David Hay, Ed.L.D.’17, has come a long way from Antigo, Wisconsin, his hometown of 8,000 people from which he had to drive 40 miles to get to a mall. His new adopted city of New York, where he has taken a position as director of organizational effectiveness for the New York City Department of Education under Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, is just a bit larger.
“To jump to the largest school system on the planet is incredible,” Hay says. “It’s humbling, challenging, and really promising. There isn’t another place that faces challenges as complex, but also has talented people hard at work trying to solve those problems.”
Hay, who led the graduating Ed.L.D. cohort as a commencement marshal, spent much of his time in the program working and studying under Fariña. Following a year-one class project in New York City, Hay continued his work in the city, first as part of a summer fellowship and later at his third-year residency during which he studied ways leaders can create opportunities for employees to better understand the vision of the chancellor, and how their work supports the vision. Now, as director of organizational effectiveness under Fariña, Hay will work on bringing his recommendations to life.
A life in education wasn’t always a given for Hay. Like many young adults, he had become disenchanted with school by the sixth grade. As Hay describes it, he became apathetic, stopped trying, and didn’t make good grades. This continued throughout his middle and high school years until one teacher, Mr. Minch, and a new class in graphics opened his eyes to the power of education. As a newly hired teacher for a new class, Hay recounts that Minch told the class that they’d have to all learn together. “That was so real to me and so raw. I loved it,” he says. But by the end of the school year, he learned the teacher and program were cut. “I went from an apathetic student to totally involved kid in a day.”
After meeting with the principal and school board over a two-week period, he had the course reinstated at the school. Though Minch had already found another job, that moment sparked something in Hay. “It set me on a different path that I would not have imagined,” he says.
Following college, Hay pursued a career in education and quickly rose through the ranks of teacher, principal, and founding principal of two innovative charter schools where all learning is integrated and applied through the lens of the arts and global leadership. Both schools in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine School District have been recognized nationally as models of excellence in personalized learning.
“I had this drive to know that there’s millions of kids out there like me who are not served well by the existing system,” says Hay, who over his career worked in a range of environments from affluent communities to a struggling district turnaround school. “When you say all kids can learning at high levels, then you got to believe that staff and teachers can as well.”
At the last high school Hay led, the staff were able to close a 17 percentage point deficit in math as compared with the statewide average – in just three years. Those gains have been sustained over time, even as the state shifted to the ACT as the statewide accountability measure.
Hay came to realize that having the right teacher in every classroom, the right principal, and the right superintendent could take an eternity. Frustrated, Hay found himself thinking a lot about systems and policy. He decided to apply to law school, but in the middle of that process he received an email from the Ed.L.D. Program. “I didn’t know the program. But that [email] led to a phone call and two weeks later I applied, and the rest is history,” he says.
Like many students, Hay expected Harvard to have the answers. “I got here and was quickly disappointed that it didn’t have all the answers,” he admits. “But I was delighted to find that we were all asking the same questions and dealing with the bigger systemic issues at play.”
Over the course of three years, Hay knew he’d develop more leadership tools, but was surprised by how much he discovered about himself. “As a leader, it’s about how you interact in the world and the world with you,” he says. “That was unexpected and profound. The revelations of self in that first year and how I’ve grown in the past two years … that’s the single most important thing that remains with me. The work to improve self is everlasting and the mantra ‘to transform the sector, transform yourself…’ I didn’t know what that meant until I was in the program.”
For Hay, it’s hard to believe that three years are over and his time in the Ed.L.D. Program has come to an end, but he’s excited to be working full-time again. “We all come to Ed.L.D. with drive and passion for equity. To be on a campus is so valuable, but everyone lives with frustration that they are not doing the work,” he says. “In that respect, it’s great to be back out doing the work.”