About Leaders To Learn From

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

    Nearly a decade ago Education Week began a project to spotlight some of the nation’s best K-12 district leaders—highlighting their innovative strategies, profiling their track records of success, and sharing their insights and successes with the field at large.

    From the beginning, we recognized that leadership in our nation’s districts takes many forms. Our annual profiles highlight all levels of district leadership: superintendents, food-service leaders, student services coordinators, counseling staff, budget officers, and transportation and facilities managers, among others.

    Our honorees have gone on to receive other national accolades and have become sought after experts and speakers in their respective fields. They include Mohammed Choudhury, a member of the 2018 Leaders To Learn From class, who is national leader on school integration, and Tiffany Anderson, a member of the 2015 class, who is now a leading speaker on educating students in poverty.

    Our 2021 Leaders spent weeks and years assembling the foundations to tackle the 2020-21 school year’s unparalleled challenges.

    Amid the flashpoints of the pandemic and racial justice protests and the hurdles of navigating remote learning and social-distancing rules, district leaders rediscovered what they’ve known all along: Relationships and trust are core to the education enterprise. And our newest crop of leaders drew on those assets to guide them through the challenging year.

    In the Alisal Union School District, in Salinas, Calif., Carissa Purnell ventured into the fields as the pandemic raged to ensure that farm workers and their families had critical information about COVID-19 testing. Overcoming years of distrust, Detroit’s Nikolai Vitti and Sharlonda Buckman made parents indispensable partners in the quest to return to in-person schooling, fine-tune the district’s remote learning plan, and enlist door-to-door efforts to find missing students. In Bakersfield, Calif., Jason Hodgson was able to help teachers pivot rapidly to remote learning, thanks to his work in prior years when he joined forces with teachers to develop an in-house “university” to provide tailor-made professional development courses taught primarily by district teachers.

    The common thread in all of our 2021 Leaders’ work: They adapted to meet the exceptional challenges of 2020. But those adaptations were built on months and years of deliberate, often invisible work.

    — The Editors, Stephen Sawchuk & Denisa R. Superville

    Nominate a Leader

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