HUDSON — One need not be a rocket scientist, or in the case of Dr. Alexandra McNeil, have a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical and astronautical engineering, to be a Superintendent of Schools, but it sure can help and has surprising similarities to being a leader.
On Mar. 21, McNeil, who is one of the five finalists for the Hudson Superintendent position, explained, “I truly am a rocket scientist.”
She said something clicked for her in seventh grade in terms of her interest in science and engineering and with hard work and determination, she was accepted into the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and created a portfolio around leadership.
She built relationships while at MIT, which is something she is “very proud of.” She also worked in the industry on a project that rebuilt a robot that helped build the space station.
“It’s interesting — that process,” she said. “My job as a student was really connecting the black boxes.”
She connected her work in engineering with the superintendent position and her career in education by saying what data is put in, is what will come out, which is “kind of like leadership.”
An education legacy
McNeil said she has seen “a lot of excitement and a lot of openness” in the Hudson Public Schools and would look at strategies to connect everyone despite maybe speaking a different language. She thought the community was great.
She used the words transparency, collaborative and determined to characterize her administrative style.
McNeil currently works as the assistant superintendent for human resources at Needham Public Schools, a position she has held since 2018. She is also an adjunct professor at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education and Human Development where she teaches an introduction to educational leadership.
Prior to joining Needham, McNeil worked as the instructional superintendent in Boston Public Schools and served as principal at Mario Umana Academy in Boston and assistant headmaster, science program director and STEM teacher at Boston Latin.
In her work at the Boston Public Schools, she helped establish the Dual Language School. She said this brought together the community, including families where English was not their native language. It was an opportunity to create a learning environment for students who may speak Spanish, she said.
“Resources are not just dollars, but it is also people,” McNeil said.
According to McNeil, research indicates that bilingual students perform better after seventh grade if they are offered an opportunity like a dual language school.
McNeil herself was a dual language learner as her parents came from Cuba to the United States.
They met, married and raised a family in Boston. She did not speak any English at first and was immersed in the language when she went to school.
Education runs in the family. Her father studied at Boston University, and her mother was a nutrition worker and a teaching assistant. She was also a vice principal and principal in Boston for 20 years, and McNeil’s sisters are teachers.
McNeil said, “My parents really taught us to give back.”
McNeil talks budget, anti-racism
In terms of budget building, McNeil has experience with two approaches: zero-base building and building a budget off a previous year.
In zero-base budget building, the funds are allocated in total to the building leader, who starts from zero and builds the budget up. McNeil supported 13 to 14 Boston schools through this process.
To accomplish this, they needed to streamline the process and provide consistency across schools, she said.
McNeil also has experience building off of a previous year’s budget. She said the challenge is how to handle removing big items that are built into the budget.
In her current role in Needham, she shares publicly with the School Committee what budget decisions are made and what the needs are for that fiscal year.
McNeil said the investment in the process is “having an understanding of what is the town’s ability to meet the needs and trying to build that budget toward that end.”
She emphasized the need for transparency when dealing with potential budget cuts.
“Being transparent about the whole process is really important,” McNeil said.
She noted the important of creating an anti-racist culture where everyone feels safe, seen and valued.
“I feel strongly that students have to have a voice in their educational experience,” she said.
When she first started in Needham, the district had completed their equity audit. In Needham, they had a program called the Real Coalition that worked to discuss equity issues and look at engagement.
The “Stronger Together” initiative, an affinity group composed made up of African-American, Asian and Latin staff across the schools and the town, was established in her time in Needham. The goal was answering “how do we build a community for our staff,” according to McNeil.
She said she was interested to see how the ongoing effort in Hudson goes.
To watch the full interview and to provide feedback to the School Committee, visit https://www.hudson.k12.ma.us/important_information/superintendent_search.
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