Fighting Against Inequities in Schools — Roberto Padilla
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Fighting Against Inequities in Schools — Roberto Padilla


– I’ll start by just giving
you a little more context than you saw in the video and also in the few minutes for the Q&A. And then I really would love to just open the floor up for a conversation. So, I’m the proud superintendent of the Newburgh Enlarged
City School District. It’s an hour north of New York City. As indicated in the video, I was born and raised in Newburgh. Went through the school system. And, my colleague and dear
friend here, Dr. Gutierrez. We’re considering a book that will speak to
experiences that we both had. And that is, this idea that
in order to escape poverty you have to leave your community. As mentioned earlier, that was sort of, the rhetoric that I heard. That you’ve got to get out of here, go be successful somewhere else. And, I had some of my most
worst experiences growing up in the community that I’m now in. So… My family and I had to
rely on the shelter system for food and clothes, I was a foster child for several years, I’ve lost friends to murder, and had friends go to prison. And so, I’m sure you can see why some
very caring people would say “well, you don’t want to end up like that “and you don’t want those
kinds of experiences “when you get older; “you really should leave.” But I think the Newburgh
Community is a very dynamic one. And there is great people,
and great children, and great families right
there in the community. And so, this work around
equity is a very personal one. This very much is a career
journey where I decided, after leaving New York City, that’s where I started to
teach in Hell’s Kitchen, taught there for a number of year’s and then had an opportunity
to go to the Bronx to help lead a school that was on the verge
of being closed down. And so, a friend and I went
and took on that particular challenge in the Bronx and we had success. And, right in January of 2011
I got a call saying, “listen, we need you to come to Harlem “and help us with this school, “it’s only the second year of operation, “families are just leaving in droves “and we need to get it back on track “or it’s going to get shut down.” The interesting thing with
this particular school was that it was the only
school in this part of New York City that
couldn’t screen children. All the other middle schools could screen. So naturally that created
a very interesting dynamic. And, the rhetoric that I heard that was very concerning to me. And I heard this from children. I heard this from teachers and parents. Was that, this was a
dumping ground school. Now, semantically I get it. But if you play along, what do
you put at a dumping ground? There’s just no way I could
ever allow myself to even think, or allow teachers in our
school to even think, that children were trash. And so, we had a particular challenge, regardless of who we can screen or not was not really our entry
point into this work. That was the policy,
this was a new school. The department of education
was moving in this direction. And so we accepted that challenge not by fighting the policy. We’re going to receive
whoever wants to come to us. But the key work here was around a kind of nurturing environment
that we would create. Where families would want to choose us when they had so many other options. And that’s exactly what we did. We took this particular middle
school, matriculated it, and had a waiting list of
families wanting to come in. And that had everything
to do with the fact that we had some rock star teachers. These teachers were dynamic, and they were committed, and they understood the challenges, but still came together and said, “We’re going to put our print “on the direction of this school “so that way the children can “have some real successful
high school options.” And New York City eight graders have to apply to high school. In 2014, I had an opportunity
when the superintendency opened up in Newburgh to apply. I was a successful candidate. And, as I indicated a little bit earlier, that entry into the work, that very first year was essential. And part of what we’re writing
about and speaking about is moving from rhetoric to action. There’s a lot of communities
across the country that don’t really need to
see more data to understand. They know. They know where the inequities lie. And what they’re really asking for is someone to come and help lead. Lead the district out of that situation. So that’s what we did. We, you know, built a
coalition of influencers. And these are people
who have social capital. They’re the people others go to, you know, when things are moving
and shaking in a community. And so we enlisted their support and said, “We’re not going to
talk about this work anymore. “We’re not going to talk about “what has plagued the district “but instead “what we’re going to show
people that we’re serious “and that we’re going to
do something about this.” And we did. And one of the key areas
that we started to tackle probably seemed a little
unorthodox to some other folks but you can’t Boom until you… You can’t Boom until you Maswell. All right. And so, we said: “Well if our children
are sitting in classrooms “and they’re hungry, “they’re probably not going
to give us their best. “If they’re sitting in classrooms that are “too cold or too hot, “how could they really
perform their academic best?” So I’m proud to say,
we have the third best breakfast program in the entire country. And that’s been a commitment
to our equity work. To make sure that not one
of our 12,000 scholars don’t have access. So all 12,000 have access
to a free, nutritious breakfast and lunch every single day. Regardless of where they come from. So, we’re providing
nutritious meals to them. We’re trying to remove that
barrier of a child being hungry and not being to perform his or her best. We’re looking at ways to support them and nurture their
curiosity in the classroom. And one thing that I didn’t
mention a little bit earlier was we engage in a lot of empathy
interviews with our students. We give them authentic
platforms to tell us what their experience in school is like. We have the very best intentions and we make decisions all the time. But to some of our kids, they’re not the right decisions. So that’s a blind spot in a
learning space for adults, including myself. I don’t have all the answers and certainly I make a lot of
decisions that impact children. And so I would encourage you
to engage in shadow days. Experience school through the eyes and experiences of a child in your system. Create platforms where you
can sit in focus groups and allow children to tell you
what their experiences are. And then take that
information and consider what operational and academic
changes should be made. On that note, I’ll stop and
let’s just have a conversation. – [Audience Member] Some of
the work you’re doing is it getting push backs from your unions? You’re moving educators that are comfortable in a higher achieving position to a struggling school. How do you get the union
to agree with that? Is that not an issue? – Yeah, really good question around the work we did with unions. And, yes naturally this is not a… Clearly it’s not easy work. And New York is a highly unionized state. Our unions have real power. Part of what we did was,
before moves were being made, I would say, about a year in advance, we began having a conversation
with our union presidents. And so, they already knew, based on some of the other equity work, that we were very serious, and we didn’t spring it upon
them at the last minute. We met with them early, consistently, and talked about what
they would look like. They got their input. Because naturally the teachers would go to their union executives and say, “Why is this happening to
me, I’m having success here; “why do I have to leave
and go somewhere else?” And yes, we started to get some of that. But surprisingly the push
back wasn’t as strong as I had anticipated. I had figured I’d better start
laying the ground work early and letting them know
why this is happening and when it’s going to happen. But because I enlisted
them early they actually, the union president was
essential in the planning process and ultimately talking
to the teachers about why this was important. And once the moves happened? Not one complaint. Not one complaint took place. But, that doesn’t mean
that I didn’t have to… You know outside of meeting
with the union leadership, there were teachers who were upset. And so what I did was, I went right to the
faculty in their school. And you know, I remember
one specific faculty they were all in the library. And I came in with a few
people from my senior cabinet and they were very honest
about how it made them feel and questioned why I would
decide to take resources from this particular building
to put somewhere else. Because it was a building
that had two years just gotten into good standing. And they said, “we need
this resource in order to “sustain the work that we’re doing here “but you’re taking it.” And I understand that argument, but if you’re pot of
resources is only so big and you have greater
needs in other settings then that’s a difficult
conversation that needs to happen. And whether they agree with it or not, I think in the respected
why it had to happen. And so that’s exactly what we did. We started with our administrators. And so when we looked at the
landscape of the district that had started to identify
specific needs that we had, we looked at our leadership
profile and then determined, based on the needs of
a particular building, which principal or which
assistant principal would, essentially, be involuntarily transferred. And I say that because that’s the technical contract language. Only but a few times did
an administrator say, “Please don’t move me,
I love it where I’m at.” In the end they understood why
the moves needed to happen. – [Audience Member] (background
noise drowns out question) Yes, we have our P-Tech. – [Audience Member] And how
recently did that occur? – This will be our fifth year. – [Audience Member] So, we
had this in West New York, we are trying to open our P-Tech and I’m wondering what kind of positive impact you’ve had these five years you’re establishing and so it’s totally– (background noise drowns out question) – An open invitation
to everyone who’s here, if you have any interest in
learning a little but more about the P-Tech at
Newburgh the doors are open. We’ve had people as far
as China and Australia come and visit our P-Tech. We’re the third school
district in the country to have a partnership with IBM. And last May we graduated 17 students, they actually got their associates before they got their high school diploma. But in 4 years they graduated with a high school diploma and an associates. And it’s all around cyber
security and information systems. Students are mentored right
from employees from IBM. There are mentorship days
they get to go to IBM and those mentors actually
come to our campus and work with our students. As early as tenth grade, our students start taking college courses through this particular program. They started with 50. So of that initial 50, 17 were able to graduate in four years. They have up until until six. So these were 17 very
eager students that said, “No, I’m going to try to
do as much as I can now.” This September we just launched another opportunity for students. Early College High School
with Marist College. And they’re going to get 30
college credits in four years. At no cost. It’s a private college
that are transferable. Those credits will be able to go with them whether or not they decide
to go Marist or not. Think about that, that’s
about a years worth of tuition that child and family
don’t have to worry about. – [Audience Member] Is their program coming to you in your building or do your children have to leave and go to the community college? – So we’re only in our first year of that and it’s been a hybrid. So, during the summer they went there with a Marist professor. And then they’ve done some
things during the year on campus. Where the professor actually
comes to the high school. – [Audience Member] So in terms
of the use of social media, and I know that– (background noise drowns out question) Can you tell us a little bit about your accountability system? – So the question is in reference
to accountability systems. Meaning, we have accountability
as required by the state. So that’s all school
districts in New York. Do you mean… – [Audience Member] Well, in
general do you ever examine– (background noise drowns out question) – OK. – [Audience Member] (background
noise drowns out question) – OK – [Audience Member] (background
noise drowns out question) – So, I’ll speak to a system that we have had in place now for three years. We refer to it as Datacom. It’s a system that Miami has… I think it’s why they won the Broad Award. And that particular system originated from the New York City police department a number of decades ago. But three times a year we
bring our principals together in a format that feels very intensive, somewhat by design. So, I’ll give you an example. So, for all who are principals in here the principal would be front and center and my senior cabinet would be there. It’s not an “I Gotcha” but it is a way for
our principals to know, they have to know the
data in their schools. And so at the beginning of the year we charge them with a “one thing focus.” Based on the book “The ONE Thing.” Where we ask them too see
something from beginning to end. And so they identify the one
thing for their building. And then when we leave
for these Datacom sessions they present where they’re
at with their one thing. And they do that in the
presence of their colleagues. And so, at the beginning of the year they’re sharing with their colleagues all about why they chose their one thing; what the root cause analysis was that led them to that particular decision. And then throughout the
year they’re monitoring, and we’re monitoring, how they’re doing in
relation to the one thing. At the end of the year, when we do this in June, they’ll be wrapping up and sharing with us the impact that they’ve
had in their school because of this particular focus. Now, the reason why
that’s unique and special is because how often new principals get to really, really focus on one thing. So we’re kind of giving
them this freedom to say: Yes, you are responsible
for running your building. Yes, you are accountable to what’s happening in your building. But when it comes to your evaluation, when it comes to the kind of feedback that we’re going to be giving you, let’s narrow our focus a little bit where you can go really
deep with something. And the only other charge we gave them: that it had to be in structure. Yes, sir. – [Audience Member] In terms of a variety of decision makers that (background noise drowns out question) What one or two programs, what practices, do you have that you would
say are non-negotiable and what you should be
thinking about these things, you know, right from
the first day of school (background noise drowns out question) – Yeah, good question. So, I would say that
part of what we’re doing and the conversations we’re driving have to be about impact. I’ll just twist that
just a little but to say what we talk about consistently is what’s the impact. So in our system people know that it’s not a question they’re
frightened by anymore. It has to be about the impact. So you just invested
this much money this year on this particular program. What’s the impact. And so they’re very comfortable now being able to respond to that. And they’re doing the same
thing now with each other. So what’s the return on invest
for that particular decision. I would say, you know, part of the year we focus where we think
we have the most leverage and where we can establish quick wins are around systems and programs. And so therefore, piloting,
for launching an initiative we should know what the impact is. And it’s OK if a
particular decision didn’t yield the results that you wanted. It’s more important to know why. Right? So again, it gets back to: So, what’s the impact of that decision? We didn’t get the results. Why not? What needs to be changed or modified? So it’s a constant look at systems. – [Audience Member]
I’m just trying to get, when you left you did not
become a competitive community. And now you’ve come back. In your efforts to rebrand your district, I don’t know that you are
rebranding your district, but what other measures
are you taking to include any of your surrounding– (background noise drowns out question) – We’ve hired some key staff, so when I got there I knew
that we had to tell the story. If we allowed others to tell the story, unfortunately you’d get a
different image of the district. And so we hired a
communications specialist. And we did a lot of work on
branding our vision and mission. So we are 12,000 students,
we are 14 school buildings. Each school building. And this is not a pro or con this is just ultimately
realized and decided to do in terms of rebranding and
then telling a different story. Each school had their own
mascot and their own colors. There’s nothing wrong with that, right? It speaks to an individual identity. But our mantra for this
year is “we are one.” And so, our mascot, the one that people most recognize, is the Goldback. Which is an eagle. And so we engaged again
with students to say, you know, how do you
think you feel about this? You all end up at the high school. You all end up as Goldback’s. It’s blue and gold. But yet, you went through other schools
along the way that weren’t. So, as we were doing
our rebranding work at, a better part of two years, this year we launched with every
school being blue and gold, and every school being a
young miniature version eagle. And then when they get to
middle school and high school they become the current
Goldback that we are now. And it has been a real success. A real success. So something like that, for something like we generate
our own press releases, we have people on the field
capturing the stories. And then being able to
tell the work that’s happening on a weekly basis. Sending out a media
tip sheet every Friday, to the 80 plus media
sources in the region. Allowing school leaders to
set up social media accounts. Prior year 2014 we were not allowed too. But I think the combination
of those things together had really started to change
the narrative of the district. – [Audience Member] How
did you bring your… I’m guessing you have– (background noise drowns out question) – Yes – [Audience Member] (background
noise drowns out question) – They work for wherever you work. We just keep feeding them. We keep give giving them
critical information around why. Our success has helped as well. And so, when we.. In 2014 only 19% of the students were on grade level for reading. And so, into the last several years we have been able to increase that percent to show that what we are
doing, again, once… The impact of this work, we doubled that. – [Audience Member]
Using your last comment– (background noise drowns out question) – So the question around
how we’re engaging students. Sort of. So, I’m in schools all the time. Like, a lot. And so, personally, I’m in schools, I’m in classrooms, I’m talking to students, I’m looking at their work. I rarely ask what you’re doing. I find that to be an easy
question that students can answer. So my question generally
is why you’re doing this. And really what I’m trying to see is can they make the connection between that particular lesson
and the overall unit. My senior cabinet is
required to go to schools. And then we set up their
student advisory council, that have been in place now several years, and those are opportunities where students in each of the buildings meet with their administration and my team to talk about their experience. And he’s up here to say time is up. – I’m sorry to break up a
great conversation as well but let’s give it up for Roberto. (applause)

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