EdM ’03, Educational Administration
Casandra Wright (EdM ’03, Educational Administration) is a proud product of a working class family. Her grandfather, Edgar Owens, was a popular civil rights leader in, Early Branch, a rural town in South Carolina. “My grandfather was a formidable man who refused to bow to Jim Crow laws,” Wright said. “While he did not have the best education, he was the wisest man I ever knew.” Her grandfather moved to Elmira, New York during the Great Migration after several attempts from the Klansmen to kidnap and kill him.
Wright’s grandfather and mother helped her understand the responsibility of serving her community to ensure equity and equality for all. “It is not okay to sit in silence when people are suffering due to the color of their skin, their gender, their ethnicity, their language or their income,” said Wright. “Everywhere I go, I offer a counter narrative to any degrading, inaccurate or otherwise insensitive discourse regarding marginalized populations.”
When Wright is not coaching and training leaders for social justice as the associate superintendent of school leadership with the Buffalo Public School (BPS) district, she is impacting her community in a variety of positive aspects. She is an integral member of social justice organizations, and she mentors at-risk students. Wright ensures these students are connected to a caring adult who will help them navigate the school system and develop self-efficacy to help them become successful in their educational system and beyond. She has won several community service awards, and awards related to her mentorship of at-risk high school youth. She has also been a panelist for several organizations including the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity, and the Transformation of Schools at NYC Steinhart for the Technical Assistance Center on Disproportionality.
Wright has been at BPS since 1987, as she began her career at Campus North School as a fifth and sixth grade special education teacher. Then, she spent 13 years as a seventh and eighth grade special education teacher at Waterfront Elementary School (WES). In 2004, she became the assistant principal at Waterfront, and from 2006 to 2010, she served as principal of the BUILD Academy before her appointment as a community superintendent in 2010.
“I never imagined I would be anything other than a beloved and highly effective special education teacher because I loved that job! I was fortunate to learn about instruction, relationship building and advocacy while at Waterfront,” said Wright. “The principal noticed my leadership among my peers and advocacy for students and handed me a UB Leadership Initiative for Tomorrow’s Schools (LIFTS) flyer. I never thought about becoming an administrator until that moment.”
The LIFTS program in the Graduate School of Education prepared Wright for her position as the full-time program coordinator at WES and her current title as the associate superintendent of school leadership with BPS. LIFTS helped her understand highly effective leadership styles, positionality and building strength in others. “My LIFTS experience was invaluable, as I realized my core values and non-negotiables,” Wright said. “The LIFTS program helped me understand who I am as a leader and through LIFTS, I identified the passion that drives me and the issues I refuse to negotiate over.”
Advice Wright offers to students aspiring to have a career in administration is to be clear about why they want to go into leadership, and if the reasons are not connected to advocacy to students from all backgrounds, it is important to rethink the decision. “Diversity is increasing in all areas, not just urban schools,” said Wright. “The linkage of accountability and diversity is inextricable.”
Over the years, Wright learned she sincerely enjoys the social justice aspect of her work, as she developed her identity as an African-American feminist and uses her positionality to fight for equality and excellence for all learners. “I love the art of argumentation and use a combination of quantitative and qualitative research to challenge existing structures that hinder learning and growth for marginalized individuals,” Wright said. “I do not back down from issues that involve excellence and equity for all learners, as academic excellence and social justice must be tightly coupled.”
Race was never discussed where Wright was born and raised, which made her feel invisible. She is grateful for the opportunity to learn about her heritage and history from her family, and incorporates her background into her educational work. “I love coaching and training leaders for social justice and I will continue this work through retirement,” Wright said. “After retirement, I will continue to mentor at-risk youth and would love to work at the university level to teach leadership programs and work as a leadership consultant.”