquely prepared to improve outcomes for all students in the state of Massachusetts by creating culturally responsive districts,” said The Leadership Academy Executive Vice President Dr. Michele Shannon. “We are thrilled to partner with DESE in their commitment to bringing outstanding leaders to their districts.”
Program graduates say the experience has had a significant impact on them personally and professionally.
“I know a lot more about myself now and how to both be an ally and lead the work in my district. I have garnered so much strength and courage,” said Influence 100 graduate Julie Stanley. An assistant principal throughout most of the program, Stanley received a promotion to principal of Athol-Royalston Middle School for the 2021-2022 school year.
As part of the fellowship, participants identified and engaged in a change project in their home districts. In an effort to change the demographics of the teachers in Lawrence Public Schools to more closely reflect the community, Ethel Cruz, Ada Ramos, and Juan Rodriquez took on the work of establishing a pipeline of bicultural, bilingual teachers, a priority for superintendent Cynthia Paris. In Lawrence, 94% of students are Latinx while 71% of teachers are white. The district leaders saw paraprofessionals, most of whom are women of color, as an excellent pool of aspiring teachers.
“We want the community to see themselves in our staff members,” Cruz said.
To lay the groundwork for a bilingual, bicultural teacher pipeline, the team surveyed the district’s paraprofessionals to identify their needs financially and with childcare, transportation, and professional learning. They learned that some paras lacked a college degree while others have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree but have not passed the Massachusetts Tests for Educator Licensure. To begin to meet these varied learning needs, the district has partnered with nearby Regis College to create a program targeted at helping paraprofessionals become certified teachers.
Mentoring is also a core part of building a strong pipeline. District leaders and bilingual principals have started mentoring paras, creating space for them to discuss their challenges and identify the support and resources they need.
To help make the pipeline project sustainable, an outside organization is identifying parents who are interested in becoming paraprofessionals. In addition, high school students interested in the field of education are being identified and given the opportunity to take courses at the local community college while they’re still in high school.
“It’s like a domino effect,” said Cruz.
For participants of Influence 100, the collaborative spirit and sense of community within the cohort empowered them to move their leadership practices forward in new and equity-minded ways. Said former Assistant Superintendent Dr. Alexis Morgan of Cambridge, “I used to think that I had to know everything. Now I know I don’t need to, because I have a whole network of people to get help from. We can leverage one another in so many different ways, and that has been a huge relief for me.” Morgan is now Chief of Schools at a national non-profit organization.
A quarter of the graduates received job promotions during their time in the program, with five earning district-level leadership roles. The majority of fellows say they are planning to apply to a superintendent position within the next three years, despite previously encountering roadblocks such as a lack of district-level experience and incidents of racism and bias.
The second cohort of the Influence 100 has completed its first year of the program and will graduate at the end of the 2021-2022 school year. The third cohort will begin this month.
Director, Communications & Marketing
As the Associate Director of Marketing, Lorene supports the organization’s initiatives to promote professional learning services for school and district leaders. Lorene has more than 15 years of marketing experience, a decade of which were spent working in education. As a Marketing and Business Lead for Scholastic, Lorene oversaw the business strategy for and sales of digital eBook products across districts nationwide, supporting school and district leaders in their efforts to implement new technology and boost student reading skills. Prior to Scholastic, Lorene served as Marketing Director and Web Lead for Kids Discover, a digital- and print-based literacy product targeted to students in K-6. In this role, Lorene oversaw the entire marketing and web content strategy for Kids Discover, working to expand its digital footprint and customer reach via inbound marketing, social media, print collateral, and content development. Lorene began her career in magazine publishing, establishing successful marketing programs for magazines such as Time Out New York, Rolling Stone, Us Weekly, and Men’s Journal. She has a B.A. from Vassar College and a culinary degree from the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City.