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Cross-Boundary Leader: Larry Leverett (NJ EPFP 88-89)

Posted By Sarah McCann, Monday, June 5, 2017

 Cross-Boundary Leader:
Larry Leverett
(NJ EPFP 88-89)

 

Dr. Larry Leverett served as the Executive Director of the Panasonic Foundation, a corporate foundation with a mission to help public school systems with high percentages of children in poverty to improve learning for all students. Although recently retired, he maintains the passion and expertise he brought to the role, along with a deep commitment to improving teaching and learning for all students.

Prior to joining Panasonic Foundation, he spent 16 years serving as a superintendent in three school districts:  Greenwich, Connecticut, Plainfield, New Jersey, and Englewood, New Jersey. His career in education included urban and suburban experiences as a classroom teacher, elementary principal, assistant superintendent, school board member, and Assistant State Commissioner of Education.  Dr. Larry Leverett is at present supporting school district leadership and superintendent teams with governance effectiveness, team alignment, and equity strategies.

Career: Why Cross-Boundary Collaboration is Important in Education

“This is what I believe I am here to do.” 

From early on in my career to the last day as Executive Director for the Panasonic Foundation, my focus has been to advance educational equity and a commitment to ensuring every child has what they need to be successful. It was a career-long journey to advance the focus on children with the greatest need. I served as a Superintendent for three school districts over a total of 16 years. I loved my work and the help I was offering my districts. My work in education follows the mission statement of The Plainfield Public Schools closely: “In partnership with its community, shall do whatever it takes for every student to achieve high academic standards. No alibis, no excuses, no exceptions!”

There are tremendous disparities in society that play out in our schools, mainly with children of color and those with special needs. They are not provided with the resources they need to disrupt the challenges presented by institutional barriers associated with race and class. The general issues in our education system have not been addressed because of our failure to address structural barriers that constrain access to opportunities supportive of student success. Cross-boundary leadership focused on collaboration across education, health, family wellness, and human service-oriented educational, governmental and non-profit organizations opens lines of collaboration necessary to provide comprehensive supports to children and families impacted by multiple risk factors.

As a cross-boundary leader you must build relationships inside your agency and outside, to ensure that the broad spectrum of available resources is effectively used. Partnerships and collaborations must be a core leadership value to provide the wrap-around services required to meet the diverse needs of children and their families. This is no time for “lone rangers” or heroes who rely upon silo-based approached to address the complex issues that influence student and family success.  School and district leadership that systematically works across institutional boundaries is essential to provide a diverse array of supports in and outside the schools.  

During my time as the Superintendent for Plainfield Public Schools, one of New Jersey’s 30 poorest school districts, I was faced with the loss of millions of dollars in state funding that would have eradicated a comprehensive community schools strategy that involved education and human service supports for our children and families. Fortunately, our efforts to provide comprehensive wrap-around services evolved through several years of work to build relationships across sector boundaries.  The history of collaboration resulted in shared ownership of the community school approach and provided the relationship trust necessary to challenge legislative decisions that would have negatively impacted collaborative investments to build student and family support systems.   Fortunately, we invested in building community leadership and had the relationship trust to tackle a significant negative impact on inter-agency/inter-governmental efforts to support a system-wide community schools approach. We were successful because of the cross-sector support that included the mayor, elected and appointed officials, health service leaders, clergy leaders, non-profit organizations, and community and parent organizations.  The wisdom of working across boundaries to build shared ownership and responsibility not only helped us to provide comprehensive services for children and families; it proved to be the basis for overcoming significant obstacles that threatened the partnerships we had developed. 

Leadership Lessons Learned

One of the biggest leadership lessons I’ve learned is how crucial it is for leaders to truly know who they are. It is important for a leader to be grounded in a small set of core values that defines their approach to leadership. Leaders must be anchored by a set of deeply embedded core values that informs principled leadership. Core values are important to shaping the leader’s theory of change that outlines the major assumptions on how to move an organization toward its mission. Within education, I carry these values to ensure the success of all learners we are charged to educate.

We must commit to an unshakeable belief in our ability to help all children to succeed in school, family, and community.  The commitment to this belief places that responsibility on leaders and adults interacting with our learners to have high expectation for themselves and the children they serve.  Value each learner and work to release the genius within every child.  

We cannot be successful in our roles as school and district leaders working in isolation of community-based systems and resources.  Cross-boundary leadership is essential to ensuring broad, comprehensive systems of support required to meet student needs. We can’t get the job done for our children working in isolation.

Focus on the classroom and providing school teachers and principals with the supports needed to ensure high quality instruction to all children. Invest in building differential support and capacity building systems to grow and retain leaders in districts, schools, and classrooms.

EPFP Experience and Value

I participated in EPFP as an assistant superintendent and the Fellow experience was a great breakthrough opportunity for my career. EPFP gave me exposure to a network that was not available to me before. For example, it opened the door that allowed me to grow as a leader and gave me the ability to network with policy makers and practitioners across the country. I have a broader network thanks to EPFP and for several decades enjoyed a career supported by EPFP colleagues that I have called upon for advice. EPFP gave me the space and opportunity to discuss my practice confidentially. The biggest value of EPFP was the connections I made. Relationships that I established during my time as a Fellow have been sustained throughout my career as an educational leader. The use of the ever-expanding network has benefited me greatly. Even though I leave formal leadership, this interview is an example of alumni engagement and through this opportunity I can reach out to other Fellows. I value the relationships I have in DC, in my state, and nationally.

Throughout my affiliation with the Institute for Educational Leadership, I believe EPFP has always managed to be at the forefront of providing a space for policy discussions and defining policy for leaders involved in our school systems as well as those in legislature, the press, etc. No matter the agenda change, EPFP is always in the front of learning and teaching, informing others of trends, policies, and developments in the field of education.  

Tags:  alumni  cross-boundary leader  equity  leadership 

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