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Cross-Boundary Leader: Lou Fabrizio (NC EPFP 79-80)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Friday, May 22, 2015


Cross-Boundary Leader: Lou Fabrizio
(NC EPFP 79-80)

Dr. Lou Fabrizio is the Director of Data, Research, and Federal Policy for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI), where he is responsible for federal reports, management of the state’s K-12 longitudinal data warehouse and the federal grant for a P-20W statewide longitudinal data system, research, and federal policy. He also serves as the DPI federal liaison on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) issues with the U.S. Department of Education. Prior to his role at DPI, Dr. Fabrizio was a testing consultant at CTB/McGraw-Hill, led the Head Start program in Wake County, North Carolina, and was a teacher in Washington, DC. A longtime supporter and alum of North Carolina EPFP, Dr. Fabrizio has attended 31 of the last 33 NC EPFP graduation ceremonies.

EPFP Experience

The 1979-80 cohort was North Carolina’s first EPFP class. At the time, I was a Title I evaluation consultant at DPI, and I read about the EPFP program being launched in Raleigh that year. I was still at a relatively early point in my career and thought it sounded like a great experience, so when I was one of about a dozen people selected for the cohort, I was pleasantly surprised. We had a great mix of Fellows in the group—people from DPI, the governor’s office, the Department of Health and Human Services, school districts—and we enjoyed the program’s focus on networking and hearing different perspectives.

EPFP reinforced what I had been experiencing in my career until then. I started out as a teacher at a private school in Washington, DC, and then moved to North Carolina, where I was the education director, and later, the director, of Wake County’s Head Start program. My role there helped me to better understand education policy at both the state and federal levels. I worked with Congressman Ike Andrews, an advocate of Head Start and early education, to ensure he was aware of the work we were doing in Wake County. Because of my background in science as a physics major and my attention to details, I seemed to be one of the few people I knew in the Head Start programs statewide who had read through and understood the federal government’s new Head Start regulations at the time and was able to work with other folks at the state level on the implementation. By the time I started at DPI and became an EPFP Fellow, I had experience working with members of Congress and leaders across the state and in Washington, so EPFP was a natural next step for me.

I was one of the youngest Fellows in my cohort and was able to interact with people at much higher levels in organizations, which was very exciting to me. I looked forward to our weekly sessions and our national meetings, which were intellectually stimulating and allowed us to continually meet important individuals. I especially enjoyed being able to meet Fellows from different states at the national meetings; in fact, at a meeting in California years later, while I was working for CTB/McGraw-Hill, I ran into another alumni whom I had met at one of our national EPFP events!

To me, the biggest strength of EPFP is that it brings together individuals from different areas of education and government who otherwise might not have the opportunity to interact. Any time you bring together individuals with different backgrounds, skills, and orientations, you make conversations much more interesting. In North Carolina EPFP, it has been great to see how many alumni stay involved and engaged with the program over the years. Many of them present to Fellows during the weekly sessions and attend graduation and other events year after year because it is such a rewarding experience.

Data at the State and Federal Levels

Data is getting more attention now than ever before because of the technology and capabilities we now have to collect and analyze it. When I was working for DPI in the early 1980s, there were only two kinds of computers that were used for analyzing data: a huge mainframe or a large desk top computer system. When I was at CTB/McGraw-Hill, we each had a “mobile” computer which we called a “luggable,” which was as big as a sewing machine, to work with data. Later, when I returned to DPI as the head of statewide testing and accountability, we were using laptop computers. The technology changed tremendously over a relatively short amount of time and made it much easier to make use of data.

A large part of my work at DPI involved oversight of the statewide testing and accountability systems, working with members of the state legislature and state board of education, and meeting the requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB)/ESEA. As part of the creation of the federal NCLB regulations on standards and assessments, I was selected as the only state test director to serve on the U.S. Department of Education’s negotiated rulemaking committee, which involved working with the Department’s staff and attorneys to develop the regulations. It was a fascinating experience and involved the policy skills I had begun developing at the beginning of my career at Head Start and in EPFP. In my current role, as Director of Data, Research, and Federal Policy, I continue to build and use those skills every day.

Leading Across Boundaries

Throughout my career, I’ve interacted with different types of people but also those who work at different levels—from local to state to federal. I always try to be respectful of other people; I don’t find that being antagonistic pays off, and if it does, it’s only a short-term victory.

Something I’ve learned throughout my career is that communication is key. Having ground rules for communication and being willing to listen to other people’s perspectives is important, even if you don’t necessarily agree. I always felt that people should have access to all of the information that they need, but I quickly learned that, at the state level, there wasn’t always good communication among people and departments. In my work, I’ve always tried to go as in depth as I can on a topic during meetings and be open and willing to share the information I have to offer. Communication has the ability to make a big difference and bring people together.

Leadership Lessons Learned

One lesson I learned early in my career was how to delegate. I would often feel like I had to do everything, and when I found myself unable to be as effective as I wanted to be, I started realizing that I had staff who could help me. Delegation makes a huge difference; a team works better when its members can have input on the collective work.

Another leadership lesson I’ve learned is to listen to others before jumping into the conversation. When working on my master’s degree at North Carolina State University, the dean of the school of education, Dr. Carl Dolce, taught me, among other things, that it’s much better to listen to others talk and get the lay of the land before saying what you think. The process of listening before jumping in has been a real benefit to me over my career.

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