As the pandemic deepens existing inequities, it’s more vital—and more challenging—than ever for public education leaders to be “mission-driven,” said Gonzalo Salazar, the superintendent of schools in Los Fresnos, Texas. “There are so many things that could detract us from our mission—it’s important that we have a laser-like focus, but I know I can’t do it alone.”
Being a part of the inaugural cohort of The Broad Center at Yale SOM’s Fellowship for Public Education Leadership is providing Salazar with a new source of training and support. He was one of 15 senior public education leaders from around the U.S. who convened at Edward P. Evans Hall for a week of classes, workshops, and discussions with SOM faculty, practitioner leaders, and peers in late October. The weeklong module was the second of four that the fellows will complete during the 10-month program, and the first held in person.
The Broad Fellowship (TBF) is a tuition-free executive leadership program for senior-level public education leaders, including superintendents and CEOs of public charter networks, from across the country who are dedicated to strengthening public school systems and the communities they serve. Fellows drive transformative work that advances equity and excellence for students in urban school districts, charter networks, and state and federal education agencies.
During the week in New Haven, the Fellows shared their own experiences and challenges in daily sessions; heard from leaders in the field on topics including setting an equity agenda, developing anti-racist pedagogies, and engaging with parents and families; participated in workshops based on real-world case scenarios; and engaged with Yale SOM faculty in lectures and discussions designed to introduce them to management concepts that can be applied to the education setting.
“It’s been so powerful to see the Fellows engage with faculty members, practitioner leaders, and each other,” said Hanseul Kang, assistant dean and Anita and Joshua Bekenstein ’80 B.A. Executive Director of The Broad Center at Yale SOM. “I love seeing the moments when a new idea during a course session sparks a new insight about a way to approach something they’ve been stuck on within their school system, or to hear how their thinking and practice has been pushed.”
Fellow Juliana Worrell, chief schools officer at Uncommon Schools, said that she’s already applying the new skills she’s gained from the program’s two modules.
“So often in our schools, we are making complex decisions and there are a number of stakeholders that should be involved in those decisions. Learning about a framework rooted in research and best practices that we can tap into” to inform that decision-making has been invaluable, she said.
Fellow Kinnari Patel-Smyth, president of the KIPP Foundation and a veteran in the field, said that she has found TBF to be a source of “inspiration, challenge, and a lot of thought-provoking moments.” She added that she has been particularly invigorated by the curriculum: “Just yesterday we learned a new concept—that’s really exciting to me as someone who’s been in education for 23 years.”
As important as those management tools are the connections that the Fellows are building with each other, they said.
“Being a superintendent is a lonely job,” said Steve Zrike, who serves in that role for Salem Public Schools in Massachusetts. This past year has been the most difficult of Zrike’s career, he said, but the connections he’s made through TBF will help him navigate the future ahead.
“This is a group of people that I know I’ll be able to count on and engage with and have thought partnership with, who are facing similar issues… It’s a very difficult time in public education right now to be a superintendent… This will sustain me as a leader,” said Zrike.
Worrell agreed: “We are currently building really deep, meaningful relationships that I know I’ll be able to call on, not only today, but well beyond when this program ends. That is incredibly encouraging. It makes me feel like I have a team of people that I can reach out to, and, at the end of the day, it’s better for kids when you have a number of adults—especially senior systems leaders—working together to really think about how we can do this work better.”