Education for All
Reformer Geoffrey Canada challenges educators to open wide the doors of
opportunity for all students, no exceptions
nown as a tireless advocate and champion of poor and
disadvantaged children, education reformer Geoffrey Canada
has spent more than two decades enriching the lives and
futures of students in New York City’s most impoverished
CANADA: The role of a leader is to
inspire your team. You have to create
goals that are clear and demand the best
from people and help them reach new
highs in their own personal development. To the degree you have been
clear, your job is to find the best people
you can to execute a solid plan.
Through his acclaimed Harlem Children’s Zone, Inc., initiative, Canada has
helped improve the lives of countless students, offering access to high-quality
education, health care, and other benefits.
When it comes to the welfare of America’s youth, he says, there is no excuse.
“You can fundamentally educate every child, no matter how poor they are, no
matter what conditions they have grown up in,” said Canada shortly after he was
honored as a 2010 Game Changer by the Huffington Post. “If you get paid to educate
children, that is your job and you ought to do it. And if you can’t do it, you should
get another job.”
In an interview with the Journal, prior to his speech at the 91st Annual American
Association of Community Colleges Convention in New Orleans, Canada discussed
the importance of leadership and extended the responsibility of equal education for
all to educators at America’s community colleges.
JOURNAL: As a longtime education
advocate, you have a reputation for
bucking the status quo in favor of
reforms that breed change. As you
survey the current community college
landscape—specifically, the challenge
of rising enrollments and tighter
budgets—how can community colleges
achieve positive change?
JOURNAL: Community college leaders often talk about the impor- tance of “top-down” leadership. How necessary is it to have a leader who can articulate the vision and mission of his or her orga- nization or college to the people in the trenches—faculty and staff—whose job it is to carry forward the goals of the institution?
JOURNAL: You’ve been named among
“America’s Best Leaders” by U.S. News
and World Report, and your Harlem
Children’s Zone, Inc., project has been
heralded as a national model for improving the prospects of disadvantaged and
minority youth. Despite the attention,
you often deflect credit for the incalculable success of your reform efforts in
Harlem and elsewhere to the hard work
and dedication of the people around
you. Can you talk a little about your
belief that great leaders are only as good
as the people who surround them?
GEOFFREY CANADA: It’s relatively
easy to be a great leader in a small
organization, since you can keep your
eye on everything and have a direct
relationship with your staff. The real
challenge is when you have a larger
organization. Then a critical part of
leadership is your ability to hire
people who are as talented—or
more talented—than you, who can
carry out the organization’s vision.
CANADA: Some community
colleges have struggled in
dealing with students
that have academic dif-
ficulties. The solution,
been that some
leges have not
students to enter.
That’s tragic for