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A Latina Education Leader Shatters the Myth of Low Expectations

October 8, 2019
In Boston’s communities of color, Principal Julie Duran is showing students what’s possible through hard work and self-confidence.

Principal Julie Duran remembers the day she decided to become an educator.

As an engineering major at Boston University, she also helped mentor students like herself—the daughter of immigrants from El Salvador—in the neighboring community.

“One girl asked me about my major. When I told her it was engineering, she replied, ‘We do that?’”

The moment gave Julie pause. And it also highlighted the reality that for many students of color, there was a disconnect between what they felt they could achieve and what she knew her community was capable of.

“There were a lot of white men in my college classrooms. It was challenging being a student of color, but it also was cool because I’m the little brown girl, and I’m kicking butt,” says Julie.

Julie Duran is interim principal of Boston Prep, which serves students from low-income communities.

Less than two years later, Julie was in the classroom as a math teacher. She soon became department chair.

Fast forward to 2019, and Julie now serves as the interim principal at Boston Prep, a public charter school serving low-income communities in and around Boston, Mass.

A full 100% of Boston Prep grads—predominantly black and Latino students—are accepted to four-year colleges.

To help grads succeed in college, Boston Prep runs “The Persistence Project.” Staff members keep tabs on recent alumni—texting, calling and even visiting them at university.

“We make sure our students are getting out of their dorm rooms, meeting people and joining clubs,” says Julie. “We also make sure that they have enough to eat and that their financials are in order. We don’t want money to be the reason they can’t be at college.”

The project is something Julie wishes existed when she enrolled at university.

Julie, who graduated with high marks in her hometown of Los Angeles, “knew that the top of my class was not the same as the top of the class for everybody else around the country.”

Julie describes her freshman year at Boston University as “the greatest slap in the face in the world.” Following a poor grade on an assignment, “I remember thinking—what did I do wrong? I wrote my one-page, five-paragraph essay like they taught me in high school. What I didn’t realize was everyone else was used to writing a 10-page paper in one night.”

With the help of a great professor, Julie found herself at the university writing center, which helped her get up to speed. “There were so many skills gaps that I started to realize there’s something wrong in our education system.”

Helping Julie right this wrong is Latinos for Education, a Walton Family Foundation grantee, whose mission is “to develop, place and connect essential Latino leaders in the education sector” who should be “at the forefront of creating an equitable education for Latino students.”

As a 2018 fellow, Julie used the experience with Latinos for Education to connect with and support school leaders like herself.

“It fulfilled the need of not feeling lonely in your workspace even though you’re surrounded by so many people,” says Julie.

“It’s been cool to watch other fellow Latino educators getting promotions and running for office. Without Latinos for Education, I don’t think I’d have known that so many Latinos were making moves.”

Julie worked with her cohort to support a local organization called Sociedad Latina, which runs after-school programs for students. They helped the group overhaul its budget and enhance its programming.

The fellowship also made Julie feel more confident in telling her own story. Even though her parents valued education immensely, they never completed their education past the sixth grade. Latinos for Education, she said, “made me more comfortable talking about myself, where I come from, and why I really want to do this work.”

Reflecting on her role as a leader in education, Julie is grateful for the Latino educators who became her role models growing up—pushing her with high expectations while fostering confidence in her skills.

At Boston Prep, she remains laser focused on maintaining high expectations for herself and her students.

“Going through school, I had a lot of great teachers who believed in me. I also had teachers who couldn’t offer as much as I needed. At Boston Prep, every teacher here believes in their students. We believe in their success.”

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