SLA COHORT VII-RENATO LAJARA
Dr. Renato Lajara
Director of Elementary Education, Cheltenham School District, Cheltenham, PA
What is your current role?
My current role is Director of Elementary Education. I oversee curriculum, instruction, and assessment for the elementary schools.
What is the enrollment of your current school district?
The Cheltenham School District is located right outside of Philadelphia. We service around 4700 students.
What are some of your career highlights?
For the previous 11 years, I have had the privilege of working as a school principal for the School District of Philadelphia. First as a middle school principal and most recently as a high school principal. In both appointments I was able to foster a positive peer culture with students and a collaborative culture for teachers. By doing this my team and I were able to create a safe learning environment for our staff and students. My biggest highlight is being able to take two different schools that were known as low performing and developing them into learning institutions. We were able to get over the stigma that a student’s zip code should determine the level of education they should receive. My favorite part of being a principal was providing equity, access, and opportunity to all of my students.
What are you most proud of professionally?
I am most proud of the impact I have been able to make on the lives of the young people I have served. Being able to share my story was something that I enjoyed. Proving to them that their skin color or socioeconomic status did not limit them was my goal. I made the biggest connections with students who had a similar background to mine. I was an immigrant student who came to the United States when I was seven years old from the Dominican Republic. As a first-generation college student, I have obtained my bachelor’s, master’s, and most recently my doctorate. I didn’t have the same access and opportunity that many of my friends had. This is why I became an administrator -- so that I could provide the best access and opportunities for my students. This is the same goal I have now in my new role as Director of Elementary Education. I strive to equip the teachers and administrators I support with the resources they need to meet the needs of all of the students they service.
What is one of the biggest challenges facing educators today?
One of the biggest challenges for educators today is being able to adequately close the achievement and the opportunity gap. Too often we see districts struggle with being able to level the playing field for all students to be successful. As district leaders it is a moral imperative that we work around the clock to prepare our teachers with the strategies and resources they need to be successful. Every child deserves a champion standing in front of them willing to help them develop and grow into productive citizens. The Cheltenham School District has been doing intentional work around equity and opportunity, and I am proud to be a part of this movement.
Why is a program like SLA important for Latino educators?
This leadership academy is very important because it provides Latino leaders with the skills they need to be successful. Being in a cohort with dynamic people gives us the opportunity to tackle any issue we may be dealing with in our individual districts. We have the privilege of listening to current superintendents as they deal with current challenges in their district. Above all I love the sense of “Familia” that this program has provided us. We started out as just cohort members and now we are brothers and sisters willing to do anything for each other. For example, in the midst of the Parkland shooting, our sister Vicky Saldada was heavily impacted and we were all able to rally around her in this time of grief. Finally, our Director Dr. Jose Leyba is a great mentor and friend to all of us! Without him this would not be possible. So in his words: Si No Nosotros, ¿Quien?