Stephanie Downey Toledo, Ed.L.D.'18, is always on the go — for work and with family.
During a rare down moment traveling to a family wedding with her parents, three children, and husband in tow, Toledo chatted about life post-HGSE: "It was such a great three years," she says. "I arrived at HGSE with two children and I am graduating with three children ... the cohort really embraced the additional member."
Upon being named marshal by her colleagues, Downey Toledo noted that her cohort's support was really the beginning of what has been a team effort. "Any and all 25 could have served this role," she says. "I could not have done this without my husband, kids, and cohort. It's a good parallel and reminder of how leadership in the field will work in that you are so much more effective, stronger, and impactful when you do the work as a team."
Downey Toledo entered education when she joined Teach For America as a new college graduate. She quickly found a niche in special education, eventually being named New York City Department of Education Deputy CEO of the division of students with disabilities and English language learners, where she oversaw 1800 schools.
"I had an incredible career on behalf of students with disabilities," she says. "But having worked in that level, I knew that changes weren't going to happen within that office. The role of superintendent has the potential to make changes on behalf of all kids, including and especially those who are too often ‘othered.’”
Downey Toledo's aspirations to be a superintendent led her to the Ed.L.D. Program. Having spent the bulk of her career in extremely large school districts like New York City and Los Angeles, Toledo found the promise of Ed.L.D. exciting. "My previous roles were connected to special education," she says. "It was the right time to really fill in areas of my knowledge base and learn alongside people who had focused on other populations."
Her residency working in Cambridge Public Schools under new Superintendent Kenneth Salim included conducting a program review of his strategic plan. This included evaluating how the district was using people, time, and finances to ensure every child has equitable access to great learning opportunities in grades preK to 5.
Though Downey Toledo cannot share specific findings from the research publicly, she says that such a review is important. No matter how technical a task, there is always something to be learned about how a system is functioning and how you as a leader can take that knowledge and make improvements to that system.
"There is no task that is too small or too tedious that can't help you be better informed or help improve the education experience for all kids," she says.
Additionally, the pivot from a huge district like New York with 1,800 schools to Cambridge with 18 schools offered some perspective, especially as Downey Toledo transitions to her new full-time position as chief academic officer of the Central Falls School District in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where she oversees six schools.
“I grew up as a leader in New York City and there was a style of leadership there that was fast-paced, efficient, and on a very large scale," she says. "It's leading in a different way, leading change through relationships. I'm grateful to Ed.L.D. for helping me have experiences where I got to lead in different sized systems, different resource levels, and different scale.”