Noguera: 10 Points of Advice for the ‘Next Generation’ of School District Leaders

Pedro-Noguera.jpg “Increasingly across this country today, we have a dual system of education in our urban areas: a private system for the affluent and a public system for the poor. That will never work.”

Those were the words of Pedro Noguera during his keynote address on Day No. 1 of the AASA-Howard University Urban Superintendents Academy Inaugural Conference, Friday, Aug. 28, 2015, in Alexandria, Va.

A distinguished professor of education at the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences at UCLA and the director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University, Noguera told the gathering comprised largely of educators hoping to become superintendents in urban settings, “If you have the courage to lead, we need people with courage to do it.”

The inaugural cohort consists of 25 superintendents and other school district leaders from across the country. Launched at AASA’s 2015 National Conference on Education earlier this year, the Academy is a cross-institutional partnership that offers a dynamic approach to urban superintendent preparation and certification. The partnership is also designed to expand the pool of underrepresented superintendent groups.

Noguera offered 10 points of advice for, as he said, “for those of you who are brave enough to enter this field.”

  • Fifty percent of the job is political. What does that mean? You have to understand where the power is in your community. The power might not just be on the board. It might be in the mayor’s office. It might be in the business community. You have to know where the power is and now how to relate to that power and work with it.”
  •  Communications matters. You’ve got to figure out how to control the narrative about you and the district. Otherwise you will be consumed by it. If you do a good job, and no one knows, it’s like it never happened.”
  •  Avoid fights. You have limited energy. If you consume yourself with fighting every battle, you’re not going to have time to solve problems. Become a master at compromise.”
  •  Build your team. Surround yourself with competent people who know how to get things done. Do not be so arrogant that you feel you have to be the smartest person in the room. Find smart people to work with who will give you the advice you need to hear.”
  •  Have a pro-active agenda. Too many leaders are consistently in reaction mode. They don’t have an agenda.”  
  • You need an ambitious reform agenda. You need to have an agenda to win the confidence of your community. That agenda can’t be based on low standards and low expectations.”
  •  Avoid gimmicks and boondoggles. There are no gimmicks. Be careful of what you invest in and how to use your resources.”
  • Inspire your staff. Create an environment where people want to work for you. Create an environment where people want to come to your district.”
  • Stay focused on teaching and learning. Don’t lose sight. That’s what this is about. Talk about children. Talk about what good teaching looks like. Talk about the schools you visit and the inspiring lessons you’ve observed. We need more focus on high-quality instruction.”
  •  Take care of yourself physically and emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. Too many good people leave prematurely because the work took a toll.

Noguera concluded his remarks by reminding participants of the program to keep the big picture in mind. “I hope you’ll be that next generation (of urban school district leaders) and provide real, live examples of what’s possible when creating schools where conditions are right and good teaching and learning can occur … that’s what education is about. That’s why public education is so important.”




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