As a veteran educator turned entrepreneur, oftentimes I’m asked how I became an education consultant and how I’ve achieved success.
I have been blessed and fortunate to realize a level of achievement and measurable success in the various educational positions I have held which have ranged from teacher to superintendent of schools. I am most proud of my journey of moving up the ranks in the Miami-Dade County school system, the nation’s 4th largest, as teacher, assistant principal, elementary school principal, and high school principal, including my stint at Miami North Western High School of seven years, where I achieved the third longest tenure in the school’s over 55-year history.
A promotion to Administrative Director in School Operations would follow. All the while I worked tirelessly and passionately to boost student graduation rates, improve community involvement and spearhead district turnaround strategies and education redesign initiatives. One of my proudest moments is when I became the first black administrator to rise to the level of superintendent by who came from t he community and through the ranks of the Miami-Dade County school system.
Having done the “work” is what pushed me to become a consultant following my time as superintendent of schools. People appreciated my professional journey and work, and sought after the results I achieved in the Miami-Dade County and Plainfield Public school districts. The results were undeniable. Many wanted me to achieve the same results for them or their schools, districts, or organizations. Becoming an education consultant was a natural progression for me. At the time I resume the my work through Tri-Star Leadership, President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative was at the forefront of public education, especially in districts and schools that served the urban core. At that time public and private agencies were engaging in school improvement and turnaround strategies to rapidly improve student learning and outcomes—-work that I done for the majority of my professional career as an educator.
I was sought after from public and private agencies because of my success with turnaround solutions, especially in hard to serve and underserved areas. In short periods of time I have been able to form and implement strategies to catapult underperforming schools and historically maligned school districts in areas where that matter the most – in classrooms with students, teachers and administrators. Although the political machinations of public education would remain at play, I tried to remain undaunted and undeterred in the areas that helped children to read, solve mathematical equations, appreciate the arts, sciences, activities, and athletics, and become better human beings. Educators locally and nationwide appreciated and respected my paradigm and convictions and recognized my work. They knew and understood the bottom line and read the educational scoreboard when my time was up. They also valued my experience and results under pressure and often intense professional and political working conditions.
Tri-Star Leadership has had many clients over the past several years. Some of the work and outcomes may appear to be a far cry from the days as a Superintendent of Schools when we took a district from the brink of a state takeover as it languished for several year as one federally defined as “In Need of Improvement” and removed it from such status in less than two years, developed and implemented a district and community wide 4-year strategic plan, introduced and converted three schools to K-8, launched two specialized academies—-one for the arts and advanced studies and one for at-risk students, and realized double-digit gains on the State’s School and District Accountability System known as QSAC—-with the area of Curriculum and Instruction increasing from 8% to 68%; Fiscal Management from 32% to 74%; District Operations from 61% to 79%; Personnel/Human Resources from 38% to 80%; and Governance from 11% to 56%—-all within 24 months of my tenure. But for me and my associates, it is still the work of improving the learning and lives of students – that’s the work that matters the most. It’s also the sense of appreciation, encouragement, and support that come from those who know and respect you and your work the most.
Today, far from the titular leadership roles that are often sought and coveted in public educational bureaucracies, however, the most simple and seemingly mundane of work spaces that we take the most pride in such taking a struggling F-school which was on the brink of closure when we got involved and within two years seeing the school earn a grade of C, with only 8 points from a B. In addition, as a result of parental demand, the same school is adding a grade level and is consistently outperforming the schools in its surrounding area. Another school is on a similar journey as we supported its increase of 239 points on the state assessment in just one year—though still underperforming, we are just 18 points shy of its initial taste of success.
What’s the secret to our success? Persistence, diligence, commitment, focus and preparedness. Whether it is opening up a school in a short period of time when the odds and oddsmakers are stacked against you—-last year we led and coordinated the opening of two at the same time, or bringing a school from what the data and conditions suggest might be on the brink of ruin back to life, or working closely with a school that has persistently underperformed and see it make significant gains in a relatively short period of time — it all takes persistence, diligence commitment, focus and preparedness to achieve winning results. It also takes an undaunted belief that success is attainable for all children in all schools—-no matter the present scoreboard or circumstances.
Our work also involves listening to the needs, viewpoints and interests of others in order to find adequate solutions. Serving as a consultant is not simply about what answers you give, but what questions you ask — questions that require listening to the answers that your clients provide as they view what they perceive their problems to be and desired solutions they seek.
This type of insight coupled with my experience is what I believe has made me and my team a valued commodity to clients and partners.
The most rewarding part of the work I do is realizing success in the form of a finished, or near completed project. In public education, with the organic shifts in accountability standards and related measures, the shift in the political winds and those of public scrutiny and perception, success can be relatively short-lived. It’s a journey not a destination. So, the reward is being able to realize successful mile-markers while on the journey.
My experiences have also afforded me the opportunity to share key moments of my career through three fictional books loosely based on the students, communities and struggles I’ve encountered as an educator. Themes of hope for disadvantaged youth in impoverished communities along with proven education practices are carried out in “When Morning Comes”, “Educating With Love and Without Compromise” and “The Principalship: Tribulations and Triumphs.”
As a person, professional, and now entrepreneur, I hold fast and close to the word and belief of 2Corinthians 4:8-9 that has had resonance for my life and work, and implications for urban education: We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going.