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A Destiny to Serve and Be a Champion of Change

Dr. Gonzalo La Cava is being honored as a Latino Educator Champion of Change.

Dr. Gonzalo La Cava

Dr. Gonzalo La Cava is being honored as a Latino Educator Champion of Change.

Not long ago, my seven-year-old daughter asked me a seemingly easy question: “Daddy, does your job make you happy?” While simple in nature, her innocent words made me reflect on my career path. The answers came flooding in and were superficial at first. But as I sat still and pondered her question, I came to some realizations about my profession.

Although I firmly believe that all children can learn and deserve a high-quality education, serving those who are underrepresented is my mission as an educator. Circumstances such as poverty, inadequate cultural support, or a lack of familial education can create an unequal playing field for these students and limit their exposure to opportunity. By no fault of their own, these children are underrepresented in leadership roles in our country. On many occasions, our education system seems to underestimate what they can accomplish.

While some people think that children from traditionally disadvantaged groups are a “lost cause,” I know that each child has the potential for success. In Orange County Public Schools in Florida, I led two majority/minority Title 1 schools to ‘A’ ratings and increased the scores of students in reading, math and writing. I have been able to turn around challenging schools by changing the culture of the staff, reducing suspensions, focusing on literacy, and engaging the local community. Our success did not come overnight; it took our dedicated staff years to reach our objectives. Some naysayers question the expense of educating disadvantaged children, but I assert that there is more cost in not doing it. Without a shadow of doubt, results are achievable and there is an immense return on investment.

Today, I am responsible for more than 18,000 public school students in 23 schools in Fulton County, Georgia. It’s very different from Orange County, Florida, yet many of the challenges are the same. More than 60% of our students are economically disadvantaged and are in need of specialized educational and community support.

To address the challenge head-on, I joined the Sandy Springs Education Force (SSEF), a non-profit that engages the resources of civic leaders, community stakeholders, and businesses to deliver supplemental programs and services in our schools. This organization provides mentoring, grants, after-school programs, teacher assistance, books, and literacy help. The SSEF proves that, when school, business, and community leaders work collaboratively, students can succeed. SSEF is a core reason for Fulton County Schools’ success in increasing graduation rates and closing the achievement gap of our economically disadvantaged students.

The work that educators do is never-ending and often unacknowledged, but seeing our students succeed is its own reward. I have experienced professional highs and lows, but witnessing our students walk across the stage to receive their diploma is priceless. Working with this at-risk population is hard work, but it is very gratifying.

So the answer to my daughter’s question is, “Yes. My job makes me happy.” My profession influences and improves the lives of underrepresented children. I believe I was destined to be their champion of change. 

Dr. Gonzalo La Cava is the Area Superintendent for the Central Learning Community of Fulton County Schools in Metro Atlanta. He also sits on the board of directors for the Sandy Springs Education Force.