Dr. Luvelle Brown, superintendent of the Ithaca City School District (ICSD), has been recognized and honored throughout his almost 10-year tenure. An advisor to President Barack Obama’s White House, previously recognized as the New York State Superintendent of the Year, he was celebrated by the Scouts BSA (formerly Boy Scouts) and local leaders on April 29 as the 2019 Tompkins County Distinguished Citizen. A week doesn’t pass that admirers of Brown’s now-renowned transformation of our educational system trek to Ithaca from across the state, the country, and overseas to seek his advice and observe the teaching and learning taking place in ICSD classrooms, with a particular interest in equity and inclusion strategies.
Brown has incorporated his theories and workable practices in his book “The Culture of Love: Cultivating a Positive and Transformational Organizational Culture,” just published and available here.
Brown describes the process of school district transformation that he hoped to lead when the ICSD Board of Education, eager for change, first hired him: “With a supportive board of education, I knew that we could engage in the uncomfortable and needed conversations that cultivate a loving culture.” Now, Brown has multiple examples of how the organizational improvement efforts underway in the ICSD have contributed to mindset and practice shifts.
The process Brown describes begins with self-reflection. This helps each of us become more open to change; an unwillingness to self-examine and change, he said, particularly when it comes to things like privilege, makes those with privilege complicit in its perpetuation.
After strategic approaches to facilitating self-reflection on individual and collective behaviors, Brown notes the inevitable conflict that occurs as folks wrestle with problems they have identified: “Conflict must be welcomed and addressed in the spirit of cooperation, rather than competition. Leaders in our community must be skillful in the facilitation of dialogues that call people in instead of calling them out.”
Brown does not minimize how difficult the process of transformation is for each of us: “I learned as a child the importance of listening as I struggled to talk. Many hours studying great speakers, listening to speeches, and examining nonverbal cues have contributed to my current listening skills. I subscribe to listening more and talking less. This type of humility is allowing me to more deeply understand the complex issues facing individuals and groups of learners in my school community. That deep understanding is helping me create pathways for improvements.”
Is it realistic to expect other people to engage in self-reflection and work toward cooperative problem solving? Brown said that the political and social narratives in America often spread fear and conflict instead of more positive values and goals. He also writes:“I am very proud of the students and staff, families and community members in our school district as we are seeking to solve real-world problems that are relevant to our community and beyond. The development and implementation of anti-marginalization curriculum, healthy debates and conversations about oppression, and other courageous efforts are contributing to both excellence and equity in the ICSD. This is a rarely achieved feat for a school district.”
So how are Brown and his family feeling about Ithaca? In a word: committed, to both the school system and the community.
Brown is on various boards and advisory groups in Tompkins County, including the Tompkins County Area Development Board and serving as a term trustee at Ithaca College. “I feel honored to have opportunities to contribute to large scale continuous improvement efforts through service and advocacy on a range of topics impacting my community.” •