“Hungry for Change”: Spotlight on NILSL Training in Nashville

By Cayla Conway, ESSA Stakeholder Outreach Coordinator, UnidosUS

2017 NILSL Fellow Graduates

“If you’re the smartest person in the room, then you’re in the wrong room,” John Monteleone, National Institute for Latino School Leaders (NILSL) fellow, shared with his nine co-fellows during their final training module in Nashville in late September. These were the very words John’s relative shared with him after his first NILSL training module back in 2015. At that time, John was questioning why he had been accepted into the group and what he would be able to add. He felt like an imposter, overwhelmed and intimidated and yet, little to his knowledge, many of his co-fellows identified with these feelings too. However, two years and seven training modules later, you would not believe that John, nor any of these leaders, ever experienced such insecurities.

NILSL modules are held throughout the fellowship in different locations across the United States. This particular cohort traveled to New York City, Dallas, Los Angeles, Denver, Atlanta, Washington, DC, and Nashville to receive trainings in leadership, communications, advocacy, and education policy. In other words, fellows learn ways to advocate for Latino students and English learners, receive updates on federal and state education policy, learn how to maximize outreach strategies using both traditional and social media to effectively communicate local and national education issues to diverse audiences, and network with fellow leaders in education. Each training is designed to prepare fellows to become stronger, better-equipped leaders and advocates for Latino students and English learners in their respective districts and states.

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How Two Ohioans Found Common Ground in Their Passion for Education

By Cayla Conway, ESSA Stakeholder Outreach Coordinator, Education, NCLR

NILSL Fellows Jesús Sanchez (left) and John Montoleone (right)

John Monteleone and Jesús Sanchez are members of the same gym in Lorain, Ohio. Besides their shared affinity for physical fitness, you might not think they have much else in common. Jesús is originally from Puerto Rico, while John is a native Ohioan. Jesús is an environmentalist, having studied biology, wildlife management, and plant ecology and physiology, while John’s roots have been firmly planted in Ohio’s public schools; where he ascended from teacher, to principal, to assistant superintendent. It was when they finally struck up a conversation that they realized they had a lot in common. They share a deep history with Lorain City Schools – both attended during their childhoods, and Jesús’s mother was a teacher, principal, and deputy superintendent there. The two also found that they are both passionate about education and strong advocates for the youth in their communities. In the fall of 2015, they both learned that they would be participating in the two-year National Institute for Latino School Leaders (NILSL) fellowship.

Currently, John is the Assistant Superintendent for Oberlin City Schools and Jesús is the Education Director at Cuyahoga Environmental Education Center in Ohio. Both are actively participating in NCLR’s NILSL fellowship; a program established in 2011 to bridge the divide between school practitioners and education policymakers. One of NILSL’s requirements tasks fellows with leading an advocacy project or policy-related activity related to the new education law, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), in their home state. A NILSL fellowship, though only lasting up to two years, is intended to provide the connections and training needed to create diverse education leaders for life. In the cases of John and Jesús, it appears to be doing just that.

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Meet a Latino School Leader: Marisol Rerucha Credits the National Institute for Latino School Leaders with Changing Her Life

Marisol Rerucha (pictured second from left, with the mic), is passionate about improving education for Latinos.

This past December, current and former members of NCLR’s National Institute for Latino School Leaders, or NILSL, convened in Los Angeles to talk about the current state of education and the impact of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The meeting was also an opportunity for current and former fellows to connect and talk about ways to work together. We caught up with one NILSL fellow, Marisol Rerucha of San Diego, to talk about her participation in the fellowship and what it’s meant for her. Below is the first of our semi-regular series in which we profile NILSL members.

NCLR: The December meeting was for NILSL alums and the new cohort of fellows. What were some of the biggest takeaways you left with?

Rerucha: Part of the meeting was getting an update on all of the new ESSA provisions, for getting a legislative update on where we are. What’s really important for me as an administrator is that that’s not something we as administrators are able to keep up with in our daily or even monthly work. Public policy is something I would say the vast majority of school leaders do not get to. We also got the chance to talk about potential policy work. We also spent time getting to know the new cohort.

NCLR: What specific projects did you get to work on during the December meeting?

Rerucha: I actually had a project that NCLR funded. I’m going to be creating a local NILSL for San Diego County school educators. In my work, I focus on the alternative school population. The work is going to be inviting in experts to give a legislative update and we’ll also be using the workshops that NCLR has created. The funding will also be used to take educators up to Sacramento to make recommendations for alternative schools and for ESSA implementation.

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Local Educators Become Advocates

The fight continues at the federal level for educational equity, but states will be key to protecting Latino students

By John Marth, Senior Content Specialist, NCLR

The New York cohort of National Institute of Latino School Leaders

Nine educators met in New York’s Financial District for a two-day training about using their experiences with students and parents to advocate for state-level policies. It was the first of three training modules they’ll attend over the next eight months.

The group represents the sixth cohort of the National Institute of Latino School Leaders, or NILSL. NCLR developed the program five years ago to train educators working with Latino students to become more involved in education policy.

Previous NILSL groups consisted of fellows from across the country learning about lawmaking on the federal level. With the implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) about to take effect, the program was modified to focus on states. “Now that ESSA’s passed, we need to make sure states are following it,” said Jessica Rodriguez Boudreau, NCLR Education Outreach Manager, who led the training. This year’s fellows come from Colorado and New York.

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Education: The 21st Century Civil Rights Issue

By John Monteleone, Fellow, National Institute for Latino School Leaders, NCLR

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I often find that within educational circles, the word equity can be controversial and confusing. Those who are more affluent and privileged often become squeamish, while those from economically-disadvantaged districts become increasingly engaged. However, while this conversation can be difficult to have with different audiences, the difficulty only emphasizes its importance. Pursuing equity in education can prevent some districts from falling into the achievement gap—and help prevent deeper inequality from taking root in our society.

In a country that prides itself on the mantra that “We The People” are treated fair and just, providing every child with an equitable education should not be controversial.

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Latino Education Has Improved, but We Still Have Work Ahead

By Ana Martinez, Midwest Regional Executive Director, New Leaders, National Institute for Latino School Leaders

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I am a U.S. citizen who was born in El Salvador at a time of civil turmoil. Like many others from that country, my family fled to the United States in search of the American Dream. One could argue that their journey, at least in terms of my life’s prospects, has paid off. I was the first in my family to go to college and graduate, and the first in my family to have a career of my choice.

However, the reality of the current state of Latinos in our educational system is one in which my story is the exception, not the norm. Now more than ever, the future success of Latinos in our educational system is at stake, and we have a moral obligation to ensure that we are steadfast in our commitment to advancing the Latino community.

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Leadership Qualities of Equity-Focused School Leaders: Rafael Gaeta

By Rafael Gaeta, Ed.D., Nightingale Middle School, National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellow

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Equity can be defined as “the quality of being fair and impartial.” As a school administrator, the topic of equity can conjure up cognitive dissonance with the personnel we work with each day. Why does the topic of equity cause so much angst at times? We believe the answer could be in the way that the terms “equity” and “equal” have been used interchangeably. A person’s definition of these terms may be the very factor that causes the angst that many school leaders encounter as they try to make decisions to create and sustain an equitable school environment. As a first-year “rookie” principal, I present a perspective of an administrator who continuously works on maintaining equity at our schools.

I just celebrated my one-year anniversary as the principal at my middle school in Northeast Los Angeles. My middle school has a more diverse student body than most schools in my area. We are 70% Latino, 29% Asian, and 1% Black. My school is considered school-wide Title I due to the socioeconomic status of our student population. I came into my first principal assignment with my personal experiences as an immigrant to this country and an English learner. Coincidentally, many of those experiences are also those of my students.

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Leadership Qualities of Equity-Focused School Leaders: Marla Fernandez

By Marla Fernandez, South Bay Union School District, National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellow

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I have worked at South Bay Union School District for seven years. My wonderful elementary school is tucked away in a beach community that is located five miles from the Mexican border in San Diego. Our enrollment of 560 students includes 70% Latino students and 50% English learners. Additionally, 79% of our students’ families are low socioeconomic status; hence, we are schoolwide Title I.

When I was growing up, I was an English learner like many of my students. Although my mother was bilingual, I did not begin to attempt to tackle the academic demands of English until fourth grade. This was due to my teacher, who opened up a whole new world to me by teaching me to love literature. These experiences informed my teaching career, which has always included working in the field of bilingual education as a classroom teacher, resource teacher, and literacy coach.

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How We Can Improve the Latino Educational Pipeline

By Jose Enriquez, National Institute for Latino School Leaders Fellow

EDUCATION students and teacher

Current data trends show that the Latino educational pipeline is improving—within the last decade, both high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates have improved for Latino students. However, there are still challenges to closing educational gaps.

Until recently, data showed that for every 100 Latino students, 21 will go to college, eight will earn a graduate degree, and less than 0.2% will earn a doctoral degree. According to Pew Research Center, 49% of Latino high school graduates in the United States enrolled in college in 2012, while high school dropout rates continued to fall. This positive trend may be representative of Latino students moving through the education system more smoothly than before. Despite such promising trends, in comparison to other ethnic groups, Latino college students are:

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It’s Time to Lean INTO the Discomfort of Transformative Change

By Ana Martinez, National Institute for Latino School Leaders, NCLR

(cross-posted with the permission of the Surge Institute and Ana Martinez)

I have spent my entire life in the fight for educational equity and 14 years fighting that fight in classrooms and schools across cities like Los Angeles, Miami-Dade and Chicago. For a long time, I believed schools and classrooms were the best spaces to create change for the Black and Brown students we serve. Don’t get me wrong – change without transformational leaders in classrooms and schools is impossible. But, the change that is needed today is deeply rooted in historical systems of oppression and racism that – consciously or unconsciously – have resulted in institutions that are well equipped to maintain the status quo. Unless there is transformational change at multiple levels the changes created in classrooms are, at best, short term.

I am the child of an immigrant single mother. I believe the appropriate label afforded to me was “alien” – a very befitting term as I was neither from here nor there. My family left a war-torn country in pursuit of the all-American dream, but little did we know that language, poverty, culture clashes, alcoholism, domestic violence, and sexual abuse would be some of the challenges we would have to overcome in pursuit of such dream. I struggled understanding the world I left behind and the world that stood in front of me, so I embraced the “alien” label and allowed myself to walk in that lane for too long.

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