How I Got Here

Su­per­in­ten­dent, Hartford Pub­lic Schools

Working Mother - - Contents -

A school su­per­in­ten­dent shares the path she took to land her dream job.

LO­CA­TION Hartford, CT CHIL­DREN Niko, 16, and Kaden, 11

Learn­ing to prob­lem-solve holis­ti­cally and play the long game are of­ten key to suc­cess as a work­ing mother, and it’s some­thing Dr. Les­lie Tor­res-Ro­driguez has per­fected in her 20-year climb to­ward the role of su­per­in­ten­dent to Hartford’s 20,316 stu­dents. Mi­grat­ing from Puerto Rico when she was 9, Tor­res-Ro­driguez ex­pe­ri­enced the strug­gles of grow­ing up around poverty and vi­o­lence in Hartford’s ur­ban cen­ter. She dreamed of a ca­reer in ed­u­ca­tion so she could help stu­dents just like her­self, set­ting her sights on a lead­er­ship role all the way back in high school (“I al­ways knew I wanted to be a prin­ci­pal—that way I could change things”), but when of­fered a schol­ar­ship for a mas­ter’s de­gree in so­cial work—not in the field of ed­u­ca­tion— some­thing told her it would pay off later. “I thought, It will get me closer to an ad­vanced de­gree, one way or an­other.” It turned out the re­sult­ing eight-year stint in so­cial work wasn’t a de­tour at all—it’s how she re­al­ized ex­actly what kind of su­per­in­ten­dent she wanted to be. “I firmly be­lieve that for ur­ban stu­dents to thrive, there must be an in­ter­de­pen­dency be­tween schools, fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties. I saw that in my role in so­cial work and school turn­around ef­forts.” When the next chal­lenge ar­rived—grow­ing a fam­ily while com­plet­ing her doc­toral de­gree, this time, the now mom of two learned to ask for help.

“I was nurs­ing with one hand and typ­ing my dis­ser­ta­tion with the other,” she re­mem­bers. What’s been the over­all key to suc­cess­fully chang­ing ed­u­ca­tional out­comes in some of the coun­try’s most chal­lenged school sys­tems?

“The one driver for me has al­ways been my moral im­per­a­tive. It helps me carry a higher sense of ur­gency what­ever sit­u­a­tion I’m in.”

“The one driver for me has al­ways been my moral im­per­a­tive. It helps me carry a higher sense of ur­gency what­ever sit­u­a­tion I’m in.”

“I tell each of my stu­dents, ‘You are a beau­ti­ful and more-than-capable per­son.’ In fact, I say I have 20,316 beau­ti­ful and capable stu­dents.” “I want to give them all the tools to find a voice, achieve at high lev­els, and then be lead­ers in their...

“We got mar­ried so young, in 1995. I was 21, so talk about con­tin­u­ous learn­ing!” SOLID FOUN­DA­TION

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