Women Leaders in Education: Debra Duardo

LACOE superintendent and triple Bruin shares her insights on school leadership.

Debra Duardo (’13, EdD; ’96, MSW; ’94, BA, Women’s/Chicana Studies, Cum Laude) has a really big job. As Superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), she leads the largest education agency in California and one of the largest in the nation. At her direction, LACOE supports 80 school districts and more than 2 million pre-school and school age children in Los Angeles County. From monitoring local accountability plans and overseeing school district budgets, to providing professional development for educators and direct instruction to students in need, the organization works to ensure the quality of public education across the region. 

UCLA alumna Debra Duardo serves as superintendent for the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

As superintendent, Duardo works with the board and staff, and with schools and school districts, local, state and federal officials, educators, advocates, nonprofits, community leaders and others to lead the effort. Hers is an important and challenging position, and one that requires a range of leadership skills and abilities. 

In fulfilling her responsibilities, Duardo draws not only on the knowledge she developed as an undergraduate and graduate student at UCLA and her professional experience in education, but on a challenging set of personal experiences. Before she was an educational leader, Duardo was a high school dropout, leaving school in the ninth grade, and at age 16, giving birth to a child with a severe disability.  It is perhaps those experiences that set her apart as a leader, fueling her passion for education and fostering an empathy and compassion for those confronted with difficult circumstances.  As the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies prepares to launch a new program to further women’s leadership in schools, we would be hard pressed to find a more interesting leader or one we admire more. Duardo shares some thoughts and insight on leadership in this Sudikoff Institute Public Forum interview here.    

In January 2020, UCLA GSE&IS will launch a new Women’s School Leadership Academy at UCLA to develop new knowledge and skills and provide meaningful encouragement and support to women already engaged in leadership roles in education, but who aspire to make a greater impact as a leader. GSE&IS is recruiting approximately 25 women to participate in the founding cohort. Women with previous experience and success in educational settings who aspire to top positions of school leadership are encouraged to apply. More information is available here.