Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:00:00]:

Welcome, advocates, to another episode of the Leading Equity Podcast, a podcast that focuses on supporting educators with the tools and resources necessary to ensure equity at their scopes. Today's special guest is mister Pablo Munoz, a former superintendent with over 30 years of public education. He is the author of the leader's algorithm, how a personal theory of action transforms your life, work, and relationships. So without further ado, Pablo, thank you so much for joining us today.

Pablo [00:00:29]:

Sheldon, thank you so much for having me on your show. I'm looking forward to, answering your questions.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:00:35]:

Let's do it. Let's do it. So before we get into our conversation, I'd love for you to share with our audience a little bit about yourself and what you currently do.

Pablo [00:00:43]:

So I was born, raised, and educated in Elizabeth, New Jersey. That's For those in across the United States and the world, that's about 16 miles southwest of New York City. Today, I live In a town in New Jersey called Maplewood for the last 26 years, and that's also pretty close to Elizabeth, in New York City. I'm the son of 2 immigrant parents. My parents came from Agua de Puerto Rico as teenagers when they immigrated to New Jersey. My father has an 8th grade education. My mother has a 6th grade education. The type of work my father did, it was mostly in the restaurant business.

Pablo [00:01:26]:

He started washing dishes, and someone saw a promise in him and and helped him become A cook and eventually ended his career as a as a banquet chef. And then my mom started working in factories and eventually ended her Career as a seamstress. So both of them were in fairly low paid jobs. I was living in a house with my maternal grandmother, my mom, dad, and my younger sister, Doris, my aunts, and her and my 3 cousins. And then my father's 1 of 15, and my mom is 1 of 5. So I I I have a whole lot of cousins. And and by the last count that my mom and I did recently, I I have around 71st cousins. So that actually you know, my circle of friends is really my family because we spent a lot of time traveling to to each other's homes and and going to the parks take together.

Pablo [00:02:25]:

I graduated from Elizabeth High School. I played baseball for for most of my life. I got my undergraduate degree in psychology from Yale University. While I was there, I did the teacher preparation program. So I student taught in New Haven at Wilber Cross High School. When I was, student teaching, I also volunteered as a, baseball coach. I coached the pitchers at Wilbur Ross High School. I got my master's degree from Teachers College, Columbia University in educational administration.

Pablo [00:02:59]:

The bulk of my career was done back in my hometown district of Elizabeth. I started as a teacher of social studies, then I became the supervisor of social studies, And I've then the director of curriculum instruction, assistant superintendent. And then in 2005, I became the superintendent of the Elizabeth Public Schools. I did that for about eight and a half years. Then I moved over to a district Another city district in New Jersey called the Passaic Public Schools, and I was superintendent there for seven and a half years. Then I retired in 2021, and then I established my educational and leadership consulting company. I'm also an adjunct professor at Lehigh University. And like you said in the introduction, I am now an author of the book, the leader's algorithm.

Pablo [00:03:56]:

One interesting part of my life was when when I was actually a classroom teacher, I was also, a baseball coach. And actually, when I became an administrator, I was also a baseball coach. So I've coached at every level from little league where I coached my 2 daughters all the way to professional baseball where I was a minor league pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs. I'll end this part of it by saying, what I'm most proud of are my 2 daughters. So my oldest daughter, Cecilia, she's 22. She graduated in June from MIT and began work just, last week at the Boston Consulting Group. And my youngest daughter, Sadie is 19. She's at Northeastern University.

Pablo [00:04:39]:

And, actually, her 1st year her whole 1st year is is gonna be in London. So those those are my pride and joys, and that kinda tells you where I've come from, what I've done, and where I am today.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:04:52]:

Wow. Thank you. Thank you for sharing. And and sounds like you have had a very interesting story. I love that you play baseball. I I can connect there. I was a baseball player as well. I was a pitcher and also did left field.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:05:07]:

So, but I was, like, 3rd relief relief pitcher, but I could I could throw. They needed a lefty. So, that that all worked out. So that that's good for you. I'm I'm glad that you stayed active in in, within baseball. So we offline, one of these days, we can talk about the the that side of things. But I wanna hone in on you know, you you talked about your parents. You started the conversation with you know, your parents came to United States.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:05:34]:

Well, I guess the mainland, as they are part of from part Puerto Rico. But they came to the mainland and had their humble beginnings, and we were raised in a very large household, with a lot of folks, a lot of family there. And I'm just curious as far as your experience when it comes to you know, let's let's start at high school, at the high school level. What was some of your experiences? Did you feel like you belonged? You ultimately went on, got your, you know, bachelor's, went on, got your masters, and guide into education. I'm just curious about your high school days. I mean, what was what was some of your experiences there?

Pablo [00:06:06]:

Actually, if you don't mind, let me I'd like to start with kindergarten.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:06:10]:

Sure. We can do that.

Pablo [00:06:11]:

Really. I mean, as a sense of as a sense of belonging, this kinda captures

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:06:15]:


Pablo [00:06:16]:

And it's actually In the introduction of my book, so I was I was in kindergarten, and my kindergarten teacher pulled my mom And I into the coat room. So it was kind of a open space with a little coat room area. And, she told my mom that If I didn't learn my colors, I was gonna stay back. And, my mom just looked at her. She started crying. I started crying. And, from that point on, my mom and I worked our our tails off to to learn my colors in English.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:06:53]:


Pablo [00:06:54]:

Now if the teacher would have asked, I knew my colors perfectly in Spanish. Right? It's because I was a Spanish speaking at home, and I was learning the English language. So what she didn't realize is my mom didn't speak English either at that point. I mean, she spoke it, but she didn't she wasn't literate in it. It wasn't wouldn't be until a couple years later that she went to night school to learn English. But that was kind of my beginnings at in schools, around a sense of belonging, not not feeling very much wanted, because I didn't know the English language. It all turned out pretty good in the end because, ultimately, I ended up going to 2 pretty good colleges. High school was Interesting in the sense that and this also played out in college.

Pablo [00:07:41]:

Being an athlete and actually being, you know, academic an academic student, I didn't feel like I I belonged in either either place. So, like, when I was in the high level classes with my students academically, they they thought of me as a jock. As an athlete, I I was an all state pitcher that I was being recruited to go to college. And then when I was an athlete, all the baseball Players thought, you know, I was I was the the smart, nerdy kid. So almost didn't I didn't really have a home, but I got along fine. I ended up doing alright. Living in the community wasn't that hard a sense of belonging because it was an inner city. There White kids, African American kids, Hispanic kids.

Pablo [00:08:24]:

At that time, Elizabeth was largely Cuban and Puerto Rican has since since changed more to Central South American and Dominicans. But at that time, it was very, very much like my home. College then kinda emulated high being a jock and being academics, but it was actually the the sensible belonging was was Right. I I was coming from an inner city school who, quite frankly, did not prepare me as well as I should have been prepared to go on to Yale. And you immediately being in a Hispanic in an environment that now is not Doesn't look anything like my hometown. Right? It's mostly suburban kids, mostly white suburban school or prep school kids, And I'm a I'm a small sliver of a percentage of of Hispanics at the school. So that was a little more of a shock. That was It's more of a having a sense of not belonging there.

Pablo [00:09:25]:

That was definitely more of a of a sense of the imposter syndrome. Right? And that we we struggle with it. Many and many of us struggle with it When, you know, you work your tail off and you're in a good school and you do well and you graduate, but you there are times you feel like like like

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:09:43]:

What am I doing here? Yeah.

Pablo [00:09:45]:

I'm gonna be founded out. Whatever I shouldn't be here. But, I belong there, and it actually shaped me very much so when I became a teacher and then ultimately when I became a superintendent of schools, because the the experience at Yale taught me 2 very important things that stood with me from teacher to superintendent and especially a superintendent. One was that The kids coming out of Elizabeth were not gonna come out unprepared to go on to Yale. Right? So when when I became superintendent, it was just Definitely clear. I'm gonna create a school system that's gonna prepare kids to excel in college. And if they go to Yale, they belong there. They they may still struggle with belonging and and Posture syndrome.

Pablo [00:10:31]:

But if they're prepared, then they can succeed. And the second thing was, now I know what rigor is.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:10:37]:


Pablo [00:10:38]:

Now I know what high academic standards are. Right? Now I get the syllabus, and now I'm reading hundreds of pages a week and expect it you know, if you're taking a math class doing problem sets every week, the more liberal arts, So, like, history and social studies and social sciences like psychology and social sociology. They they were more typical, like, midterms and finals And and a paper or 2 language courses or, you know, you were doing work every day. But now now superintendent as a teacher. When I go back, I'm saying, okay. I know what I need to put in front of the kids now because now I've experienced the level of rigor that I should have experienced before, but now I know what it looks like because because of my experience at

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:11:30]:

So what I'm hearing is, you know, based off your experience and it is great that you were able to return back to your old, you know, stomping grounds, if you will, after you went on went off to college. But I wanna I wanna get a little bit more into that because you said you made a choice, or you said, as leader of this district, we wanna make sure that all of my students that come out of the school are capable of excelling at Yale, or let's just call it, prestigious college. So what were some of the initial changes that you made in order to reach that goal.

Pablo [00:12:05]:

For me, especially when I'm superintendent where where I have more say over over policy program services and Snow across the district, I looked at equity from a macro level at a micro level. Mhmm. And what I mean by that is that at the macro level, my school district is operating in the context of all school districts across the United States. And therefore, the academic standards Which get conveyed in board policies. Right? The programs, the services, the policy, the professional development for Personnel in order to deliver the content to the kids was gonna be designed to be able to compete against the most affluent School districts in the most competitive private schools. That that that was gonna be the standard and didn't happen overnight. We we had to build the system out over Time, and fortunate enough, I had eight and a half years and seven and a half years in another school district as superintendent to do that work. At the micro level, it was in the context of my own school district, right, and having varying degrees of students.

Pablo [00:13:20]:

And My school districts were 2 urban school districts in New Jersey, 86, 88% poverty rates, Large communities of English English language learners. So in the context of equity, I I have a lot of work To do because I'm gonna have varying degrees of proficiency. Right? We're gonna have the kids that just landed in the country. I mean, I was born in the United States, but I entered schools Being a Spanish speaker, so I have a lot of students coming in not speaking English. They need to learn English. Right? And those kids actually, If they come in younger, end up being better off because they have more of a school system go through. But oftentimes, when I was a high school teacher, you're getting them, you know, the freshmen, sophomores, they got 3, 4 years before it's time for them to graduate and pass state assessments in order to pass. So on the micro level, all those policies that I was that are and programs and services that I was designing in the context of the broader the United States, I had to take into account putting in programs and service to address the needs of varying degrees of kids.

Pablo [00:14:32]:

Right? So the high achieving kids, I made the opportunity to have gifted and talented programs k to 8 accessible. Now there was a part of that program In Elizabeth, I grew it to a 2nd school. In Passaic, it didn't exist, so I brought it into Passaic. And then at the high school level, I started creating, opportunities for kids to take as many advanced placement courses as they can. And then in PASAIC, we created an equity goal where students would graduate high school either with a career certification, 15 college credits, or both. And in Passaic, I had a larger vision that kids would actually graduate with a high school diploma and an associate's degree.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:15:20]:


Pablo [00:15:20]:

And in 2021, that happened for the 1st time. And then in 2022, the following year, I think we doubled the number of kids that graduate with High school diploma and and an associate's degree. So you we like, the experiences from Yale, looking at the micro macro level, providing students higher level rigorous courses, college opportunities. But on the flip side, we have kids that are lagging. Right? So you have kids that, just learning the English language regardless of how old they are. Once they enter the country, you have to address them. So we had to you know, we we had programs that were bilingual in nature. We also had to take into account students that were coming from disrupted educations.

Pablo [00:16:05]:

Patience. Right? They were coming from countries, that issues in their own countries. They they they hadn't been to school that And now they're landing in the United States at a particular age where they should have been at a certain academic level and the but they haven't been in school. So we had to factor in programs for that. Bilingual, kind of port of entry, disrupted education. And then To support the entire district, we took our resources, did after school programs, Saturday programs, morning programs, All in an effort credit recovery programs, all in an effort to help students because we're raising the standards, and we're providing more rigorous education, we also have to support the kids that that, are not yet ready to meet So you're you're doing both. Right? So I'm looking at the macro level. What's expected of our children to compete against other kids? Right? I want them to compete for the best schools.

Pablo [00:17:05]:

I want them to compete for the best jobs, but at the same time, when you're looking at your own district, you have varying degrees of performance and stories. Right? Their own stories. Right? What's What's happening, their immigration to United States, or if they're born in United States, what's happening, to their education level? So Those are kind of the things that I had to think about, the strategies that I had to think about when I wanted to bring in higher levels expectation, and rigor to the district where I was comparing it against and then thinking about the context of how it was playing out just in the context of my own 2 school districts.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:17:44]:

Nice. Well, thank you for that. You know, I I'm curious. You know? Obviously, it sounds like there was a lot of policies and and procedures and programs that were put in place to support, those areas, of for for growth, for your students, especially the students where they're in a process of learning English. I'm just curious when it came to, I mean, obviously, you can't be in all the schools yourself and doing all the work yourself. Obviously, you had support and teams and, individuals that worked with you, worked alongside of you, and we're in the buildings as leaders, even assistant principals, principals, those kind of things. I I I'm just curious for for those who are listening, who might be in leadership positions that are in the process of looking to make some changes within their systems. Kinda have the same mindset as far as, you know, We have historically been a certain place, and maybe I've even experienced this myself as a student.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:18:36]:

And I wanna make some of those changes. I'm just curious. What kind of strategies could you provide to our listeners in these type of positions that are looking to make some changes as, you know, similar to what you were doing?

Pablo [00:18:47]:

Yeah. That's a fantastic question. I mean, I mean, that's that's the nuts and bolts of the heart of my book. The leader's algorithm is It's a simple equation that puts strategic thinking to work. You write a personal theory of action. You share that personal theory of action, then you just don't leave it as a theory. You actually execute it consistently with public accountability. And if you do that, then you will transform your life, work, schools, school districts, and relationships.

Pablo [00:19:25]:

So then the question is, what What is a theory of action, and what is a personal theory of action? Right? So a theory of action is a hypothesis that Certain actions, your actions, and your team's actions will lead to certain results. Set a different way. If we do a, b, and c, then we will get x, y, and z results. That's the personal theory. That's a theory of action. But then what what is a personal theory of action? So a personal theory of action is also a hypothesis. But in this case, It's what you can personally do and what you can do through your team to achieve your goals. And it's written in a logical chain of if then statements that lead to your ultimate goal.

Pablo [00:20:14]:

And, usually, your ultimate goal is your mission statement or paraphrasing of your mission statement. My personal theory of action is was my leadership framework, and strategy that I use to lead and manage the Elizabeth and the Passaic Public Schools. So what would I say to to to the administrators that you described there? I would say, you know, write a personal theory of action. Share it. Right? Don't keep Secret, let the world know this is who you are as a leader. These are my values, beliefs. These are the actions I'm going to take to transform this School district. The next thing I would say is your job is to focus in on the instructional core.

Pablo [00:20:59]:

Right. That's the relationship between the teacher, the student, and the content usually happening inside the classroom. And then I would say, if there's 1 thing you need to focus in on, then if you can't remember anything else, one thing you need to focus in on, It would be task predicts performance. Task predicts performance. Right? Putting cognitively challenging tasks before the students. Right? It doesn't matter what this lesson plan says. It doesn't matter the instructions the teacher says. What matters is what's in front of the students.

Pablo [00:21:35]:

What are they actually doing? And if and if that's challenging and that's cognitively challenging, then you're preparing the students, for future success. So as a leader, what I would say to those folks is create your personal me my personal theory of action had 4 if statements. It it started with what can I do, what can my leaders do, and what can my organization do? My 4th if statement were guiding principles for the organization. And then the the then statement was what I said before. It was largely a kind of a a capturing of my ultimate goal, which was my daily mission for the for the district. So that that's kinda what I would say to folks.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:22:15]:

Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely. And, folks, obviously, there's more to it. And so there is a link in the show notes for the leaders' algorithm, how a personal theory of action transforms your life, work, and relationships. Now, Pablo, I I have thoroughly enjoyed our station, and I definitely consider you as providing a voice in leading equity. I'd love for you to take us home with, any words of advice that you would wanna provide to our listeners.

Pablo [00:22:42]:

I'll leave you with 2. Love your students like you love your own children. And by that, I mean, the concept of universal love, being selfless, unconditional, compassion, empathy, and also enduring love, commitment, patience, and tolerance. And then I would say if you want to do well at the equity work because that it is very, very challenging. You have to be clear as a leader what you stand for. Right? You have to take what's in your head, the mental models, all your Experiences, everything you think about leadership and management. And you need to put it down in writing as a personal theory of action. Right.

Pablo [00:23:25]:

Mine fit right on a 8a half by 11 sheet paper. It's gonna be your true north. As you're working and especially if you're doing equity work, There's gonna be a lot of noise, a lot of things happening around you that's gonna pull you away from that work. Having a written personal theory of action. Right? It's not written in stone. It changes over time as you learn more and experience more. Having that having that document grounding you, will allow you to be more effective at transforming the schools, changing student lives, and and excelling at the work of of equity in schools.

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:24:03]:

Love it. Thank you so much. You know, Pablo, if we have folks that want to again, obviously, we'll put links in the show notes for the book. But if some folks wanna connect with you, what's the best way to reach you online?

Pablo [00:24:15]:

Yeah. Sheldon, thank you so much. I mean, I'd love to talk to any of your, listeners. They can see the services that I provide in my educational and leadership consulting company at www.themunozcompany.com. My telephone number is on there. I'm also on LinkedIn as Pablo Munoz, and my email address is Pablo at, company.com. So they they can reach out in any of those ways, and I'd be happy To listen and talk and share because that yeah. I'm I'm at this point in my life that that's what I wanna do, for people.

Pablo [00:24:55]:

I know, I've been at it for 30 years and 16 years as superintendent. I I was at it long enough to know that People need advocates. People need mentors, and I'd like to be that for people. So

Dr. Sheldon Eakins [00:25:08]:

Alright. We'll leave links as well for those as well so we can get in touch with you for those who are listening. Pablo, it has truly been a pleasure. Thank you so much for your

Pablo [00:25:18]:


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