About EdWeek Leaders To Learn From

  • EdWeek Leaders to Learn From is the only district recognition program run by a news organization.

    The aim: To shine a spotlight on some of the nation’s often overlooked K-12 district leaders—highlighting their innovative strategies, profiling their track records of success, and sharing their insights and road maps with the field at large. In a sea of negativity, these leaders and their impact on students’ academic and social growth often go unnoticed.

    Our annual profiles highlight all levels of district leadership: superintendents, food-service leaders, student services coordinators, budget officers, and transportation and facilities managers, among others.

    Building inclusive environments

    Our 2024 EdWeek Leaders to Learn From are navigating the big changes that come with focusing on equity, helping their districts think through new threats like cyberattacks and climate change, giving students a voice in how they learn, or working with families to ensure that every child has the opportunity to thrive inside and outside of school.

    Some have displayed incredible foresight, laying the foundations years ago to prepare their school systems for today’s challenges and for what may lie ahead.

    Sharon Bradley‘s journey from a young girl with perfect attendance to the director of family and social services for the Plano Independent school district in Texas has been shaped by personal challenges and a commitment to compassion. She leads efforts to address chronic absenteeism and truancy in the district empathetically, introducing an attendance review board that focuses on understanding and addressing the root causes of absences before resorting to punitive measures. Her innovative approach has significantly reduced truancy court referrals and is now being adopted by other school districts.

    LeeAnn Kittle, the executive director of sustainability for Denver Public Schools, has channeled her students’ anxiety over intensifying wildfires and heatwaves into action. She served as a mentor to student advocates as they pushed the district to adopt ambitious climate goals. In just a few short years, Kittle helped save her district millions of dollars through sustainability initiatives crafted with significant student input. At the same time, she’s used her empathy and communication skills to help departments all over the district adjust to the changes that come with a greenifying district operations.

    Kate Maxlow, the director of curriculum, instruction, and assessment for Virginia’s Hampton City schools, remembers what it was like to be the bored student in the back of class. Now, she sees student engagement as paramount to improving achievement. She’s helped her district bring student voice into its curriculum redesign process, including hiring student interns to spend part of their summer reviewing curricula and classroom activities. The interns, who are compensated for their time and expertise have helped jazz up lessons, create instructional videos, and even contributed to curricula materials. The district—where half of students are in poverty—has seen a spike in achievement since its curriculum redesign.

    Also in Texas, Ana Pasarella, the director of family and community engagement for the Alvin Independent school district, embodies innovation and dedication. Having started as an elementary teacher, Pasarella observed the impact of the so-called “summer slide” on students’ reading skills and decided to take action when she transitioned to her role as the director of family and community engagement for the district. She started by launching a districtwide mobile library, and her initiatives later expanded to include a training course for families to teach pre-K at home, a STEM bus to support teachers with limited resources, and a student-mentorship program.

    What binds this year’s leaders together is their focus on helping their school districts stay future focused, while meeting students’ unique and individual needs.


    Our EdWeek Leaders To Learn From honorees have gone on to receive other national accolades and have become sought after experts and speakers in their respective fields. They include 2021 honorees Quincy Natay and Valerie Bridges, who have been recognized as the Superintendents of the Year in Arizona and North Carolina, respectively; and Tiffany Anderson, a member of the 2015 class, who is now the Topeka, Kan., superintendent and a leading speaker on educating students experiencing poverty.

    EdWeek Leaders To Learn From

    — The Editors, Daniela Franco Brown & Alyson Klein

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    Do you know a school district leader who has brought fresh, successful ideas to their school community? Tell us about them.