Lorna R. Lewis, Ed.D., FCRH ’75, entered kindergarten at the tender age of 3 out of necessity, but that early start changed the course of her life. Raised in Jamaica, Lewis was brought to school by her aunt, who was a teacher, because no one could watch her at home.
Lewis is now the superintendent of schools in the Plainview-Old Bethpage Central School District, and she credits her aunt’s decision with setting her on a path of high achievement and educational leadership.
“The point is that children can be ready by any age,” she said. “Nobody told me that I shouldn’t go, so I was ready.”
As this year’s speaker at the Barbara L. Jackson, Ed.D., Lecture, sponsored by the Graduate School of Education (GSE), Lewis stressed the importance of providing educational challenges for each and every child at all levels of ability. Equally important, she said, is creating the right environment for all students to thrive.
“My philosophy is that everyone can bloom if you provide the right conditions,” she said.
The title of Lewis’ talk, held at the Lincoln Center campus on Oct. 25, was “Conscious Leadership in Changing Times.” As Lewis explained, being a conscious leader means to continually think about why you are doing what you do.
For Lewis, who is also the president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents and the assistant secretary of ERASE Racism, the students in her care are her “why,” guiding her decisions in leading teachers in her district and beyond.
“What are the big, hairy, audacious goals that we want to accomplish? For us, the vision was about creating responsible and autonomous learners,” she said.
With a background in physics and mathematics, Lewis advocated using data as a powerful tool in fostering students who are college, career, and life ready.
Statistically tracking her students’ success even after they leave her schools has helped Lewis identify the preparation needed for higher education in today’s globalized, technology-driven world.
It’s not just a Regents exam test score that determines student readiness, she said, but a much fuller profile of adequate math, science, and advanced placement courses, as well as appropriate remediation classes if necessary.
She stressed, however, that leaders must address current inequities in education so that all students, in every district and at every socioeconomic level, have equal access to the preparations that are key factors in determining later success.
“We have to work to make sure that every child has an opportunity to be in the ball game,” she said.
Lewis’ points on equality struck a chord with audience member Jordan Simons, a Ph.D. candidate in educational leadership, administration, and policy at GSE and a special education coordinator in Bayside, Queens.
Though he works in a well-funded district, Simons agreed that all education leaders should work to ensure equitable conditions for students in every school.
“We have to embrace a better society,” he said. “We have to embrace what’s beyond our own district.”
For Vincent Vinod Fernandes, S.J., a Ph.D. candidate in administration and supervision at GSE, Lewis’ vision of helping students to be not just college ready, but life ready, aligns well with the Jesuit educational tradition of cura personalis, or care of the whole person.
“I think that’s all important—helping students to get into college but also to face the challenges in life in a changing world,” he said.
The Barbara L. Jackson, Ed.D., Lecture is an annual event held in memory of the esteemed Fordham professor, who taught in GSE’s Division of Educational Leadership, Administration, and Policy from 1987 to 2008, and who served as chair from 1997 to 2003.