Leading with Data, Research, and Heart
.I grew up in a rural agricultural Peruvian town, home to one of the most important archaeological sites on the Peruvian coast and to the Fundo Mamacona where the National Peruvian Paso Horse Exhibition takes place each year.
Growing up in a rural area inspired in me a love of animals and nature. I spent my childhood days overturning rocks and exploring different lifeforms, pulling apart flowers to study their form, and embarking on hiking expeditions to the nearby mountains looking for new specimens. And as someone with no siblings, I especially enjoyed my many pets, who were by my side in every expedition I took.
These explorations filled me with wonder and awe–it was like growing up in a joyful and boundless science lab. As a result, I pursued a degree in science and developed a deep love for all animals, and dogs in particular.
Dogs—adopted, rescued, or fostered—have also continued to be a part of my family. In particular, since adulthood, I have found myself drawn to beagles as they are loyal, friendly, fun, inquisitive, and courageous—traits that I relate to, value, and seek to instill in students and others. I currently have two beagle boys: Celsius and Ohm, named after units for temperature and electrical resistance (honoring their energetic nature). Before them came Xy and Mendel, named after my passion for genetics. Importantly, through my dogs—known as the “STEM beagles”—I am able to live both my passions by sharing my love for STEM education through their names. They are also a great conversation starter with students and staff alike!
Since childhood, my passion, appreciation, and affinity for science and dogs have remained a constant in my life. I became a science teacher and designed STEM programs with the goal of igniting the same wonder and curiosity. Likewise, my science background has allowed me to develop skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, data analysis, and effective communication, which are essential in leadership and core to my leadership practice.
We cannot always predict how our early experiences will play out in our adult lives, but in my case, I am very fortunate that my personal life and my career dovetailed in such meaningful and rewarding ways.
When applying for a fellowship back in April, I was asked to reflect on a particular event that shaped or impacted my leadership philosophy. Please find an excerpt below.
I was born in Miami, Florida, and grew up in Lima, Peru, amidst much social unrest and turmoil. This political context had significant impacts on many families, and mine was no exception. A few years before I was born, my family’s successful soda-production business, started by my great-grandparents around 1890 but then headed by my father, was seized by the government. My father and our family never recovered the business or received any indemnification for this loss.
This single event had a profound impact on my father and my mother and, as a result, on my upbringing and identity. My father had dropped out of college in his senior year to assume the management of the family business before it was seized, and my mother had gone to technical school to become an administrative assistant, a common choice for women at the time. They frequently shared their hard-won philosophy of life with me as I was growing up: Education is the greatest gift that anyone can give or receive, as it can never be taken away from you. This lesson immediately comes to mind when I look back at the main experiences that have shaped my development as a school leader and human being, as well as when I implement them in my practice.
As years went by, I grew to fully grasp the meaning of my parents’ assertion, a meaning that continued to evolve to ultimately become the core tenet of my personal and professional practice as a school leader. Education is a right and is essential to survival; it provides us with purpose, resilience, and a path to our dreams. Material possessions come and go, while education is the constant that helps us recognize our interconnectedness and common humanity, and reminds us that diversity is our greatest strength. Importantly, it is our lifelong commitment to growth and improvement that contributes to creating a better, more just, and sustainable world.
My parents gave me the greatest gift: an outstanding education. My leadership practice was further influenced by the amazing educators who have made a significant impact on my learning journey and the exceptional women leaders who have mentored and supported my professional development, while celebrating my multicultural identity. In essence, my leadership practice continues to be shaped by all the people—parents, colleagues, teachers, and friends—who have touched my life. It all comes down to community—the heart of an outstanding education. It is with this understanding that my school leadership philosophy is rooted in my deep belief that just as an outstanding education is indeed the greatest gift anyone can receive, leading a school is the greatest privilege, honor, and responsibility anyone can have to give the gift of education to others. Consequently, I strive to increase access, empower faculty and students, and infuse all school members with the joy of seeing education as an integral part of everyone's life and the way of realizing their hopes and dreams with courage. Scholarship and strong character go together, and both are essential to the development of the human spirit.
For these reasons, fostering in students and the school community an innate sense of caring for the world and responsibility to humankind has always been my top priority. I seek to promote a deep understanding that the value of an outstanding education lies within the continued pursuit of excellence and in making the choice to use that education with responsibility, empathy, and compassion to be internationally minded and enrich the world. The aim is to collectively create a school community that operates under the premise that everyone's gifts and talents are more valuable and have a larger synergistic effect when people work together towards a shared goal: to provide all students with the best possible whole-child education and instill a profound sense of pride and belonging among all members of the school community.
As alumni carry and expand the footprint of the school's mission and core values to make a difference and create a better world for all, it becomes evident that—as my parents shared with me—an outstanding education is indeed the greatest gift that anyone can give or receive. My practice and duty are to honor the extraordinary privilege of being a school leader through my lifelong commitment to learning in pursuit of continuous improvement to best serve others with utmost dedication, integrity, and humility while striving to instill these values in those whom I have the privilege of guiding.
Dr. Paola V. Clark
International Educational Leader