September 28, 2020 20th Anniversary, Blog

D’Andre Weaver Transforms Schools Through a Commitment to Equity and Social Justice

As superintendent of Desoto ISD in North Texas, D’Andre Weaver makes decisions that affect more than 8,000 students and 1,000 staff members across 12 campuses. And at every opportunity, he uses his leadership from the top to affect widespread, positive change. 

“We’re developing this multicultural, social justice-oriented and culturally responsive pre-K through college curriculum model that really gives kids representation of themselves,” Dr. Weaver said. “It will help orientate them into this moment in time that they live in and the world they’re going to inherit.” 

This curriculum initiative is just one of many ways that Dr. Weaver works toward his ultimate aim: achieving educational equity for all students, regardless of background. This passion—leading and empowering students—has been present throughout his career as a teacher, principal and superintendent. 

In fact, Dr. Weaver’s commitment to growth and equity began at a young age. As an eighth grader at Joseph Moore Elementary School on the South Side of Chicago, he was inspired by a teacher who believed in his potential. 

“Carolyn Curry, who was like my second mom, really made sure that I had many of my needs met. When it was time for me to go to high school, she advocated for me to get into a school that was much more connected to my skills and talents. She petitioned, and the superintendent listened.”

“That was when I knew I wanted to be a superintendent,” Weaver said. “I wanted to be the person to make those decisions for other kids.” 

Before becoming a superintendent at DeSoto ISD, Dr. Weaver enacted high-quality learning and equitable education as a teacher and principal. 

His experience began at Champaign Unit 4 Schools in Champaign, Illinois, where he worked as an English teacher for five years: “I met a lot of great leaders who led the school system and created opportunities for me to learn what it meant to really be an educator. I learned about how to solve systems and address inequities that exist in the public education system.”

Deciding it was time to start a family, he and his wife moved back to Chicago where he became the assistant principal of Walter Payton College Prep. Working at a school ranked No. 1 in the city provided him with important insight on how to execute the highest standards of learning. 

“I learned so much about what learning could be,” Weaver shared. “I still love that community and am in contact with a lot of the folks there.”

With his school leadership experience, Dr. Weaver combined everything he had learned at Champaign and Walter Payton and returned to his roots to become principal of Gwendolyn Brooks, a selective enrollment public high school on Chicago’s South Side serving a predominantly Black and Latinx population.

There, his ability to help and impact disadvantaged students grew tremendously when he led his team through the implementation of personalized learning.

“Personalized learning is about students learning anytime and anywhere,” Weaver explained. “It needs to be appropriately rigorous for where students are according to their data. It needs to give students agency of their own learning. In that process, teachers need to evaluate how they’re supporting students’ specific needs.” 

For him, the best part of this experience was seeing teachers execute it without him. “It’s kind of beyond one’s wildest dreams of what can happen in a school that really focuses on the right things.”

Later, Dr. Weaver took the sum of his experiences to Spring Branch ISD, his first experience as a community superintendent. After his stint there, Dr. Weaver heard of another opportunity to take what he had accomplished in Chicago and implement personalized learning on a district level.

“When I first read about this school district in DeSoto, Texas, it reminded me of Gwendylon Brooks, but on a larger scale. This is one of the few communities in Texas with a significantly high African American and Latinx population.”

At the beginning of his tenure, the school district was one of the only districts in North Texas with a D rating on Texas’ A-F school rating system. But by the end of his first year in 2018, the district’s rating increased to a C+.

“There were financial, academic and cultural challenges,” Dr. Weaver said. “We’ve spent – and will still spend – a lot of our time these past two years repairing those things. If our foundation is not solid at all, we have nothing to start building upon.” 

Today, Dr. Weaver remains devoted to working toward making this equitable foundation a reality in his district. 

A large part of that work, Dr. Weaver argues, must involve students and their families: “If we’re designing for students and families, then they also need to be given a seat at the table and be empowered to co-create with us.”

This co-creation and empowerment was specifically important this spring, about which Dr. Weaver said: “I think this COVID-19 situation put us in a position where we have a moment to drastically shift our work and actually do some of the forward thinking and redesigning systems’ structures.”

“There are partners available and there’s potential funding that’s helping us be in the driver seat to some of the change that we know needs to take place. We’re in an interesting place now where we’re trying to maximize the moment.”

Working with families, developing new curriculum models, challenging systems of power—these are all the ways that Dr. Weaver maximizes every moment he has as a leader. 

He said about the bigger picture: “My work is about creating an experience that’s intellectually coherent, that’s rigorous, but that is tailored to each student equally and upholds this idea that learning should be joyous and kids should have fun and they should find their passion. Oftentimes schools don’t do any of that—and not for everyone. We are upholding a model that does all of that.”

Read his full thoughts in his article: “Breaking systemic racism starts by reforming public education: why are we so committed to an educational system that has failed?”