Leader Spotlight:

with Mandy Manning, Jorge A. Aguilar and John White

With //

Mandy Manning
2018 Teacher of the Year

Jorge A. Aguilar
Superintendent of Sacramento City Unified School District

John White
Louisiana State Superintendent of Education

leader spotlight - ribbon icon
Leader Spotlight

fake report card showing grades - mandy manning, jorge aguilar, and john white

In an environment where language has gone from the collaborative to the partisan to the tribal, there are words or terms like “equity” or “opportunity” or “social justice” that are not as much used as aimed. The weaponization of words by one camp or another impedes our ability to see that transformational ideas in K-12 education might come from an urban elementary school teacher or a researcher at a conservative think tank. Can we afford this kind of engagement when too many of our children — of every color and background — are failing to learn? What matters to our profiled educators are those changes that are student-centered and evidence-based. And whether a proposed improvement is the brainchild of a teacher or administrator or researcher or legislator, the question we need to ask is: will it help students learn better, especially those who have fallen behind?

Jorge A. Aguilar //
Jorge A. Aguilar is superintendent of Sacramento City Unified School District and previously worked as associate superintendent for equity and access in the Fresno, California Unified School District.

In Sacramento, he leads a district that serves a majority-minority urban population. Aguilar’s mission is graduating students who will be lifelong learners, able to enter the college or university of their choice and become contributing members of society.

John White //
John White offers some rare geographic insight into K-12 education. As Louisiana State Superintendent of Education, he serves a mix of rural, suburban and urban students. White also once worked as deputy chancellor for the New York City Department of Education, the nation’s largest school system.

In the Bayou State, White has been lauded for initiatives under the “Louisiana Believes” banner that foster educator best practices, teacher leadership, residency programs and career training.

Mandy Manning //
Mandy Manning is the 2018 Teacher of the Year. She is a former Peace Corps teacher in Armenia who currently teaches English and math to immigrant students at the Newcomer Center at Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington.

With her global background, Manning uses a collaborative style to bring marginalized voices into the process, leading one committee that initiated an evidence-based behavioral intervention plan to enhance academic and social behavior.


Mandy Manning

Mandy Manning is the 2018 Teacher of the Year. She teaches English and math to refugee and immigrant students in the Newcomer Center at Ferris High School in Spokane, Washington. Manning is her students’ first teacher when they arrive in the U.S. She began her career as a teacher in the Peace Corps in Armenia and has also taught in Japan and in schools across the U.S. This global perspective infuses her classroom; she uses experiential projects like map-making to help her students process trauma, celebrate their home countries and culture, and learn about their new community. As a National Board Certified Teacher, Manning is an ambassador and mentor to her colleagues and is known for her collaborative style and determination to bring marginalized voices into decision-making. She has led a diverse committee in re-evaluating her school’s discipline plan and adopting an evidence-based behavioral intervention plan that enhanced academic and social behavior outcomes for all students. This effort resulted in a 74 percent decrease in suspensions in the first year.

Mandy Manning 2018 Teacher of the Year
equitable education system

Tell us about the opportunity gap.

The opportunity gap is a result of actions that people within the system have taken. It doesn’t have to do with the kids themselves. Students can’t control how or where or to whom they are born. Nonetheless, our systems discriminate against groups of students. For example, if you look at recess across multiple elementary schools within the same district, you may find that some schools, particularly the ones that are in more affluent neighborhoods, will have more time for recess than those in communities of a lower socioeconomic status. That’s an opportunity gap.

We’re communicating very different messages to those groups of children. One group hears, “You have autonomy, agency and can control your body on your own,” while the other hears, “You are behind, therefore you can’t make decisions and we are going to tell you how to control your own body.”  That’s going to impact how the students in the latter group move forward in life.

The onus is on schools and educators to give students the tools necessary to have confidence and think and act for themselves. The Parkland kids are a great example of that. They’re using a collective voice effectively and understand what it means to really speak out on their own behalf.

School girl sitting at a desk using an eraser

Jorge A. Aguilar

Jorge A. Aguilar has more than 20 years of K-12 and higher education experience with a strong focus and background on issues of equity and student achievement. He has been superintendent of the Sacramento City Unified School District since July 2017. The district has 46,843 students, more than 4,200 employees and a budget of more than $566.99 million. Aguilar was selected superintendent by the Board of Education because of his proven track record using data to improve student outcomes. Prior to his appointment, Aguilar served as associate superintendent for equity and access at Fresno Unified School District. In his career, Aguilar also has served as an associate vice chancellor for educational and community partnerships and special assistant to the chancellor at the University of California, Merced. Additionally, he was a Spanish teacher and a legislative intern in the State Capitol.

Jorge A. Aguilar

“Our mission is to graduate students who are globally competitive lifelong learners, prepared to succeed in a career and higher education institution of their choice to secure gainful employment and contribute to society. We are working to give every student an equal opportunity to graduate with the greatest number of post-secondary choices from the widest array of options.”

Boy in school hallway looking at phone

Is funding an impediment to creating more equitable education?

Our current funding formula in California is just not enough to sustain the combination of state and self-imposed obligations including pension contributions, health care costs, and lifetime medical benefits along with the costs of our current enrollment.

We have to be very creative about how we leverage our resources from grants, foundations and other places in order to continue to advance this vision around equity, access and social justice.

The budget that was adopted in July 2018 is pretty lean. It does provide for the costs of all AP tests. We had about 1,200 students this past year who took an AP course but didn’t take the test. I felt that advancing this vision demanded that we put some investment into paying for every student to take the AP test for the AP course in which they are enrolled. We also allocated some funding to figure out how to better serve African-American youth, who as in other urban school districts in California, are struggling as our lowest performing large group of students. Additionally, we’ve set aside a small amount of dollars to incentivize DACA recipients to become district teachers. We’ll pay for them to stay in school for a fifth year of college to get their teacher credentialing in exchange for becoming teachers in Sac City Unified.

In spite of all of these efforts, we’ve had to institute a hiring freeze. We’re not filling some vacancies. We reduced or cut some of our programs for next year. This is very, very difficult, especially given my commitment to advancing equity, access, and social justice. I have commissioned an independent financial audit, and we’re looking for a new Chief Business Officer.

girl intently reading

“We also allocated some funding to figure out how to better serve African-American youth, who as in other urban school districts in California, are struggling as our lowest performing large group of students.”
Jorge A. Aguilar


John White

John White was named Louisiana State Superintendent of Education in January 2012. That year he launched Louisiana Believes, the state’s plan to ensure every child is on track to a college degree or professional career. Louisiana Believes includes nationally recognized initiatives such as Early Childhood Networks, Louisiana Teacher Leaders, ELA Curriculum Guidebooks, the Believe and Prepare Teacher Residency and Jump Start career education.

White has also worked to unify the state’s fragmented early childhood education system, modernize curriculum, professionalize the preparation of educators, provide pathways to prosperity for all high school graduates and expand school options for all families regardless of their financial means. White and his team also led the post-Katrina renovation and unification of schools in New Orleans and the creation of the Baton Rouge Achievement Zone.

Prior to being named state superintendent, White served as superintendent of the Louisiana Recovery School District. He previously worked under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein as deputy chancellor for the New York City Department of Education. He also was executive director for Teach for America in Chicago and New Jersey. White began his career as an English teacher.

Boy in front of high rise apartments with book bag on

Share this article

more articles

No Comments

Leave a Comment