Each One Teach One: Note to Self from Claudia Bach

The Boston/Cambridge Chapter of Harvard Alumni for Education hosted an Each One Teach One event on 5/16 in Boston. The five speakers shared very moving stories of what they've learned in their journeys. We've asked speakers to share their speeches and some words of wisdom for the HAEd Blog, and will be posting them over the next several weeks.

First, here is Note to Self from Claudia Bach:

Good Evening.  My thanks for this opportunity to Harvard Alumni for Education, OZY EDU, First Generation Harvard Alumni and the HGSE Office of Development and Alumni Relations.  

Perhaps some of you have seen the segment “Note to Self” on CBS’s Morning News Show.  The notes are from older people, at the end of their career, to their younger selves. Mostly notes of encouragement and advice.  So, I’ve written such a note that I want to share with you this evening. My Note to Self. The date is May, 1994:

Dear Claudia,

Today is one of the biggest days of your life.  You are graduating with your Ed.D. from the Urban Superintendents Program (USP) at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education.  Wow. You! One of your childhood friends will soon say to you, “I am so proud of you,” and you are moved, because they are words your parents would have said had they still been living, as you are the first doctor in your extended family.

As a member of USP, a program designed specifically to prepare women and people of color for the highest leadership positions in public education, you are the only Caucasian woman in your cohort. What you don’t know now is that diversity, equity and inclusion will become central to your work throughout your career.

What you do know today, is how hard you have worked to earn your Ed.D.  Courses like micro-economics and advanced statistics were daunting, and the term you took six courses almost undid you, and you weren’t sure you could make it through. Yet, you discovered that not only was your admission into USP not a mistake, the Program did everything possible to ensure your success, and everyone else in your cohort.  

Your 6-month internship with Superintendent Rudy Crew in Sacramento, was at times frightening, but also exhilarating, as he insisted you do the real work of a superintendent, and so directed you to create a public charter school and to negotiate and settle with the unions both the custodial and teachers contracts.  

What you don’t know now is that at every single course you have taken here will give you the knowledge and know-how to deal with the complex issues you will encounter. Every single course. There will be no problems for which you will be unprepared, and there will be few surprises.

But to become a superintendent (having come from a totally different work experience), will be your first huge challenge after graduation.  You will submit dozens and dozens of applications to districts all over the country without success. You will hit bottom, wondering if your fancy degree was worth it after all.  But don’t despair. You will prevail, and after an entire year, you will get your first superintendency, thanks to Rudy Crew who will have vouched for your potential, and for the constant encouragement and support from your cohort.

USP has taught you something even more important – though you may not yet realize it –and that is the necessity to lead with courage and truth-telling.  These two qualities will become your lodestars for the really tough decisions. You will fire a very popular principal whom you discover deliberately targets Latino students to find ways to expel them or push them to drop out of school.  Shortly after, you will be brought to tears when a board member who knows you have put your job on the line says to you, “Tell me about courage.” Years later, you will hear the Kennedy School’s Ronald Heifetz, say that the superintendency of America’s public schools is the most dangerous and complex CEO job in America.  And you will agree.

And finally, you will discover Harvard really is the gift that keeps giving, providing opportunities to teach here, to mentor grad students, to serve on the alumni council, to be a part of the program today.  You gladly will serve when requested, because you will want to pay forward. You will say, over and over, Harvard changed your life profoundly, giving you the unbelievable opportunity to serve our nation’s most important resource – the children of our public schools.  You, Claudia, are off to a wonderful adventure. So get going. But hang on tight!

With love, your older self (May 16, 2019)

Claudia Bach.jpg

Claudia L. Bach, Ed.D, ‘94

Claudia currently works as a consultant for Empower Success Corps (ESC) and is a Fellow of Encore Fellowships in Greater Boston. She conducts workshops in Adaptive Leadership for ESC and Encore, and serves as a coach for the Encore Prize initiative. In 2015-16 she completed a fellowship at Education Pioneers, and has been a member of the EP’s Alumni Board in Boston since 2016. She has more than 30 years in the education sector, most recently as Superintendent of Schools in Andover Massachusetts, and Director of Educator Excellence at the MA Elementary and Secondary Department of Education.  In 1994 she earned her doctorate at HGSE in the Urban Superintendents Program. For 2 years she was a Lecturer on Education at HGSE, teaching a course entitled Managing Negotiations. She now serves on the HGSE Alumni Council, is a SAMI mentor for graduate students, and an alumni interviewer for Harvard College admissions. For 8 years she has served as a Trustee at Pike School, an independent preK-9 school in Andover, MA. She is a founding member of Andover Tomorrow, a citizen’s initiative to bolster sustainable economic development in Andover.