Transforming Education Leadership

Column by the member of the Oversight Board: Antonio L.  Medina Comas

This column was originally published in Spanish by Primera Hora on February 2, 2023

Education is the foundation of society. The Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico knows that robust professional opportunities can develop strong leaders and provide educators with the skills and experiences critical for transformational education. That is why the Oversight Board and the Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) together is training the second cohort of the Puerto Rico Education Leadership Development Program that provides department leaders with the tools to improve student outcomes. 

Mid-career managers in academics, data, and other departments selected through a competitive application and interview process participating in biweekly training sessions, visiting Miami-Dade County Public Schools to observe leading practices, and creating group “action learning projects” to develop plans that address a critical need at PRDE. 

The last several years have been incredibly challenging for the Puerto Rican people. PRDE students lost nearly a full school year of learning due to disruptions, impacting achievement. In 2019, only 30% of students scored proficient or above on the Math META-PR exam, PRDE’s standardized academic achievement exam. In 2022, PRDE students scored the lowest in 4th grade math on National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, 57 points below the national average, with no students scoring proficient or above. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated PRDE’s historical underperformance, highlighting the need for leaders equipped with data-driven decision-making skills to support academic recovery. 

That is why strengthening PRDE’s leadership is so important. Leadership is often associated with the top of an organization. Mid-level administrative leaders may be less in the spotlight, but their initiative and direction is critical for the long-term success of any organization. The graduates from this Leadership Development Program will support PRDE’s priorities tomorrow and for years to come. They will support the implementation of PRDE’s strategic plan to provide students a high-quality learning environment that meets their academic, socioemotional, and physical needs, particularly in light of recent challenges. 

The projects the graduates pursue includes an initiative focused on increasing marginalized family and community access to PRDE tools and support. Another project works to create a pathway for a high-quality principal pipeline, training strong leaders that can lead educators to create learning environments for improved student outcomes. Participants are also developing a plan to empower directors to make data-driven decisions, fostering a responsive, innovative culture to provide targeted support to students. All projects were approved by the Secretary of Education, Eliezer Ramos Pares. 

PRDE continues to make progress but road ahead is long and steep. It is critical that advocates for PRDE work together. Parents, students, teachers, administrators, government officials, nonprofit organizations, and the Oversight Board all have a role to play in achieving our shared goals of providing high-quality education to all students. This collaboration is at the heart of the Leadership Development Program and has been the key to its success. Together with other transformative initiatives, such as the Civil Service Reform the Oversight Board and the government are implementing, this program shines a bright light on Puerto Rico’s leaders in government agencies and will make a real difference in our communities. 

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