In July, Mentoring Minds announced a new partnership with the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators (CALSA). To learn more about their mission, we recently sat down with Dr. David Verdugo, Executive Director of CALSA, to discuss the importance that Latino educators play in California’s future.

Why is Latina/o educational leadership vital to California’s students?

Dr. Verdugo: The future of the state’s economy—and by extension, the nation’s—is largely intertwined with the fate of our Latino communities, but consistently, statistics show that Latino students continue to be the most segregated students in California, more likely to live in poverty, with higher dropout rates, and fewer transitions to our universities. The data speaks volumes. We need to redefine our leadership. Research shows that when leaders understand the community they serve from the inside out, students are more successful—so at CALSA, we work to develop Latino leadership.

As we move forward, we need to reexamine a lot of things like retention rates, placements into special education, and teacher recruitment. And we understand that we need to reframe the approach to testing and accountability now that we have Common Core.

When you talk about redefining educational leadership, what does that look like?

DV: There is a critical need to equip students with the skills they need to be college- and career-ready, but we also need to equip leaders to translate research into practice and develop their expertise. What’s required of administrators is a much more complex job now—Common Core, Smarter Balanced testing, technology, funding, resources. And we cannot learn alone; we must be connected. CALSA is a platform for that development, with a strong mentoring program and institutes for continued learning.

One of our programs, Hermanas (or “sisters” in Spanish), specifically promotes women in leadership—we believe there’s a void there, and we very much want to support women in these positions.

With such a focus on networking for its members, we’re curious to hear how CALSA connects with other organizations with a similar mission?

DV: Our institutes and conclaves focus on research-to-practice, so each year we partner with a particular college’s education department to make that direct connection with current research. This year, we’ve connected with the University of California-San Diego. In 2016 we’re planning to connect with UC-San Francisco, really trying to provide services to folks both in Northern California and Southern California.

We’ve been working side-by-side with other organizations as well. California’s state superintendent, Tom Torlakson, has been very supportive of CALSA in allowing us an opportunity to be part of the taskforce in outlining the next stage in the state’s road map for education, Blueprint for Great Schools. We also work closely with the Association of California School Administrators (ACSA), who are a truly important force for education in the state, holding conferences on equity, poverty, or women in leadership, and we’ve been excited to join in those conversations.

Our corporate partners help us provide financial assistance to students and to educators. For example, just this past summer, we were able to award 12 college scholarships to high school students. Through our partners, we’ve also been able to grant assistance to our own CALSA member administrators to go on and get their doctorate or advance accordingly. It’s a dual sword: our partnerships not only help our students get to the next level, they provide administrators with the opportunity to advance as well. These relationships actualize our mission, and we’ve seen our membership more than double since January.

With that kind of membership growth, it sounds like you’ve tapped into a need to harness the collective knowledge and experience of Latina/o administrators.

DV: Exactly. New administrators often believe that they should be able to do the work on their own, but that’s not true. They need to reach out and create dialogue. I’ve found that there’s a real need for both contemporary and traditional mentors—someone on the cutting edge of research, but also someone who’s been through the ranks and can reflect back on their experiences. These two perspectives are critical.

We want to see the pendulum swing in terms of academic achievement. We want to see our students succeed. If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

About Dr. David Verdugo

Dr. David Verdugo has been a leader in California K–12 education for over forty years. He currently serves as the Executive Director of California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators (CALSA), and as Interim Superintendent of Paramount USD. Learn more at calsa.org.


This interview was originally published in a shortened format in a special publication of the Los Angeles Times.