NLU’s Carlos Azcoitia, Ed.D., recently traveled to southern California when Soka University invited him to teach graduate students in its Distinguished Practitioners Series. He spent two days engaging students in Soka’s Educational Leadership and Societal Change course.
Soka asked Azcoitia and five other accomplished leaders to examine the course’s themes of inclusive leadership, social justice, the dynamics of organizational change, and ways to overcome barriers to change.
Jay Heffron, program director for the Soka course, described Azcoitia’s wide range of experience in educational leadership as the reason Soka invited him to the prestigious series.
“As a former member of the Chicago Public School Board, overseeing the third largest school district in the United States, a former teacher, principal and central office administrator, as the founding principal of a comprehensive K-12 community-based school in Chicago, it was clear that Dr. Azcoitia brought the exceptional professional background and the history of success in helping to change schools that we were looking for,” said Heffron.
The half-dozen students in the course also have careers, and work at the intersection of education, government and community-based organizations. However, educational leadership and change were important to all of them. The group was international and diverse, and included students from Africa, India and one originally from Ecuador. One is doing research in Cuba, where Azcoitia was born.
Besides Azcoitia, the other visiting instructors included a Columbia University professor, a top Los Angeles Unified School District leader and the National Principal of the Year winner.
“The plan is for students to get back to their communities, take knowledge they’ve learned from the program and see what they can apply,” said Azcoitia, distinguished professor of practice at NLU.
Student Stephanie Samaniego commented, “Carlos took us through a journey of self-discovery, learning how culture, language, and identity tie in with schooling and, most importantly, community. Bringing a wealth of experience, including serving as Deputy Chief of Education for Chicago Public Schools, Carlos shared his lessons learned over his thirty plus-year career.”
Reflecting on his experience at Soka, Azcoitia wrote, “Educational leadership requires the balance of skill development in three comprehensive areas: instructional leadership, management/ organization, and interpersonal effectiveness. The students demonstrated advanced leadership attributes in all of their interactions and discussions.
“The depth and breadth of their engagement prompts me to express my gratitude for a powerful teaching and learning experience.”
The students focused on social justice, the inherent dignity of the person, world peace, the care of the poor and vulnerable, and equity and excellence.
Heffron, program director of the Soka course, invited Azcoitia to lecture at the recommendation of a mutual friend, Amanda Rivera, a former CPS principal and administrator. Rivera also practices Buddhism, Azcoitia said, and SOKA, though non-sectarian, was founded upon Buddhist principles of peace, human rights and the sanctity of life, according to its website.