I met Danny Herrera a couple of years ago. It’s hard to put a date on it as I remember his face from our time volunteering with the Lynwood Alumni College Conference in California, where we hosted workshops around college readiness for high school students in the Lynwood community.
However, it was in 2012, when I joined Teach For America that I first had the opportunity to work with him. As a first year teacher, we were provided Saturday professional development where we would receive coaching and support based on our content cohorts. Danny served as our English language arts instructional coach where I learned of his success in the classroom achieving some of the most impressive end-of-year results.
He was a teacher with KIPP back then and shared his passion for creating pathways of opportunities for students who shared the experiences that he had growing up. I remember feeling inspired by his commitment and work ethic as well as his dedication to his students.
As soon as I was elected to the Lynwood school board, I made my commitment to recruiting alumni to come back and serve our new generation of students one of my priorities. Danny was on top of my list. I reached out to him and began my own recruitment process, knowing that he would be an asset to Lynwood as a product of our schools and as a true educational leader. Unfortunately, he was going through a transitional period at that time and had begun his way up the leadership ladder.
We stayed in contact and reconnected a few times after our work together through Teach For America. After a couple of years of working separately and advancing in our own ways, I found my way back to him last summer. We had open positions for school leaders in our schools, and I wanted him to consider applying.
By this time, Danny was already serving as principal at a community charter school with PUC (Partnerships to Uplift Communities), a charter management organization known for its commitment to community. Fortunately, after multiple conversations and numerous discussions, I was successful. Danny decided to take a leap of faith and applied to the job, even when we had already discussed that nothing was guaranteed and if offered an opportunity, he would have to move back to Lynwood and change his lifestyle.
He didn’t hesitate. For him, the opportunity to serve the community that help mold him as a leader and as an educator meant more than a title. Danny accepted a position as assistant principal at the same middle school he attended, where he hoped to focus his energy and experience on collaborating with the current principal in order to truly transform the school’s culture and serve as a role model to students in his hometown.
His move meant more than an added asset to our district; his move was a testament to the effort that our district had been working towards. In a sense, leaving a secure position with a respectable title to take an assistant principalship was validation to what we could achieve if more educators led with their heart.
So far, I have heard great feedback about Danny’s work. He is inspiring, fearless, driven, determined and excited to push forward. After his story got out and Ryan Seacrest highlighted him for being a servant leader, I have received many messages from other alumni seeking their way back to Lynwood.
To know that one person’s story could motivate so many others to be the change they want to see is both inspiring and overwhelming. I believe that “it takes a village to raise a child,” and I am excited and looking forward to what the future holds for our community as more and more “Dannys” find their way back home to help shape the next generation of leaders.