Giving Children a Chance

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I AM the youngest of 10 children in my family, and the only one born in the United States. My father was a municipal judge who fled Haiti during the Duvalier regime. He and my mother settled in the Bedford-Stuyvesant area of Brooklyn, but could not initially afford to bring over my four brothers and five sisters, who stayed in Haiti with relatives.

Since he did not speak English fluently, my father worked as a janitor and had a second job as a hospital security guard. He later took a third job driving a taxi at night to pay for my tuition at Nazareth Regional High School, a Roman Catholic school in Brooklyn. My parents were determined that I was going to get a good education, and wanted to keep me away from local troubles, which did claim two of my childhood friends.

Working so many jobs overwhelmed my father. He had a heart attack and died at age 59 behind the wheel of his taxi. My mother found it difficult to cope without my father and moved back to Haiti in 1989 with two of my siblings. I thought I would have to leave school because I had no money for tuition, but Nazareth agreed to pay my way.

I wound up sleeping in my car for almost three months, showering at school after my track team's practice. I also held down two jobs, both in retailing, and one of my sisters and I rented a basement apartment in East Flatbush.

After graduating from high school in 1990, I attended St. Francis College in Brooklyn, on athletic and academic scholarships. I worked first at the New York City Board of Education, where H. Carl McCall was president, then in his office after he became New York State comptroller. I later worked in the office of Ruth Messinger, then the Manhattan borough president.

I broadened my nonprofit organization experience at the Faith Center for Community Development while earning my master's of public administration at New York University. I married my high school sweetheart, Melissa, and we now have two children.

In 2001, I began to work toward my original goal -- improving educational opportunities for children -- and joined the city's Department of Education. I was later recruited under the new administration of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to help start a program as part of his Children First reforms.

In 2003, I became the Department of Education's executive director for parent and community engagement, and, two years later, senior counselor to Joel I. Klein, then the school chancellor. He taught me a great deal about leadership and how to change the education system. But I began to realize public education could not be transformed without great principals who function like C.E.O.'s of their schools.

So in 2006 I returned to the nonprofit world, to New Leaders, a national organization founded in 2000 to recruit and develop leaders to turn around low-performing public schools. Initially, I managed city partnerships and expanded our program in areas like New Orleans and Charlotte, N.C.

In 2011, I became C.E.O., and revamped our program to produce even stronger student achievement results, streamlined our costs, diversified funding sources and forged new partnerships. We have an annual budget of $31.5 million, which comes from foundations, businesses, individuals and government grants, and a staff of about 200 people at a dozen locations.

We have a new partnership with Pearson Education to provide greater learning opportunities to public school principals. The goal of these efforts is to have a great principal in each of our nation's public schools -- to make sure that, just as I did, all kids get a chance at success.

As told to Elizabeth Olson.

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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