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Book Excerpt: A Culturally Proficient Society Begins in School

In the attached book excerpt, three superintendents speak frankly about the problems they faced as educational leaders of color, and as women in charge of male-dominated institutions.
A Culturally Proficient Society Begins in School

It is the belief of the three authors of the recently published book, A Culturally Proficient Society Begins in School, all of whom are former school superintendents, that all educational leaders, male and female from all cultural groups, have the capacity to be successful when they have an understanding of the importance of students' cultures being viewed and treated as an asset.

Carmella S. Franco, is currently a State Trustee, appointed by the California State Board of Education to oversee the academically failing Alisal Union Elementary School District in Monterey County. After retiring from 12 years as Superintendent of the Whittier City School District in 2008, Franco then served for nearly one year as an Interim Superintendent of the Woodland Joint Unified School district. Her 38 years in public education include having served as director of personnel, elementary and middle school principal, English as a second language (ESL) specialist and Title VII director in diverse school district settings, all with high English language llearner student populations.

Maria G. Ott, is currently the superintendent of the award-winning Rowland (Calif.) Unified School District where she has led educational transformation efforts for six years. Prior to being recruited to Rowland Unified, she served five years as the senior deputy superintendent to Roy Romer in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), supervising major reform efforts. She was recruited by Romer, a nontraditional superintendent and the former three-term Governor of Colorado, to serve as his educational deputy following seven successful years as superintendent of the Little Lake City School District where she raised student achievement and received national recognition for her leadership. Prior to becoming superintendent of Little Lake City Schools in 1993, Ott was a teacher, site administrator, and central office administrator at LAUSD, recognized for her instructional leadership and her work to improve the performance of English learners.

Darline P. Robles, is currently a professor of clinical education at the Rossier School of Education, University of Sourthern California. Robles recently retired as the superintendent of the Los Angles County Office of Education where she served eight years. As the top education leader of the nation's most populous and diverse county, she ensured the financial and academic stability of 80 school districts that serve more than two million preschool and school-aged children. Closing the achievement gap is Robles's highest priority. She is acclaimed as a state leader in implementing the Williams legislation, a landmark law enacted in 20004 to promote educational equity through monitoring of 600 low performing schools annually to ensure that all student have access to textbooks, sage and clean facilities, and qualified teachers. As chief of the Salt Lake City School District from 1995 to 2002, Robles was recognized for raising student achievement, significantly reducing the dropout rate, and securing vital resources for needy schools. Earlier as Superintendent of the Montebello Unified School District, she saved the district from a state takover by returning it to financial stability within two years.

Franco, Ott, and Robles are sharing their stories and their lesson of progress and success to inform the practices of current and future leaders and policy makers. It is their observation that the United States and Canada are at a tipping point in their ability and willingness to address the needs to historically and currently underserved groups. However, the authors feel that the barriers to progress are so deeply entrenched in social institutions, such as education, that they feel we must realize educational and social reforms are ininextricably interlinked.

The attached excerpt from their book consists of how the authors turned barriers into leading lessons. Leading lessons are the formative lessons one learns on the job that later, and upon reflections, have helped to inform their larger, more enduring lessons learned. They answer questions posed to them by Randall B. Lindsey principal associate of the Robins Group and professor emeritus at California State University, Los Angeles and Stephanie M. Graham, principal associate of Educational Equity Solutions.

This excerpt of A Culturally Proficient Society Begins in School is being used with the permission of Sage Publications, Inc. Copyright 2011.