Insights and actions for more inclusive practices in education
December 15, 2020
The Change Agent
Dr. Ken Magdaleno
Founding Executive Director of the Center for Leadership, Equity, and Research (CLEAR)
To raise awareness of inequities for educators and students of color and provide information, examples, and resources for how to address these inequities.
How can we build a more inclusive system in order to make things better for all? Join guest, Dr. Kenneth Magdaleno, as he discusses his personal journey and the work of the Center for Leadership, Equity, and Research (CLEAR), which strives to meet that goal by providing resources to develop leaders, address inequity, and facilitate educator collaboration.
Host Bio: Dr. Chris Balow is the Chief Academic Officer at SchoolMint. Dr. Balow has a Ph.D in Educational Psychology and served for 33 years as an educator in various roles with focuses on literacy, mental health, and the behavioral and emotional growth of students. He has worked the last 6 years in the educational technology field to promote student success on a larger scale.
Welcome to the podcast ChangeAgents in K-12. It's my distinct pleasure today to have Dr. Ken Magdaleno, uh, with us, um, Dr. Magdaleno, uh, most recently served as director of the doctoral program in educational leadership at California state university Fresno. In addition to serving as co-director of the collaborative online doctorate in educational leadership, under development at California state university channel islands and Fresno, Dr. Magdalena earned his doctorate in educational leadership from UCLA, and is the founding director of the center for leadership equity and research, also known as CLEAR. He has published works and educational leaders that acknowledgement gap in the journal of school leadership and mentoring Latina and Latino leaders in keeping it improving tomorrow school leaders, his primary research interests are areas of critical race theory, social justice, leadership, mentoring, and developing educational leaders of color. I've known Dr. Magdaleno for a few years, and he's just an amazing person. We are just so pleased to have you welcome Ken.
Yeah. Fresno state was a, um, was an interesting place. I actually came to higher education after spending a number of years in P 12. So Fresno state, I, I actually, uh, came up here in 2005, uh, after having completed my doctorate at UCLA and was hired as a assistant professor in the department of educational leadership. The main role that I had was actually to help the school of education and that particular department, uh, begin to change the demographics and to be more inclusive of, uh, leaders of color in the central Valley at the time, it was, uh, it was pretty, uh, white, uh, to say the least, I think my first class had one, uh, Hispanic. And, uh, so over a period of time, we wanted to be able to change the program so that it began to look much like the, uh, the demographics. Of the area that we worked in. And, um, and eventually became an associate professor and, uh, uh, chair of the master's program. And then a few years later, uh, became director of the doctoral program in educational leadership, which I absolutely loved and, uh, taught a course called theories of cross-cultural education. It sounded much more, uh, theoretical because it turned out to be, uh, began mostly with discussions of race and, you know, that's, uh, what professors do is that they change the syllabus to meet their areas of expertise. So they went well, it went well.
I was there for 14 years, 15 years. And, um, learned a lot about higher education. Academia is an interesting place to be, especially after you've served 15 years or 16 years in P-12 and that the systems have light goals in the sense that they are educating people, educating students. But the level of the level of engagement generally, uh, with, with masters and doctoral students was, um, was absolutely a great learning opportunity for me and an opportunity to say what I wanted.
Yeah, actually, uh, Chris, I was a, I was a late comer to education. I, uh, went back to start my second year of college, uh, at a community college when I was 38 years old, I was raised in a family, my wife and I were, uh, you know, starting our family, keeping things, going, coaching, soccer teams, doing all of that stuff. And I became very frustrated with civil service. I actually worked for a County down South, um, because I always felt that I should be paid what I was worth rather than paid the same as everyone else. And so I went into private industry, uh, in the agricultural industry, down in the Oxnard Ventura area and became, I was managing a packing house. Absolutely loved the job. Uh, I thought it was, um, I thought I was in fat city. You know, I had a car allowance, a decent salary, good health, and, uh, really had an opportunity to work with some great people. And then years later, um, the owner came in and there were some difficulties and, um, in, in their personal life. And so landed up closing the plant down. So here I am, 37 years old with three kids and really one year of education to speak of. And so a friend of mine who was a head football coach at one of the high schools, asked me if I was interested in being a walk-on coach. And I, I took up his offer and loved it and ended up going back to school to become a coach, uh, becoming a teacher was kind of secondary. And, uh, absolutely it turned out to be one of those times where when one door closes another one opens and probably in retrospect was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. And so I was a, was a middle school teacher to begin with seventh grade F academic core up here in chow Chella, and then went into high school and, and, um, taught just about every course you could teach, because back then, you know, if, if you didn't have a credential, you could get an emergency credential for anything. And so I completed that, the teaching experience down in the Valley and eventually moved back to Ventura where I became a, um, I was teaching middle school and then, uh, went into high school, then became a high school counselor for one year at a Royal high school in semi Valley, after which I received a call from the assistant superintendent at the former district that I was at. And he asked me if I was interested in serving as an elementary principal very quickly, I answered, you know, I was a high school coach, middle school guy, and really didn't know anything about elementary school only called back twice. And I knew it wasn't because I was so good at the level since I'd never served there. And it turned out that, uh, what they were really looking for was someone who knew the area. And it was about five minutes from where I'd grown up and someone that was Spanish speaking, because it was a, it was a title one school with a heavy, uh, Latino population. But that was not what made up my mind. I asked him what the starting salary was, and it was about a $20,000 raise from what I was counselor. So I told them, I'd send in my resume, fill out the application. And, you know, I wasn't stupid. I had a family to take care of. So, uh, long story short, I ended up getting a job as a elementary principal and, uh, eventually became a middle school principal. And the same assistant superintendent asked me when I was going to get my doctorate. And I looked at him and I in very academic terms, I said, are you high? And he said, so why would you say that? And I said, well, I'm too old. And he asked me, uh, how old I would be in four years. And I believe I was going to be 56. And he said, well, you might as well be that age with a doctorate. And I didn't really have a comeback. So I ended up applying to UCLA getting in and absolutely loved it. I was a principal of the entire time that I was doing my doctorate. And, um, as a result of that, my dissertation was the development of a mentoring program for Latino and Latina school leaders was actually superintendents, um, in the state of California because there was nothing like that. And there was a real inequity in, in my research, I noticed that there was a real inequity in the number of Latino leaders in the state of California, as it pertained to the number of Latino students in the state of California at the time, there were, uh, I believe the number of Latino students were about 45% and, um, Latino leaders, there were 1,056 school districts and 75 of them were led by a Latino or Latina.
Yeah, it was a real gap. And, uh, so I figured that one of the things I could do was to begin to, um, develop a program so that the leaders could not only get hired, but they could sustain their positions. Um, because sustaining a position was as important if not more so than being hired. And a lot of the folks were being sent to second language type poverty schools with no support. And so that was the primary reason that I started that mentoring program. And it's actually starting at 17th year now. And, uh, in fact, that's who I just did a podcast with last weekend. Yeah. So, you know, it's all been a, it's all been a wonderful journey.
You know, I've talked to quite a few people and your impact on the California educational landscape is well known. And that story, I think really gives us a flavor of the, of the impact and the long lasting impact with bringing all these Latino leaders, um, into the field. Fantastic. So now let's jump ahead, fast forward to your current endeavor and how did you come to found a nonprofit organization focusing on social justice and equity.
I've I've thought of that. And actually there were two reasons. One is that I had left the original organization. I mean, I was working full time, but I always did other things. And, and, uh, I left the organization that I had started the mentoring program with because I had gone from K-12 to higher education. And the goals between Pete 12, as a leader in P 12, and a professor in higher education are different in, in, in P 12. Um, with all due respect to those leaders is that you're not always, it's not always a welcoming, uh, of your opinion, whereas in higher education, uh, the expectation really was that you would stretch the thinking in organizations. We were working quite a bit with the 12 school districts. And so in higher education, it really was that we needed to go beyond the lifestyle was fantastic for me. And I began, I noticed that the people in 12, that I was working around were becoming a little, um, uh, uncomfortable with my activism because they work for school boards and I didn't. So they had to be, uh, aware and they had to be careful, frankly, on how much activism they took on because they didn't, they worked for school board members who were voted in as a higher education professor. Part of my tenure track plan was to begin to start these activist, um, not groups, but activists thinking, how are we going to change the system? How can we make the system better? And it wasn't just 12. It was actually also higher ed. Uh, and so from that, I determined and I felt that many, many groups or many people in the central Valley were not represented and did not have a voice. And one of the things that I knew I could do was start a program in order to support and guide and mentor leaders of color. And so rather than focus on the Latino population, I formed a nonprofit that was inclusive of all people, uh, because here in the central Valley, we have the Hmong population, African American Latinos, white allies, Armenian there's, there's all, there are numerous, numerous people here in the central Valley, and many of them really didn't have voice. And so I, one day just said, I'm doing this. And I started. And, um, you know, it was a good time. And again, because the university tenure track, all of that lent itself to developing something else. And, uh, so that was in 2011 and we are starting our ninth cohort. But the difference main difference between that through clear it is a social justice leadership mentoring program. Everyone is expected to be able to, to learn about leadership that is, you have to know leadership characteristics, you have to have studied leadership and what that all involves. And then we add the cultural and the racial and the gender components to it. And we support each other because one of the real values of having an inclusive program is that we learn about each other. We learn about the African-American community and the Hmong community and how they respond differently to different, uh, cultural aspects or, or even the, the expectations in both P-12 and higher education. And we support each other. My agendas for meetings were very often, they lasted through the introductions because after that people needed to be able to express not only their frustrations, but their, their concerns for students and every once in a while also celebrations for what we'd been able to accomplish.
So one of the most important aspects that we are involved in right now is, uh, cultural proficiency training. Uh, we are working with different school districts in the state of California in developing in, in, in training their leaders, in the areas of cultural proficiency. We're working with, uh, Randy and Delores who are down at the, um, the center for culturally, culturally proficient educational leaders. I believe something like that. And, um, uh, CCPE P is what it is. So it can't be leaders, uh, but I've known Randy and Dolores for years, and they've been very supportive of clear. And so that, that is a huge part of what we do that is actually with clear, there are three strands, there are the leadership, the equity and the research grant. And so working with school districts in the area of leadership development, and because we recruit quite a few of their folks, and since quite a few of their folks have gone through the clear program, they, we don't really have to recruit any longer. They send, uh, folks our way, most of the schools that we had most school districts that we work with are in the central Valley, the central Valley been a, um, it's different than Southern California. It's different than the Bay area. It's different than Northern California. It is a place unto itself in that it's fairly conservative. It has sort of, uh, you know, I'll prove it to you, a chip on his shoulder. Uh, you know, we all, I think we all do, you know, I've been accused over the years of having, what do they call it a middleman syndrome? And I do, I do, but even here in the central Valley, it's even worse sometimes. So that, that is what we are doing. We also, uh, as part of my work in higher education and our research strand, we started a journal and the journal is a peer reviewed journal, uh, hope to be hope to have it indexed by December. And what that provides is that, uh, we provide mostly young associate professors of color, an opportunity to write and be published, uh, you know, the, the adage of publish or perish in higher education. Absolutely true. Um, and my experience was that sometimes the people that are approving your articles for that next step to be published, don't understand the race, the race and cultural, um, experiences of young professors of color. And so, you know, it's like you hire them, but then you don't approve their articles to go forth for publication, and that is completely necessary. So I started the journal and, um, and we've also done research with school districts in, um, men and boys of color in the central Valley.
Well, I wish I had my equity director here, Dr. Pete Flores, because he's the he's certificated, you know, I'm, I'm getting too old. I'm not going through any more training. They said, Dr. Magdaleno, you want to be certified? No, I'm already certified crazy. We put the plans together for both. Um, I, I guess I can say, uh, Visalia unified and Fresno unified, and there are three phases to the training. And in order to become certified, you not only are learning in a, in a classroom type environment, but you're also expected to personally put what you've learned to work because like much of the rest of the nation, um, the S the staff, faculty and administrators don't look like the students. And so in order to be able to, uh, put what they're learning as far as cultural proficiency is, is involved to work, they need to go out to their schools and districts and, and do it. Um, I think that, you know, perhaps you and I we'll get into it a little bit more, but clear is part of what's called the fixed school discipline coalition here in California. We'd been members for about seven years now. And our, our goal is to continue to address the inequity in school discipline that occurs. Um, it's no secret that young men and boys of color are suspended and expelled at anywhere from five to three times, the rate of, of, of white students. And I, I absolutely believe that part of that is that teachers and administrators do not understand the cultural components or racial component that students bring to school with them, not only those that need to be valued, but also those perhaps of speaking louder, perhaps of, of just the manner in which you answer a question, or you respond to a question, a teacher see it as something that is, um, disrespectful. When in fact, in certain cultures or races, that's a way of getting attention. That's the only way you get heard. It's also, you know, in, in the mom community, uh, I recall years ago, going to a school and, you know, place senior your hand on the head of certain cultures, you don't do that. You don't, or as a teacher, you don't say to the student, look me in the eye, look me in the eye because in certain cultures that is disrespectful.
Yeah, absolutely. I worked on a native American reservation in Arizona as a psychologist many years ago. And, uh, that's one thing I learned is, you know, don't try to force eye contact, it was just inappropriate.
Right. In the Latino community. You know, I, I, I are told and, um, lectured to teachers and, um, given presentations to teachers and said that in the Latino community, for instance, it's not the parents don't care. I was an elementary principal and our parent participation went up 400% because I knew what to expect. And I knew what I wanted to expect from parents, but parents leave their child, their children to you that it's disrespectful for them to question you. And, you know, some cultures will see that as they don't care, they're not here. Well, you may be working two jobs, but if they, if they come now, that's changing a little bit, you know, as we've taught both parents and teachers, however, uh, I recall that was a huge issue. Um, and that was because of a cultural disconnect. So when the cultural proficiency training, all of those things really, I believe will, will help lessen the school discipline issues and really teach each other of cultural value because that, you know, our kids don't come to school with an empty slate. They come with value. And I can't tell you how many times Chris, I have said to people over the years, our kids don't need to be fixed, they need to be taught.
Yeah. I love, I love that, you know, uh, so I encourage our listeners to get in touch with you at clear and, and, and see what kinds of, uh, training opportunities you can provide the school districts.
We are, we are. And I just think your work, you know, I've done a lot of research for SchoolMint and in my career as a psychologist. And I just think your work will really enhance school climate and really help teachers establish those relationships, which are so critical. So it's not only about discipline. Would you say it's also about improving attendance, academic engagement, setting, high goals for yourself, all of those things would be impacted.
Absolutely. I, I left home at a fairly early age before high school and school was my safe place. School is a safe place for so many of our kids. And, you know, if as a middle school teacher, assistant principal and principal, I used to tell parents, I said, you know, there are times and at the middle school level where academics really aren't most important thing for these kids, you know, and, and, but you have to be there for them in order to be able to guide them through those times, you know? And, uh, there's, there's just so much for us to learn. And Christopher, if I may, you know, I'm often asked where are our teachers of color? And what my answer is is that they're in kindergarten, first grade, second grade and third grade right now, because they need to be successful. I would say 75 to 80% of our teachers are white females. And when I go to speak to teacher groups, I am often proceeded by a reputation that isn't fair because when I speak to the teachers, I say, you know, if 80% of the teachers are white female, that population is not going to change overnight. And if white female teachers don't understand our kids, who's going to help them. Who's going to help our kids. You know, it really is about opening up and understanding each other, understanding that kids come to school with value, that kids come to school with a culture that as an elementary principal, my favorite grade was kindergarten. Cause I could go down there and hide out. And I was fine with all the kids. You know, there was no judging and all they want to do is learn. They just want to learn. They want to be okay. And they want someone to, to care for them. And I don't think that that's specific to any rates. I think that any teacher can do that, but we have to know where each other's hearts are and where we come from. What do we bring to the classroom? Um, I I've seen second grade kids just, I mean, do a fantastic job in the classroom. And I know their background. I mean, there's no way that, that if we listened to everyone else, if we listened to the naysayers, that child should not be able to do that, you know what that child can do that the third grade teacher who told me that they could tell by third grade, which of the kids would be on the school to prison pipeline and which ones wouldn't. Well, you know, you know, I was real quiet about that one. I'm sure. You know, I mean, if, if that's the way you're already thinking as a teacher in third grade, what are you telling the kids? What are you doing to the kids? That's why I just think elementary school teachers. And I've been at every level. I believe the elementary school teachers are critically important. Uh, I believe that the pyramid is upside down. We need to spend more money at, at, at the elementary level. And I think elementary school teachers are amongst the hardest working people I've ever been around. Uh, in fact, I never understood as a former high school teacher and counts or why we didn't have specialists or math teachers teaching math in elementary school and language arts teachers, teaching English in elementary school. And we're expecting the, the multiple subject, you know, folks to teach courses that they may not be comfortable in.
So true. I I've spent a lot of time in classrooms in nearly 40 years and every time I'd go into a, uh, a kindergarten classroom, I was exhausted just watching. Um, so, so, so impressive. And yeah, they certainly work hard. So what I'm hearing is, you know, one of the things we need to work on as a society and in education is really getting some diversity in our teaching staff and, you know, w w exacerbates that problem is we're, we're having trouble recruiting any teachers and retaining any teachers. So it seems like it's really a double whammy for us.
Yeah. I think that there's a lack of, uh, there's a lack, dignity and respect, uh, to educators, uh, because every, not everyone, but as an administrator can tell you how many times I heard parents in front of their kids say, um, well, I didn't do very well in school. So they probably won't do very well either. And I would ask the child to leave. And then I would speak to the parent say, listen, they're not you. Yeah. Because, and that's part of the problem, Chris, I believe is that because a lot of our parents didn't have a good experiences. And so ads, whether they mean to, or not, they're passing that message along to their children. You see it, especially, I saw it more, uh, beginning in about fifth grade. I think it was about fifth grade that, uh, I saw that begin to happen because up to then the kids were, I mean, they were like sponges, soaking all this stuff in. And, uh, it's kind of like, and I know I'm jumping around here a little bit, but it's kind of like the issues of race. There was a point at which kids have heard these comments and gain this feeling and it's coming from home or other, you know, other places where they're, they're involved in that racism. Isn't something they're born with. They learn it, you know? And so it's a schools could be so important, much more important if we really could keep that mentality of learning teaching. And to a certain extent, our common humanity, uh, as part of the discussion, or is a very key component of the discussion. Uh, I used to give my master's degree students and assignment, and all they had to do was go back to their school site and listen to the language. I said, I want you to listen to what kind of comments are made to the kids. You don't have to say anything, but I want you to be aware of that. And that is why as an administrator, my first meeting every year was with the office staff, because I would, I said, you, you are us, you represent us. And it was amazing what teachers would come back. They were embarrassed. You know, I said, you wouldn't talk that way to your own children, but it's okay to speak to someone else's children like that. And, uh, yeah, there's, I think that there are issues, there are some fantastic people teaching. There's some fantastic in higher education, but the systemic inequities and structural racism and such that, that is there continues on very often because we won't challenge it.
Yes, absolutely. And I, I'm just so appreciative of some of the guidance you've offered our listeners here today. Dr. Magdaleno, I think there's a lot of things that, that, that educators can, can do to take action, to build some of that cultural proficiency and really understand how they can really impact that, those children, just with their words and actions. And, um, so you've really given, given us a roadmap final question, um, cause we're running short on time is in your experience, what are the challenges faced by members of historically underrepresented groups in the educational workspace?
There's a, there are stereotypes. I think that, um, there are stereotypes as to between and amongst groups. There are expectations that certain groups will be successful and certain groups will not. If I may just take a minute, I, as I indicated, I started back to school when I was 38 and I ended up with a doctorate from UCLA. I was lucky enough to attend a leadership round table at Oxford England and, uh, had the opportunity to do that. I've been state principal of the year. I been state professor of the year, and I don't believe that any of that makes the difference because every day I have to start over as a man of color, I have to start over. And what I mean by that is every day I have to prove that I belong.
It is it's exhausting. Chris, it's exhausting. I literally used to cry in front of my doctoral class sometimes because I was so exhausted and so passionate about what I do and they would be crying because they're talking about other things that I would just say, why is it that after these things that I've done, and I know, you know, it's in the scope of everything. They're not that big a deal, but I get so tired of having to prove that I belong. That was a really the, it was one of the things in higher education that I just decided I was not going to do anymore. I never reached full professor because, um, part of it was I think my fault because I refused to play the game. And there's a certain sense that you're not okay unless you're a full professor. Well, I, I felt like I was okay whether I was a full professor or not, and I'm still doing good work, I hope. And so, um, yeah, it's just exhausting and that's what it is. I mentor so many people and I believe that for people of color that's the, that is the comment I hear more than anything is that there's no, or very limited validation for the work that we do. And, uh, sometimes it's because you have an accent. If you have an accent, you know, you must not be all that smart. And that was, I saw that from K-12 to higher ed and it's the stereotypes very often. And as a society, we need to address those, um, those structural and societal inequities. Um, I do believe in certain audiences that, uh, the common humanity might work, you know, because we spend we're what, 96 point something percent alike as human beings. But we, we, we focus on the other three plus percent are differences and I've done presentations on the common humanity and it's, it's, uh, it's an interesting, um, opportunity. Um, but people are, are they still standoffish? You know?
Well, Dr. Magdaleno, I, I just, uh, really appreciate your thought provoking wisdom on these topics. And you know, for me personally, it's been absolutely a delightful conversation and insightful, and I know our listeners are really gonna take a lot from this and I encourage them to reach out to you at the center for leadership equity and research. That's clear C L E A R .
Great. Now, before you go, you have to play our game called this or that. If you remember that I told you about this. So I'm going to say two things and you have to tell us which one you prefer. Okay. I always start with an easy one dog or cat.
Okay. Very good. You know, and, and I asked that to a lot of people. Taco is definitely winning by a large margin over that. I'm a fish taco fan myself. Awesome. Um, let's see here. Do you prefer a car or a truck?
Okay. You're you're, you're in the minority there. Very few people have gone with under. Um, but I interviewed Dr. Doug Reeves and he said MIT did a study that it should be under. So you're, you're, you're following the research science.
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