Over the next several weeks, schools around the country will open their doors for a new school year. This should be a time of excitement and anticipation of new learning for children and educators.  

This should not be a time of fear. As educational leaders, we cannot allow our students and their teachers to return to school frightened, or to be too afraid to return at all. 

Schools, under strong leadership, have a critical role to play in ensuring immigrant children have a safe haven in their schools. While federal officials’ threats of home and workplace raids have mostly been just that – threats — families are still understandably scared. School and system leaders have a critical role to play in ensuring our schools do not only what is right, but what the law requires: to educate ALL of our youth and keep them safe.  

Two years ago, I wrote an op-ed outlining a few crucial steps that school and school system leaders can take to protect their immigrant students and families. This work becomes more relevant and urgent every day. As I wrote then, among the most important things leaders can do is:  

  • Identify a set of student-centered values and integrate them into the life of the school.  
  • Challenge discrimination and demonstrate intolerance for it. 
  • Encourage conversations that value all points of view. 
  • Widely share information about immigrant rights and resources with students and families 

Courageous leaders should also know that they are not alone. They can learn from each other, look to each other for ideas and guidance. We have recently seen some districts use the media and other means to remind families of the policies in place that make schools safe havens for undocumented families. I know of a principal who, with the support of his superintendent, recently blocked ICE officers from entering his school when they came looking for members of the school community whom they suspected were undocumented. We would love to hear and share with our community how you are leading with courage for some of our most vulnerable young people — share your stories with us at jgrossman@nycleadershipacademy.org or and we will handle them sensitivelyor if you are comfortable, post them on Twitter at #HowILeadforEquity 

Let’s give all children access to the opportunity that is their right: a school year that engages them in the joys of learning by keeping them safe in an environment that values and respects all perspectives and experiences.

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Nancy B. Gutiérrez, Ed.L.D.

President & CEO

Dr. Nancy B. Gutiérrez joined the NYC Leadership Academy in 2014 and has served as National Leadership Designer and Facilitator, Vice President of District Leadership, and most recently as Chief Strategy Officer before being named President & CEO in July 2018. Nancy is a Fall 2019 Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow.

Nancy’s belief in education as a critical vehicle for equity and social justice has inspired her dedication to education. Growing up in a disenfranchised Latinx neighborhood in East San Jose, California, she witnessed first-hand the impact of limited resources and low expectations.

Nancy began her career as a teacher and principal in her home community, where she was the founding principal of Renaissance Academy, the highest performing middle school in the district and a California Distinguished School. Achieving that success, she went on to lead an effort to turn around the district’s lowest performing middle school, located only two blocks from her childhood home. Nancy was named the UC Davis Rising Star and Association of California School Administrator’s Region 8 Middle School Principal of the Year in 2010.

Since she joined the NYC Leadership Academy in August 2014, Nancy has led such accomplishments as launching the organization’s district leadership work, developing principal supervisor leadership standards and aligned curriculum and programming including the popular Foundations of Principal Supervision institute. More recently, Nancy led the creation and implementation of NYCLA 2020, the Leadership Academy’s strategic plan. Prior to working at the Leadership Academy, she launched a program for executive leadership advancement for the New York City Department of Education that led to superintendent certification.

Nancy is a graduate of the inaugural cohort of the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Doctor of Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) program where during her tenure she served as a Teaching Fellow for Harvard’s School Leadership Program, a mentor for Harvard’s Latino Leadership Initiative, and co-chair for Harvard’s Alumni of Color Conference. On commencement day, she represented her class as the first ever Ed.L.D. marshal, voted on by her peers for outstanding leadership, involvement in the life of the community, service to the community and others, and for being an exemplary representative of HGSE.

Nancy served on the national board of the Coalition of Essential Schools for more than a decade and is a frequent speaker and teacher for the Harvard Principals’ Center institutes for School Turnaround Leaders, Urban School Leaders, and Race, Equity, Access, and Leadership. Nancy is on the Latinos for Education (L4E) teaching team, a graduate of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) Aspiring Superintendents Academy, and a member of Education Leaders of Color (EdLoC) which aims to break through the polarizing divides that have consumed efforts to improve public education.

Find Nancy on Twitter @nancybgutierrez or LinkedIn.