Six Questions with Makeda Lewis (2018)

Makeda Lewis (2018) is now the youngest woman elected to the New Rochelle School Board. With a master’s degree in Organizational Leadership from Teachers College, Columbia University, and a Sociology degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Makeda has dedicated her career to supporting students, families and teachers and implementing data-driven solutions for school leaders. She currently works for the New York City Department of Education in the Teacher Recruitment and Quality departmentresponsible for the recruitment and onboarding for new teachers city-wide. Makeda was a member of the 2018 Boston Summer Fellowship cohort, where she served in the Office of Institutional Equity at CCRI.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Currently, my department in the NYC Public Schools is tasked with recruiting new teachers for the largest school system in the country. Specifically, I collect city-wide new teacher data in regards to the onboarding process and create and maintain new initiatives to support that population. Outside of work, I spend most of my time reading onboarding materials as the newest member of the New Rochelle School Board. I am excited to continue my work in both spaces.

When I am not focused on creating change for new teachers or the students of New Rochelle, I enjoy traveling, reconnecting with friends, spending time with family, gardening, and working on my next endeavor—a dinner party series with other young professionals across Westchester.

Why did you decide to run for school board?

Running for the school board was a decision born out of my deep commitment to education and the belief that quality education is essential for the well-being and success of our community’s children. As a parental support and an engaged community member, I recognized the importance of actively shaping the policies and decisions that impact our schools. I have heard firsthand the challenges faced by students, teachers, and families. These experiences ignited my passion to advocate for positive change and ensure that every child receives an excellent education.

I believe in fostering an inclusive and equitable learning environment that nurtures the potential of every student. By serving on the school board, I can contribute my skills, experiences, and fresh perspectives to promote innovation, address disparities, and advocate for necessary reforms. I am dedicated to collaborating with educators, parents, and the community to develop effective strategies, allocate resources wisely, and implement policies that empower our students to thrive academically, socially, and emotionally. By running for the school board, I am actively working towards building a brighter future for our children and the community as a whole.

What did running a political campaign teach you about yourself as a leader?

Running a political campaign provided valuable insights into my leadership abilities and allowed me to discover new aspects of myself as a leader. Firstly, it taught me the importance of effective communication and the power of connecting with people on a personal level. I realized that being able to articulate my vision, values, and plans in a relatable manner was essential in inspiring trust and building support.

Secondly, the campaign highlighted the significance of resilience and adaptability. I faced challenges, setbacks, and unexpected circumstances. Though our Board President was elected at a younger age than I was during my time campaigning, I was often told that I was too young to earn the votes of many of our mature voters. However, I was determined to not allow racism or sexism to silence my drive. It pushed me to think creatively, remain flexible, and find solutions even in the face of adversity. I learned to embrace change, remain focused on my goals, and adjust my strategies when necessary. 

Overall, the campaign taught me that leadership is not just about personal qualities, but also about leaning into support that came from unexpected places—kind words from dedicated voters and now fellow board members who support my growth and have welcomed me with open arms.

What are your hopes for the students of New Rochelle?

As a product of the New Rochelle School District, I am excited to give back to the community that shaped me and to serve on the Board of Education, where I can leverage my expertise to create a better future for all New Rochelle students. My hope for them is rooted in the belief that every child deserves an exceptional education that empowers them to reach their full potential. I envision a future where all students have access to equitable resources, innovative and inclusive learning environments, and opportunities that prepare them for success in an ever-changing world. Our students are the reason why we do what we do, and if we continue to keep them at the center of work, we will be able to create long term change.

What were some of the major lessons you learned during your EP Fellowship?

My Fellowship experience changed the trajectory of my career. Though I had my masters degree by the time I was accepted into the program, the Fellowship provided crucial work experience that prepared me for my current job. It was the first time in my career that I had the opportunity to work with a large data set and learn to make suggestions that were based on statistics. That practice is something that I plan on continuing throughout my career. I also had the opportunity to work with senior leaders across a college and provide research that would help my supervisor make systemic change on campus. It was a rewarding experience, and getting to live in another city for the summer was a definite plus! 

How does collaboration show up in your work?

Collaboration was an integral part of running for office. Many times, the public never gets to know the faces and teams of people pushing a candidate to the finish line. While the campaign may be a personal endeavor, it relies heavily on the support, encouragement, and collaboration of a wide range of individuals and groups. 

Through the partnerships I built and the support I found in community members, parents, and mentors, I engaged in conversations and listened attentively to understand the concerns, needs, and aspirations of our community. I am grateful for the mentorship and guidance I received from experienced individuals who are dedicated to creating positive change. Their guidance helped me navigate challenges and make informed decisions. 

The support from family and friends was also crucial. One of those friends, Brittany Dacoff, the founder of BlackLightImaging became my right-hand woman. While I was occupied with countless tasks, she revamped my Instagram account, took headshots, managed my website, and documented my entire campaign journey. She is not only a talented photographer, but I believe, one of the main reasons why I won. We leaned on each other and kept our eye on the prize.