“We’ve not done enough to make students feel valued for their differences,” says Wanda Legrand, the new chief schools support officer for Guilford County Schools in her home state of North Carolina. Changing that experience for students is one of the passions driving Legrand, who is part of the Future Chiefs program with Chiefs for Change, as she brings nearly three decades of experience to the children and families of Guilford County.
What’s your drink in the morning? Coffee? Do you switch to something cold during the hot Carolina summers?
My drink in the morning is coffee, even in the summertime. Sometimes I switch to iced coffee in the afternoon. I prefer my coffee black. I have a Keurig that I love, and my favorite K-Cup is Starbucks Pike Place.
Talk about your background, education and career path.
I’ve always been a little bit of a math nerd, but my real passion is for helping adults find their inner teacher and leader. I am originally from North Carolina and focused on math education as an undergraduate. After graduating, I taught math for seven years, and then became a Principal Fellow in the state. My love of supporting excellent teaching and learning at scale led me to become an assistant principal, principal, district administrator, regional superintendent and deputy superintendent in large urban districts across the country.
Most recently, I served as a deputy chancellor in the District of Columbia Public Schools elevating and integrating the social emotional learning (SEL) work with academics. I’m excited about the opportunity to serve as Chief Student Support Officer in Guilford, where I’ll have the opportunity to lead this work in my home state.
At this stage of my career, I am interested in having a greater impact on students and educating the whole child. We have always been laser focused on academics, but we’ve just begun to focus on the whole child and SEL in a systemic and interconnected way.
This has become such a passion for me. I see a direct correlation between race equity and SEL. We will never close the opportunity gaps that exist unless we focus on SEL and address the implicit biases Black and Brown students face. We need to have much more open conversations about SEL and the different biases we bring to the job.
In your Future Chiefs interview, you talk about being the only “lunch ticket” kid in your gifted class. We’re doing more now to prevent students from being stigmatized in any way, but it still seems like we need to do more so that all students feel comfortable and supported at school so that they can do their best academically. How do you think our schools are doing in that area?
Schools are better at removing the outward signs and barriers for students in poverty, such as all students receiving breakfast and lunch or funds for field trips, but we are not better at making all students feel valued. I had amazing teachers throughout my career that made me feel valued, but I do not believe this is true for all children.
We’ve not done enough to make students feel valued for their differences, and instead we require students to conform to a Western way of thinking. We try to force students to fit into the European culture in a way that does not honor other students or other cultures.
For example, the culture and customs of Black and Brown students would be woven into the fabric of all schools and not just celebrated for specific holidays or months. Black and Brown students would also consistently see the positive impact their ancestors have had in all subject areas and genres. Not all students may feel honored or respected in schools. We have not addressed the heart of students feeling loved, honored and respected for their differences.
Talk about your new role in Guilford County Schools. What work does the chief student support officer lead? What are you most excited about?
I will lead and manage all support offices including nurses, K-12 school counselors, social workers, dropout prevention and services for homeless students. Guilford has just launched the social and emotional learning work, has completed an initial assessment and is ready to create a strategy for the county.
I bring a principal’s perspective to the role, having served in those shoes for many years. In many cases, the student support service officer role is filled by support staff like counselors and social workers who may not have experience leading schools. It’s important that we better support principals because they are the ones that have to implement and manage student support services in their schools.
And this is a return home for you personally, right? What did you miss most about North Carolina while you were working in other parts of the country?
Yes, I’m returning home. Since my husband and I are both from North Carolina, it will be wonderful to be able to spend more time with our family members. I am looking forward to Sunday dinners with the family and more birthday parties and celebrations with my nieces and nephews.
I miss the Carolina blue skies and Greensboro’s moderate weather. I also miss being three hours from the mountains and three hours from the coast. Greensboro is in a perfect spot since it is right in the middle of the state! You can have a little bit of everything. My husband misses being able to drive his Tahoe in North Carolina city streets, especially compared to D.C., where there is little room to drive.