This month’s spotlight features Wendy Robinson (The Broad Academy 2002), Superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools.
Wendy was a part of The Broad Academy’s first cohort and is the Superintendent of Fort Wayne Community Schools, an urban public school district serving 30,000 students in Indiana. She has held a variety of roles during her 47-year career, including teacher and principal– and in 2019 began her 17th year as superintendent. Wendy will be retiring this summer and leaves the organization with a strong culture of equity and community.
What initiatives are you most focused on during your remaining tenure at Fort Wayne?
I am committed to continuing to create the conditions you need in a district so that children are good at learning so they are good at life. We don’t know what jobs will be like in the future and they may need to create their own jobs. We need to give children the competencies so that long after they leave, they are lifelong learners. We think about that as our job, our responsibility, and it’s the climate and the structure that we put in place that will influence our ability to do that.
One of the most important initiatives we continue to focus on is implementing the learnings of Michael Fullan, specifically around coherence; which includes focusing direction, collaborative cultures, deepening learning, accountability and the impact of leadership on all four. It’s in large part due to the impact his teachings have had on our team that I know that we will continue to see progress.
What is your vision for your organization in the next five years?
In five years I would like to see that all the systems we have put in place allowed the Fort Wayne Community Schools district to improve upon our mission, vision and core values and be flexible enough to address any new educational opportunities. While leadership will be different, the people who have been partners with me in this work will ensure that we continue in the right direction.
I hope that Indiana will finally move beyond its current accountability structures to actually measure what matters to students and parents. Namely, whether students have met academic standards and also mastered the skills that will allow them to be good at learning and good at life. Most importantly, I would hope that the state realizes the impact of poverty and environmental issues on a student’s ability to do well academically and devotes the necessary funds to make a difference.
What inspires you to do this work?
I started in this work because teaching is in my blood, but what keeps me going is the community that I’m in. Our tagline is “We are Your Schools” and our community embodies that. Every time we run up against a brick wall, someone in the community comes to our aid and many times they don’t even have children in our schools. People take responsibility. Recently, local businesses and community members raised money to support our music education program, which I believe is critically important. It’s our responsibility to them as a district to keep innovating. We are all in agreement that we don’t want to just be the best urban school district, we want to be the best district in the state and have a positive impact on our local economic development.
What has contributed to your impressive tenure?
I think that often, districts don’t keep a superintendent long enough to see things work. It requires time to get sustainable systems in place. I chose to stay in Fort Wayne and we’ve learned together, doing after-action reviews and improving.
The reason I’ve been at Fort Wayne for so long is I have a supportive board and strong internal and external community support. When you look at the concept of coherence, everyone has to have a shared understanding of what we stand for, where we are going and how we are going to get there. Sometimes we give the superintendent too much credit. I know what my role is, but if I don’t have members of my community and my board understanding what their roles are, we can’t succeed. People forget that in any leadership job you must be able to collaborate with all stakeholders at the local, state and national level. We have had a motto in Fort Wayne since I became superintendent: it’s all about relationships, relationships, relationships.
What is the last education-related book you read?
Michael Fullan’s new book, Dive into Deep Learning: Tools for Engagement, is being used as the framework for all of our leadership sessions this year. We recently held a 2-day institute with the authors that included 700 teachers and administrators, where we learned how to use the toolkit as a way to implement changes to our curriculum this year. To continue our work, there must be tools in the hands of the people who are with the kids each and every day.
Is there any other advice you’d like to share?
Always remember why you got into education in the first place. Those reasons have to be grounded in a deep appreciation for the value of education and the rights of all students and adults to have equitable opportunities to be successful. For me, ALL means ALL. As an African American female I have never allowed my gender or color to be a barrier to my being successful and I believe I owe that to every student who walks through the doors of Fort Wayne Community Schools.