When I first heard the news that our beloved former Superintendent Dr. Michelle King passed away, I felt a tremendous loss. I immediately recalled one of our first meetings with her--I was accompanying a group of teachers who were looking to pitch our then-new superintendent on ideas for improving the implementation of school climate reforms. These teachers talked about how they wanted to change not just policies, but also hearts and minds when it comes to prioritizing students and equity.
They wanted to foster a culture where we could confront our biases, unlearn racism, and each feel greater ownership over disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline. I remember Dr. King almost leaping from her chair as she proclaimed: “Yes, we need a campaign to change hearts and minds, an army of change makers!” The meeting went over the allotted time--in fact, her polite aides kept trying to nudge her along to her next appointment--but Dr. King clearly relished brainstorming and dreaming with some of LAUSD’s finest educators. “Let’s do this on a regular basis,” she asked before departing our meeting.
That moment, now a memory, meant a great deal to our teachers and to me, personally. As a black educator, I could see myself reflected in Dr. Michelle King’s journey. I, too, am a proud product and teacher of public education. I, too, am no stranger to being the only black woman in a room filled with elected and appointed leaders in education.
I can only imagine the barriers (internal and external) Dr. King confronted to become the first black woman to helm the nation’s second largest school district. Despite the clear battles she waged in her leadership trajectory, she still believed in unity, in healing, in the potential of hearts and minds to change. That is the legacy Dr. King leaves behind for us all to learn.
As we engage in much-needed healing and forward movement in our district, we can look to the leadership lessons of Dr. Michelle King. Let’s seize this moment to push hearts, minds, and policies ever-closer to equity and justice for our students. To quote another mighty Dr. King: “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
With sadness and hope,