Education leader takes action to address public school challenges
For the last few years, public school education has been at the top of the list of hot button issues. Across the nation, teachers, students, school administrators and parents are under tremendous stress navigating changing pandemic protocols, mass shootings, teacher shortages, learning loss and academic autonomy of educators, among other issues.
Public education in states like Texas has been politicized over debates surrounding what kind of books students should be reading, to whether educators should be allowed to teach about Black history, to parents having control over school curriculum. Many of these conversations have more to do with social issues than education itself.
Regardless of the current turmoil, there are many dedicated educators who are willing to fight the good fight to find solutions to this national crisis. Dr. Nadia Lopez is an award-winning educator and founder of Mott Bridges Academy, a STEAM-focused middle school in Brownsville, Brooklyn, N.Y.
She recently announced her program “The Lopez effect” to help principals and administrators with the strategic planning tools to deal with leadership and personal development, school improvement strategies, community building, self care and mental health concerns and team development.
Lopez spoke with the Defender about her vision for establishing a STEAM-focused school and lessons she’s learned as an educator and school leader.
Defender: Why did you launch the school you founded? What does it provide that you saw other public schools weren’t?
Dr. Nadia Lopez: There are 1700 schools in New York City, so why open up another one? For me specifically, having worked in schools that already existed, some of it came down to a lack of buy-in for what education can do for children. But that also stemmed from the lack of leadership. I’m not saying they weren’t good leaders, there was just a lack of accountability for how they showed up and supported their team. Opening and running a school, I know that 100 percent of what my team does is based off of the example that I set. I can’t talk about the struggles of education and what it’s like for teachers if I don’t continue to teach myself.
It was important for me to create a school that I felt embodied the needs of specific community, empower my teachers, give them autonomy and to challenge the system when it wasn’t working right. A lot of people conformed to policies that were put into place by people who never stepped foot in our schools or didn’t have leadership qualifications. You have elected officials who have no education background, but yet are making decision for educators. I want my scholars to take over the world. I want to have a school that closes prisons.
Defender: What did you learn about the inner structure of the public school system from your experience?
Lopez: It’s not designed for our success. How do we take children from where they are and understand what they know and become practical with their learnings? For example, I had my social science revamp how they teach history. Stop teaching chronological order, teach them thematics, and then within that, you can teach them the timelines to connect the dots. Students need to be taught from a critical lens. This teaching style kept us in a box and the only people benefitting from companies that were selling curriculum, books, and technology, making us feel like we are missing out on this movement.
Defender: Talk about your leadership style. What are some key priorities when creating an environment conducive to teachers and students?
Lopez: I’m a disruptive leader. I’m a serving leader. I understand that God placed me in this position to impact the lives of this generation. I need to know the needs of my teachers, not as an evaluative person but as an empathetic one. The same goes for parents. We create narratives without understanding a parent maybe sick at home. Poverty has a way of limiting our ability to believe that we should be a part of the process because we’ve been so marginalized that we don’t know that we have voices and ownership. I also recognize that I didn’t get here myself. It required a team.
Defender: Your work has taken you into schools in Texas. What thoughts do you have around the politics that impact the public school system compared to education models we see in Europe?
Lopez: I don’t live in Texas but I’ve done a lot of work with teachers in Texas. There are people who are not educators who make these decisions. One of the arguments is on the usage of the word slavery and [to change it] to “involuntary relocation.” I have an issue with that. You wouldn’t say that about human trafficking. We wouldn’t say, “Why don’t we change the language so somebody else can feel better so that we’re not being accusatory of someone’s actions that created harm.”
It shows a lack of respect for the teaching profession. It criminalizes our education system. It makes teachers feel like they can’t be honest about the current landscape in fear of losing their job or license.
In Europe, education is highly respected. They are seen as agents of God. In Switzerland for example, parents are not allowed to have influence over teachers’ curriculum in any way. Teachers are responsible for the kids. These educators are fully trained, and they constantly develop themselves professionally. We don’t have that in the United States. If you’re not a savvy person or at a school that doesn’t provide those resources, you don’t know where to start.
DN: Watch videos discussing her new program and advice to school leaders and administrators