2019 EdWeek Leaders to Learn From

2019 EdWeek Leaders to Learn From
Posted on 12/07/2018
Emilio Pack, CEO STEM Prep Schools

When running a charter school network feels like a huge pileup of paperwork and policy and Emilio Pack loses his way a little, he pulls out a picture of himself in elementary school. He’s a chubby kid in homemade plaid overalls, not yet fluent in English, a true outsider at a school full of rich white children in designer clothes.

Seeing that photo instantly zaps him full of renewed energy and purpose. He’s running these three STEM Preparatory schools, in working-class South Los Angeles, for children just like he once was: children who don’t have good schools in their neighborhoods.

So here, between the churches and check-cashing shops, he’s opened a sort of protective pipeline: an elementary, middle, and high school that aim to transform ordinary children into the high-tech problem-solvers of tomorrow, with college degrees and white-collar paychecks.

LESSONS FROM THE LEADER

  • All College Degrees Are Not Created Equal:Bachelor’s degrees in science, engineering, technology, and math fields offer students a strong shot at good-paying jobs in fast-growing fields. They also contribute to diversifying job sectors that are disproportionately white.
  • Lead With Love and Respect: Leadership is built on love and respect for students, teachers, and staff, and a full investment in their growth.
  • Core Values Can’t Be a List on the Wall: They have to be your guiding lights. They should inform your decisions every day about hiring, curriculum, student discipline, by reminding you who you are as an organization.

Pack was born in a gritty Los Angeles neighborhood like this, three months after his single mother immigrated from Cuba. But he was one of the lucky ones: He got out. Relatives pooled their money to help Pack’s mother buy a small house in San Marino, one of the city’s richest neighborhoods, famous for its top-notch schools.

“I don’t want these kids to have to leave their neighborhoods, like I did, to go to good schools,” Pack says in his sunny office adjoining the high school, Math and Science College Preparatory. “I want to bring good schools to them.”

That desire has shaped Pack’s life, first as a middle school counselor, then as assistant principal, principal, college instructor, and charter-school founder.