OCTOBER 2022 | DR. CHRISTINA KISHIMOTO
Gladys Cruz was introduced to me as incredibly smart, thoughtful, and very passionate about making a difference. As I have gotten to know her, I would add that she is also family-oriented, whether checking in on her granddaughter at school or on her network of education colleagues that she treats like familia. She is a person that leads with great humility and that comes from deep respect for people young and old, because beneath that humility is a fierce determination and passion to deliver on the equity policy work that she believes our nation’s children and youth deserve.
As superintendent of Questar III BOCES in New York since 2015, she provides leadership oversight for 23 school districts. On top of that, she is also president-elect of AASA, the School Superintendent Association. How does she do it? I recently sat down with Gladys over Zoom to ask her this question and more.
I first met Gladys in Nashville, Tennessee as elections for AASA leaders were occuring. There was an audible buzz in the atmosphere. Her name kept coming up as people asked one another, “You voted already? You voted for Gladys, right?” It was a statement more than a question, and there were emotions behind it. In a strong field of candidates, Gladys had so many supporters that I knew I needed to get to know her better, especially after she ended her campaign speech with an impassioned, “Si se puede!” There was also something unique that Gladys brought to the table as so well stated by Dr. Alex Marrero, Superintendent of the Denver Public Schools. “Gladys has been a pioneer in education, trail blazing in NY for years. She has successfully placed superintendents throughout NY and also curated the first Latino Supt Academy for AASA. Her impact on policy will be revolutionary now as the first Latina president of AASA – a position duly elected by her peers!”
Dr. Cruz has a deep education experience. She began her career as a teacher in Puerto Rico Since joining Questar III BOCES in 1998, Cruz has held a number of leadership positions including Chief Operating Officer/Deputy Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent, Director of School Improvement and BETAC Specialist. and her education experience ranges from K-12 schools to universities in New York State and Puerto Rico. Dr. Cruz holds a Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction and a master’s degree in Curriculum Development and Instructional Technology from the State University of New York at Albany. In addition, she holds a master’s degree in Bilingual Education and a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and English from La Universidad del Turabo in Puerto Rico. But it’s not her degrees that necessarily have prepared her for the challenges of her leadership role, but rather the vast network of great leaders that she supports, mentors, collaborates with and learns from.
Dr. Cruz’s work at AASA is extensive. She serves as a commissioner of AASA’s Learning 2025 Network: A National Commission on Student Centered-Equity-Focused Education. She also serves as a lead teacher for the AASA Aspiring Superintendents Academy for Latino and Latina Leaders and is a mentor in the AASA National Superintendent Certification Program. She is also a member of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. One of the things you learn quickly about Gladys is that she is a fierce supporter for growing future superintendents. Her lived-experiences, growing up straddling two different cultures, and the challenges faced by women leaders of color, position her as a leader for equity at the policy table, whether it is equity in the leadership ranks or in the classroom.
“Do the teachers look like the children that they’re teaching? Are they diverse, because we know that the student population is diverse, and then you move from there… are the voices of all the children and all the educators being heard?”
— Dr. Gladys Cruz
Dr. Cruz’s leadership journey is a compelling one. Gladys has an origin story that is too familiar but in too many places in the U.S. often not celebrated and supported in our schools, as she co-existed between the culture in Puerto Rico and the culture of Albany, New York, switching between her Spanish and English languages. This is a testament to her resilience, sometimes welcomed with pride, and sometimes owning out of forced necessity in a U.S. based culture that historically has struggled with honoring dual language cultures. But she prevailed and her stubborn focus on the next generations that followed her show up in her commitment to and longevity at her current organization, the Questar III BOCES in New York. There she has delivered innovative student-centered programs including CTE and a technical learning program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute for high school seniors interested in STEM careers. Along with high quality instructional designs, she insists on the integration of cultural and language celebration and pride.
The inequities that plague our social systems were not created overnight. Years of systemic bias and racism created the current environment. Likewise there are no quick fixes and long-term structural fixes will only happen with committed leaders like Dr. Gladys Cruz who are boldly pushing the equity agenda forward, while developing the leaders we need for the future. Dr. Cruz is our October Voice for Equity.