- Expertise: Districtwide Equity
- Position: Superintendent
- District: Newburgh Enlarged City School District, Newburgh, N.Y.
Plastered across classroom walls and throughout the hallways of the administration building in the Newburgh, N.Y., school district are two words: “inclusive excellence.”
It’s a vision statement and call to action for a school district that for too long left behind the students most in need.
The phrase was developed shortly after Superintendent Roberto Padilla’s arrival in 2014, during a series of frank and difficult community meetings about why the district has struggled so much academically. Those meetings, which included hundreds of parents, teachers, staff and administrators, touched on issues of race, class, and who over the years had benefitted most from the district’s resources.
Lessons from the Leader
- Be Courageous: Continually ask yourself, ‘why should anyone be led by you’? Be someone's equity champion. Make a list of phrases and excuses that are counterproductive, such as ‘this can't happen here,’ or ‘this is how it’s always been done’ and explain why those should disappear.
- Build Teams and Collaborate: Enlist your stakeholders and collaborate with them often because no one can do this job alone. Everyone needs to own the work. Relationships and partnerships are key ingredients to success.
- Listen to Students: Our children have great ideas and have very different perspectives than our own. Create authentic platforms where students can share their input and ideas.
Padilla has since woven equity into the fabric of Newburgh’s everyday activities and his decision making. He’s overhauled its budget and administrative staff, placing muscle in its most destitute and academically challenged schools. And he’s started the arduous task of redistributing teachers so that its most talented teachers are placed in front of the students who are struggling most.
Padilla, a former New York City principal, is guided by his own experiences as a foster child coming of age in Newburgh. He, like so many of the district’s Latino male students, was once deemed a likely dropout destined to a life of poverty. But the murder of two of his best friends in high school shook him awake, he said, and set him on a path to commit his life to education—his own—and that of thousands of other kids like him.
“I have an affinity for children who have to overcome particular barriers, but I recognize they can make it,” he said. “How do I help a school system to support children in a way that helps children to look beyond their circumstances. My equity charge is to not allow the conditions of race, zip code, ethnicity, language to be predictors for success in life.”