With a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and a business that works with community programs to make them more effective, Rachele Espiritu is ready to apply her skills and experience to DPS’ educational issues.
The newly elected DPS Board District 4 representative says her role is to be out listening for themes across schools and communities and bringing back what she believes is appropriate for the board to address.
Although she’s a trained facilitator and mediator with the professional skills to address many organizational issues, she says she wants to respect the autonomy of school leaders. “I recognize the collective wisdom that is usually in the room and help draw that out through asking questions and making observations. But usually the solutions lie in the community.”
She does not have strong feelings about whether schools should be district, charter or innovation. “The bottom line for me is we should have great schools in every neighborhood and how we get there is going to be different based on each community’s interest and needs.”
She supports the IB for all program at Northfield High School, saying that approach elevates the standards for all students. “When you have classrooms that are mixed in terms of ability, I think the research has shown that everyone does better.”
When she was sworn in, existing board members said Espiritu’s mental health background fills an expertise gap. She says she will ask questions to see if there might be an unintended impact on the whole child. She thinks a more trauma-informed approach is needed in how the board thinks about their interventions. On the subject of restorative justice, she believes the trauma-informed approach adds a different dimension to how we think of student’s behaviors and their actions in school. “When you look at the research and you know that many students are facing adverse childhood events, it changes the way you think about why they might be behaving the way they are or why they’re having the challenges they’re having.”
Espiritu’s company, a minority and woman-owned firm called Change Matrix, works to enhance the capacity of social service organizations to do their work, either through leadership development within organizations or through collaboration with other organizations. “Effectively collaborating means a real blending of decision making,” she explains. “That’s where groups get tripped up. Decision making is a hard one because you give up an element of control.”
Espiritu’s favorite phrase is, “The single biggest failure of leadership is to treat adaptive challenges like technical problems.” She explains the two approaches. Technical problems are easily identifiable, can often be solved by an expert, and people are receptive to the solution. Adaptive challenges require changes in beliefs, relationships and approaches to work, and the people with the problem do the work of solving it. Solutions require experiments and take a long time.
She believes this is an effective framework for looking at DPS programs. “Sometimes in my field there’s a tendency to do a single training or to provide a handbook. We know that doesn’t effectively provide any change.”
Espiritu lives in Stapleton with her husband and two sons who attend Stapleton schools.