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Isabel DiMola, Community Superintendent
- What is your current role and professional history?
Currently, I serve as the community superintendent of District 21 in Brooklyn, NY. I began my career as a social studies teacher at Abraham Lincoln High School in 1992. After teaching for over seven years, I became an assistant principal at Richard R. Green High School of Teaching and was appointed as principal in 2004. In 2008, I became a high school superintendent responsible for 51 high schools throughout Brooklyn. In 2009, I was named acting superintendent for Queens High Schools and then in December 2009 I became the community superintendent for District 21.
- What is exceptional leadership?
Exceptional leadership happens when there is a clear vision articulated in a manner where all stakeholders understand what is being strived for and then given the opportunity to collaborate on developing the plan on how to reach goals. Exceptional leaders understand the assets they have and work to build the talents and capacities of those they lead.
As educators, we have a tremendous responsibility to the students we serve. We must get it right, because if we do not, individuals as well as our nation will be casualties of our failure. Therefore, we must have leaders who understand how to affect change and build on past success, who can construct a vision and support it to fruition.
- Why do you believe your role as a superintendent is a critical lever to student achievement?
I see my role first as a partner to each of my schools and their networks in defining high instructional expectations and in building the capacity of school leaders to affect positive change. My role is critical as I bring a consistent, rigorous standard to my district and an understanding that regardless of where students start, at the lowest or highest end of performance, it is our responsibility to ensure continual forward progress. My role is one of support but also of accountability. As a leader, I am clear in articulating expectations and hold school leaders accountable in reaching those expectations. It is within that partnership as well as the accountability where the leverage for improvement for student achievement lies.
- How do you continue to develop yourself professionally?
My professional development comes from several avenues. The professional learning communities established within the Office of Superintendents is at the forefront of my development. In addition, I work closely with the Children First Networks in my district around the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS) and Teacher Effectiveness. I enjoy participating in the DOE's offerings of professional development around the Quality Review, CCLS and teacher effectiveness. I am a member of several professional organizations and keep current with professional journals and texts to ensure that I am equipped to meet the needs of my students and schools.
- Tell us about one or two personal or professional experiences that have shaped you as a leader.
During my sixth year of teaching, I completed my course work and earned my school administration credentials. Although I had no set plans to take on a leadership role, my principal encouraged me to take a series of workshops offered by the High School Superintendent’s Office called Teacher to Assistant Principal. This experience had a deep impact on my development as a leader. I cannot honestly say that I remember the specific course work or the topics we discussed. However, what I do remember is the professional discourse of the group and the opportunities for all participants to engage in high level, meaningful professional conversations around our beliefs on the topic of the day. I learned that even though there may not always be agreement on the how of doing something, if there is agreement on the what needs to be done and why, a strong leader will be able to motivate, guide, support, and encourage people to maintain the course toward reaching the overarching goals.
- What is unique about leading in New York City?
Recognizing that individual leadership must align to and exist within a larger entity and overall vision is at the core of being a New York City leader. Creating an individual vision for a district within the larger framework of the system makes leadership unique in New York City. Deeply understanding the diversity of a system this large with over one million students of all races, ethnicities, religions, social circumstances, and academic starting points makes leadership in New York City unique.