Stephanie Morgado and Byron Laird Morgado (MA '15), Laird (EdD '18)
Partners in Leadership
What happens when two people who are passionate about making
educational change join forces personally and
We spoke with current CANDEL student Stephanie Morgado (MA ’15)
and alumnus Byron Laird (EdD ’18) about the challenges of being
educational leaders, how they’re bringing social justice to their
students and what it’s like to be married collaborators.
Tell us about your leadership roles and the community you serve.
STEPH: We are both in Vallejo, which is an urban school district
with a high percentage of free and reduced-price lunch students.
Byron and I are within the same charter management organization,
and I spent this past year opening up a new middle school that I
direct, Griffin Academy.
BYRON: We’re all one organization called Griffin Technology
Academy, and I’m the high school principal of MIT Academy. The
last four years we’ve been recognized by U.S. News & World Report
as one of the best high schools in America.
You both started your careers as teachers. What drew you to
BYRON: I chose to go into teaching because I was working in the
corporate world and I didn’t feel like I was really doing what I
wanted to do. I know it sounds cliché to want to make the world a
better place, but I felt a calling towards education. I taught
social science, psychology, geography and world history before I
went into administration.
STEPH: I was an astrophysics major at UC Berkeley at the same
time that CalTeach was being piloted. I took education classes
every semester alongside my major courses and did student
teaching for almost four years as an undergrad. Doing astronomy
research really opened my eyes to the lack of diversity in the
scientific community. Being pretty much the only Latina around
was just hard. At the same time, I was also working with kids and
seeing that even at a young age they didn’t believe that they
could become scientists or engineers. In the end, that’s where my
passion grew, and that’s why I ended up taking the education
route instead of doing research. I was most recently a high
school physics, chemistry and astronomy teacher at our charter
management organization before transitioning to my director role.
How did you come to be in your current roles as administrative
BYRON: If you’re a teacher with any interest in taking on
additional work, there’s lots of it there for you. My
director told me he thought I’d be a good person for
administration. I took his advice and got my administrative
credential as well as my master’s in education. I thought I could
affect change on a much deeper level by getting into
STEPH: In my student teaching experience, I understood my role
more as a teacher leader and was always thinking about other ways
I could be involved in policy. I always took on more and more
teacher leadership roles and dabbled in various administrative
things, whether it was ensuring that our seniors were ready to
graduate or starting a program with Byron for our students to
make up credits. While I was a teacher, I earned my standalone
master’s degree at the School of Education, and it really made me
think about what I was doing in the classroom. I knew I could be
a mentor for other teachers, but there are greater systemic
issues that we need to challenge at a policy level, and that’s
what drove me to do this.
What are your approaches to being administrators?
STEPH: Everything that I’ve done is for all students, not just
the highest-achieving students. When I think about all of the
programs our students are offered, I’m really thinking, “Why
can’t all kids be a part of this?” That’s what drove me to open
up a third school this year. I’m thinking about what policies I
can implement from the beginning to ensure that all students have
access to rigorous curriculum and a college-going culture.
BYRON: There’s a great deal of work that needs to be done. We’re
both trying to bring more equitable outcomes to our students and
challenge teacher perceptions and biases around student
performance and learning outcomes. My EdD work at UC Davis has
definitely helped me realign my vision about an administration’s
role to advocate for all students.
How do you put equity into practice?
BYRON: First, we view our students as coming to school with
assets, not deficits. We need to collectively check our privilege
and biases so we can recognize those assets, whether that be
their learning capacity, cultural experiences or something else.
Then we take that one step further and think about how to empower
students so they can have control of their own educational
STEPH: I think of equity as the first stepping stone to
dismantling some of the structures that aren’t benefiting our
students. We want more than equity. We want to move toward social
justice. A lot of ideas we’ve talked about felt like short-term
solutions. For example, instead of getting a donation of
backpacks for students, let’s think about the supports and
services that they really need in the long term. We need to dig
deeper and think about how to dismantle those things that are
putting our students in boxes. As leaders we need to drive the
conversation forward, and that starts with awareness. So this
year we started the Equity Committee at our schools. I want
staff, students and families to be aware of equity because they
can feel injustices occurring. I want them to see that they have
some allies here that want to do the work. I want to get the word
out that this is really our vision.
BYRON: This is generalizing, but I think teachers all have a
unique view of equity that varies based on personal beliefs and
whether they’re keeping up with ongoing research. So how do you
challenge the viewpoints that don’t benefit students? We’re
trying to create a committee where we can have conversations that
really confront these systemic issues that have plagued education
for decades. One thing I’m worried about is getting people to buy
in and not treat the committee as just another meeting. What
I hope we can communicate is a sense of urgency for people to
join in and that there’s this opportunity for people to make
impactful change, whether that’s in their classroom, in their
community or both.
What is it like to be working together while married?
BYRON: It’s funny because I just don’t think about it that often
since I’m really immersed in it right now. And when I wasn’t
working with Steph, we would still come home and bounce ideas off
each other. We met at the school and our personal relationship
definitely had a component of work. We are both driven,
passionate people, and we connected pretty quickly in that sense.
I love working with Steph because it’s awesome to see her in
action, making a meaningful impact. How many people can say that
about their spouse? Working in administration is difficult, but
having Steph as a partner has helped me stay focused through all
these years and has really driven me. It’s been an amazing
experience, and I definitely wouldn’t trade it for anything.
STEPH: It’s been awesome to have Byron there through some of
those really hard times, and I couldn’t imagine doing a lot of
the things that we’re doing this year without our collaboration.
A lot of the boundaries between work and home bleed over because
we’re working towards this common mission together. It hasn’t all
been just policy. It’s also been organizing opportunities that
are good for our students and just fun for us to do, like student
camping trips. It’s been really great to experience this wide
range of things with him, and I have a feeling we’re just going
to keep going.