Questar III BOCES Superintendent Dr. Gladys Cruz has joined with her colleague Dr. Lupita Hightower, who leads Arizona’s Tolleson Elementary School District, to launch a groundbreaking new program for leaders who have been long underrepresented in public schools. Despite being 2,500 miles apart, Cruz and Hightower are leading The Aspiring Superintendents Academy for Latino and Latina Leaders, a project of AASA, the School Superintendents Association. AASA is a professional organization for more than 13,000 educational leaders in the United States and throughout the world.

AASA selected Cruz and Hightower to help design the academy and serve as its lead teachers, due to their recognition as leaders in the education community.

“There is a large need for a program like this,” said Cruz. “Currently, less than 2% of superintendents across the nation are Latino. In New York, with 700 school districts, there are only nine superintendents who are Latino, but our student population is very diverse with the numbers of Latino or Hispanic students growing rapidly.”

Questar III BOCES, which Cruz leads, serves 22 school districts and more than 30,000 students in Columbia, Greene, and Rensselaer counties. The Tolleson Elementary School District, led by Hightower, serves four schools and about 3,000 students.

“When leaders reflect the demographics of the students being served, suspensions and expulsions are typically lower and achievement tends to be higher,” said Hightower. “The accountability is different. I see it with my own district when I walk into classrooms and see the faces of our students.”

The first participants will begin the year-long virtual professional development program in January 2021. The program was designed using research and feedback from current Latino and Latina superintendents.

Cruz and Hightower will lead monthly virtual professional development sessions focused on: Framing the Superintendent Role, Leading for Equity with Urgency, Understanding Governance, Building Community Support, Balancing Leadership, and Leading Learning.

“By tailoring the program to speak to our own experiences, we are ensuring that it really speaks to Latino leaders,” Cruz said.

The academy will also have a strong mentorship component and will identify successful Latino and Latina superintendents to mentor participants.


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