A Champion and an Advocate - Dr. Lesli Myers-Small ’01 (M.S.), ’09 (Ed.D.)

November 16, 2020

There isn’t an industry, sector, or profession that hasn’t felt the jolting changes caused by the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. But, it could be argued that education, in particular, has felt that disruption more than other entities, as teachers, administrators, students, and families experience new models of education together. This fall, Collegium is highlighting Fisher alumni educators who are letting their creativity fly in this new educational landscape.

Head shot of Lesli Myers-Small

On September 19, Dr. Lesli Myers-Small celebrated her fourth month as superintendent of the Rochester City School District (RCSD). She is the first woman of color to hold a permanently appointed superintendency in Monroe County. But that doesn’t phase Myers-Small. She’s used to breaking down barriers.

“When you’re a credentialed and qualified woman of color, you still face microaggressions, so you fight to prove yourself over and over again,” she said. “I have worked incredibly hard my entire life in every single role. I didn’t aspire but grew into superintendency. I’ve arrived and embraced it, and I don’t take it lightly.”

Myers-Small began her career in education in RCSD, working as a school counselor at the John Marshall Center for Learning and then Wilson Magnet High School. After six years, she was encouraged to enroll in Fisher’s graduate program in educational administration. Over the course of her career, she has served in leadership roles in RCSD and the Greece Central School District, where she earned tenure, as well as the Ithaca City School District.

During that time, she took her own next educational step as a member of the first cohort of Fisher’s Doctor of Executive Leadership program. She then moved to Brockport Central School District to serve as its first African American superintendent. In 2020, Myers-Small left Brockport to work in the State Education Department. But after five months, RCSD came calling.

Currently, Myers-Small oversees the education of 25,000 children, many of whom live in poverty. She said she is ready to address the significant challenges within the district, from low graduation rates and exam scores to fiscal troubles. On top of that, teachers, staff, and students are facing the new frontier of virtual instruction while also living and working in a city grappling with extreme distrust between communities of color and police, as well as systemic racism that seems to permeate every aspect of life, from housing to education to health care.

“Our students and employees bring this with them to the classroom, and we have to acknowledge it and we have a responsibility to call it out and talk about racism and antiracism. It’s critically important,” she said.

Myers-Small draws her education philosophy from the School of Education’s DACKS framework, which focuses on diversity, achievement, compassion, knowledge, and service. “DACKS shapes and frames everything that I do as an educator. I work to tangibly meet the diverse needs of our students, set high expectations, show understanding and care for the families in our district, apply research-based theories to contemporary education issues, and most importantly, practice service leadership,” she explained.

“We have a lot of work to do, but it fuels me. I want to see the needle move in Rochester. I want to make things happen and see it to the end,” she said. “Our scholars must be successful. We must have an impact on the children we serve because in some instances they have been failed. They need a champion, an advocate, a cheerleader to be there for them. This work, it’s personal for me, and I have very high expectations for what we can accomplish.”