Meet the Leaders

Each year, Education Week identifies some of the nation’s most exceptional school district leaders in its Leaders To Learn From report and shines a spotlight on their extraordinary impact on the success of educators and students.

2021 Honorees

2021 Leaders To Learn From
We are excited to reveal our 2021 honorees. These cutting-edge district leaders drew on the foundations they laid and a wellspring of strong relationships to meet their students’ and staffs’ needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and other challenges of the school year.

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Creating Healthier —and Tastier—School Meals
Joe Urban, the director of food and nutrition services in Greenville County Schools, S.C., proves that giving students healthy food options and asking for their input can increase participation and be good for the district’s financial bottom line. He is recognized as a 2020 Leader to Learn From.
Revamping Hiring and Support for Teachers
Gonzalo La Cava, the chief of human resources in The School District of Palm Beach County, Fla., has tackled high teacher vacancies by building a pipeline into the teaching profession for non-traditional candidates, better matching teachers’ skills and experiences to the needs of schools, and ensuring that new teachers get support during the critical early years on the job. He is recognized as a 2020 Leader To Learn From.
A Superintendent’s Commitment to Getting Students ‘Future Ready’
Bryan Johnson, the superintendent of Hamilton County Schools in Chattanooga, Tenn., has created an array of “future-ready” institutes, where students gain real-world exposure– through mentorship, job-shadow opportunities, and rigorous coursework—to in-demand jobs while they are still in high school. He is recognized as a 2020 Leader To Learn From.
Building a Culture of Inclusion for All Students
Inclusion is the guiding light of special education. Nellie Aspel, the director of exceptional children in Cleveland County Schools, N.C., has embraced it as the keystone for helping all students often considered difficult to teach, especially those students struggling with mental health. She is recognized as a 2020 Leader To Learn From.
Championing a Knowledge-Building Curriculum, One Classroom at a Time
Curriculum matters, but so does how teachers make use of it. Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning Jana Beth Francis helps teachers in Daviess County Public Schools, Ky., unpack a new core English/language arts curriculum and use it to build students’ content expertise year after year. She is recognized as a 2020 Leader To Learn From.
Opening the Books on How a School District Spends Money
Nolberto Delgadillo, the chief financial officer in Tulsa Public Schools, Okla., has skillfully made the district’s budgeting process more transparent by inviting parents and community members to dig into the budget with him. He translates complicated and arcane policies that shape school spending into easy to understand language. He is recognized as a 2020 Leader To Learn From.
Creating a Foothold for the Most Vulnerable Students
Johnnye Waller, the student services director for North Carolina’s Lee County Schools, helps students facing homelessness gain a solid footing for the school year. Her summer enrichment program pairs basic necessities with academic supports and exciting field trips. She is recognized as a 2020 Leader To Learn From.
An Unorthodox Strategy Closes Academic Gaps
In a test-obsessed K-12 system, Superintendent Shari Camhi has taken a holistic view of education without sacrificing rigorous academics. The Baldwin Union Free School District, N.Y., leader has helped close graduation gaps, and black and Latino students in the district far outpace their peers in the county and state. Her secret ingredient: themed career academies open to all students. She is recognized as a 2020 Leader To Learn From.
On a Mission to Help Student-Teachers Thrive
Marsha Francis, the program manager of the First STEP program in Georgia’s Fulton County district, has overhauled how the Fulton County, Ga., school system supports teacher-candidates during their clinical experience, by providing carefully selected mentors, professional development, a stipend, and guaranteed placement in the district after graduation.
Making Technology Work for Schools
As the technology director in the Vail School District in Vail, Ariz., Mark Breen’s tech savvy and deep understanding of what principals need has simplified the technology educators need to do their jobs and freed up time for them to focus on students. He is recognized as a 2020 Leader To Learn From.
Waging a Fight for Equity Amid Affluence
2019 Leader To Learn From Shomari Jones advocates for low-income students and students of color whose needs are often obscured by the high-achieving, mostly affluent school system.
Elevating the Arts to Improve Student Achievement
"I believe this is the exit [from poverty] through the arts,"says fine arts instructional specialist Christie-Jo Adams of her efforts to use arts integration to help turn around three struggling schools.