With tears in her eyes, Dr. Talisa L. Dixon, superintendent of Cleveland Heights-University Heights City School District, recounts what one of her students told her: “I didn’t know I could take AP courses.” Because his school’s AP courses were majority-white and he didn’t see students who looked like him, he didn’t think he was eligible.
For a leader whose greatest motivation is equity, this revelation drove her to develop a comprehensive equity policy for her district so that no student would ever again think they can’t access opportunities. As part of this policy, Dixon ensures that her highest-need schools get the best teachers and that funding is equitable and transparent. She also implements professional development for teachers to explore and address their own biases and beliefs about their students and consults with students for their feedback on how the district can improve.
Dixon leads with her heart and puts words into action. She represents the type of transformational leader that we at the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL) believe anyone is capable of becoming, with the adequate access and opportunity in place, and dream that every community has.
Looking at Dr. Dixon’s professional history, one can tell her drive for equity was present all along. As principal of Columbus Alternative High School in the early 2000’s, she focused on increasing educational access and achievement, especially among students of color. She significantly increased minority enrollment in the International Baccalaureate Diploma program and Advanced Placement courses, and transformed the school’s discipline plan to decrease student referrals by 20%. These achievements led her high school to be named a U.S. News & World Report Best High School from 2008 to 2010. Then, as deputy superintendent for teaching & learning in Saginaw Public Schools in Michigan, she led the redesign of equity-focused programs including the Title I program and the district’s School Improvement Process. Now, as she transitions to become superintendent of Columbus City Schools in Ohio where she made such an impact earlier in her career, it is assured she will build on this success to help change the odds for even more students through her demand for equity. IEL is humbled to have played a role in the development this courageous and compassionate leader. Out of 700 graduates in Cleveland State’s Center for Educational Leadership programs, Dixon was selected as a recipient of the Educator Inspired to Lead Award.
Dixon is an alumna of IEL’s Education Policy Fellowship Program (EPFP), a 10-month professional development program that strengthens fellows’ capacities in policy, leadership, and networking to develop a diverse and collaborative community of strategic leaders for effective public policy. At IEL, we seek to be just as bold and unapologetic as leaders like Dixon demonstrate in our pursuit of equity and opportunity for all. We invite you to join us to #RiseUpforEquity to grow and support more exemplary leaders like Dixon; to innovate new policy and program ideas for equity; and mobilize leaders to eliminate systemic barriers so that everyone has the opportunity to succeed.
As we close out 2018 and look ahead to 2019, may we fiercely protect and pursue equity and opportunity for all so that no young person believes anything, including an AP course, is out of their reach.