On January 26, the 2023 Dean’s Superintendent Advisory Group (DSAG) inducted Mary McNeil PhD ’96 into the DSAG Hall of Fame. With over 135 DSAG members, guests, event sponsors and USC Rossier faculty and staff in attendance, three current EdD students were awarded a DSAG scholarship and one EdD student was awarded the TELACU scholarship of $10,000 each. On January 27, the Women of DSAG hosted brunch for female Trojans and friends, where USC Rossier Dean Pedro A. Noguera and Dr. McNeil spoke to the audience about Mary’s career journey.
McNeil, who is also a USC Rossier adjunct professor, is the newly elected trustee for the Needles Unified School District, where she previously served as the superintendent from 2013 until her retirement in 2022. As a superintendent, she worked with city, state and federal agencies to promote equity and access to quality educational programs for all students, regardless of economic and regional barriers. Accepting her award, McNeil said, “I’m honored and humbled to be recognized by my peers for my 45 years in education, making a difference for kids.”
Noguera asked McNeil, “What made it possible for you to go from an educator in a classroom to rise to the position of leadership where you serve kids in the tri-state area of Nevada, Arizona and California?” McNeil said her personal characteristics play a big role, and she felt “extremely fortunate to have grown up in Tehran, attending an American K–12 school with access to role models in positions of leadership. Throughout my career, I have been fortunate to have mentors to emulate. I am not afraid to take risks and ask questions to find solutions. My preparation in multiple programs at USC Rossier supported my success as I was prepared, competent and connected. USC guaranteed that I would have the academic preparation and network necessary for success as a teacher and later as a district leader. They were right.”
The DSAG Endowed Scholarship, given annually to EdD students who aspire to the position of superintendent, were awarded to four outstanding scholars. Lori Gonzalez, superintendent of Lamont Elementary School District, said the scholarship will continue to allow her “to learn how to truly be a culturally responsive school leader from the lens of the Latina Superintendent.” Jarrod Bordi, an assistant superintendent of educational services of the Yosemite Unified School District, said the scholarship “has fueled my passion to use course work and application of research to impact large urban districts.” Zaia Vera, leader of the Social Emotional Learning and Strategy at Oakland Unified School District, said “the scholarship is significant because it gives me the confidence to pursue the superintendency role as a Latina in education.”
The fourth scholarship was awarded through a partnership with TELACU, whose mission is to provide Latino/Latina scholars with the tools they need to effect positive change in their communities. The 2023 TELACU scholar is Carol Castro, the assistant superintendent of Academic Services in the ABC Unified School District. Castro said the scholarship “confirms the importance of the pursuit of excellence in education as a Latina.”