Leading for Equity

Creating Student Success

A conversation with Dr. Gustavo Balderas:
AASA National Superintendent of the Year 2020 

Daniel Domenech, executive director of the National School Superintendents Association, said Dr. Balderas earned the honor for the “tremendous work he is doing to promote academic achievement” during his four years as superintendent in Eugene (OR).

Dr. Balderas joined the Edmonds (WA) School District as superintendent in July, 2020.

Eugene staff and community say this about Dr. Balderas

  • He understands students and all the gifts and talents they bring.
  • Always top of mind about how we can improve.
  • Equity is not an after-thought … it’s the first thought.
  • He centers our community around kids – making partnerships for kids.
  • He builds relationships, serves as a mentor, lifts each of us up.
  • Never about him, always about the kids.
  • Insists that we know each student by name, need, and dream.
  • Authentic, committed, transformative.

What Dr. Balderas says about growing successes in Eugene


I grew up in a migrant family as an ELL student. My parents wanted a better life for us. I was the first high school graduate in my family. I’m living the American dream.

Clear expectations

We had 31 different bell schedules. Some students were getting seven months’ more education than others! We worked with staff and community to set clear standards and align curriculum. We built kid-centric systems to support students by name, need, and dream.

Hire the best

Hired highly qualified leaders and teachers of color. Created affinity groups for our teachers and leaders of color to make them successful, supported and wanting to stay in Eugene. 

Believe in students

Leaders have to believe in the work we are doing. We created the most diverse staff in Oregon – truly representative of our students. When you hire the best people and have clear expectations, achievement goes up. 

Grow capacity

Listened to teacher voice. Looked at data together. Developed and supported leaders. Mentored and trained aspiring leaders.


Built kid-centric systems, based on knowing students by name, need, and dream. Developing data systems that showed us when and where students were off track.  Graduations went up 14%; Latino graduations went up 19%.

Board Support  

Met often with the board. Asked them to: Be the union for kids. Keep kids at the center. Be the voice for the students.  Support me as we build partnerships with staff and community.


Active in community on Chamber board, hospital board, and 14 advisory boards. Shared the goals and successes of the district everywhere I went. The Media, the PTA, Chamber…all got the word out about the positive changes underway.


Relationships are essential. Our community heard about our success and became our biggest supporter. Community helped us build pathways to support and train our future workforce. The community supported our biggest bond ever and helped us build four new buildings.

I have the best job in the world. I love working with the community and staff.

“Seeing that kids are succeeding because of the changes we’re making drives me. We, as leaders, need to be champions for our profession. Education is the backbone to our democracy.” – Gustavo Balderas

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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

To talk about growing extraordinary "high capacity" leadership for your team …
Contact: Larry@Larrynyland.com | 425-418-4398 | LarryNyland.com