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Education

Powerful Women Let's Talk - 046: Dr. Leadriane Roby

Dr. Leadriane Roby
Dr. Leadriane Roby
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Dr. Leadriane Roby is the Superintendent of Grand Rapids Public Schools. The state of Michigan's 8th largest district.  She hails from Minnesota.  Dr. Roby is an experienced and reflective educator with more than 26 years in public education.  She was appointed as the Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent in of 2020, just prior to the pandemic taking a grip on the state and the nation.  Listen as Dr. Roby talks about education, how she leads, what she's learned about herself and managing a top school district, during a pandemic.

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:

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>> Produced by women about women. Powerful Women, Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are and how we live.

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Jennifer Moss:

Hello, everyone. Time for Powerful Women, Let's Talk. Thanks so much for joining us today. I'm Jennifer Moss. Today's powerful woman is Dr. Leadriane Roby. She is the Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent. Dr. Roby is an educator at her core with her latest role, especially as the head of Michigan's 8th largest school district. Doctor Roby, we are so happy to welcome you here to Powerful Women, Let's Talk.

Dr. Leadriane Roby: Thank you for having me.

Jennifer Moss: It's a pleasure. So we're going to start with a bit about your background. You were appointed superintendent of GRPS in February of 2020. So, a year behind you now. You're heading up a district with approximately 15,000 students and 1,100 or so teachers. This is no doubt a huge responsibility, but one you’ve been basically preparing for throughout your career. Again. A teacher at heart, you’ve  always been determined to make a difference in the lives of students, you’ve come back to Michigan from Minnesota. You we’re an elementary school teacher and assistant principal, a principle and that was here also in southwest Michigan, as well as an assistant superintendent prior to you're coming back. Your big return to Michigan. So we welcome you back, of course and now with a year under your belt and quite a year it has been with the year that you've had with the pandemic at hand and then all the changes in education that came with that. Are you finding it is good to still be a teacher at heart, an educator at heart, did that help with the flow of this past year?

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

Absolutely. I think with education and teaching specifically, it's always changing. This year has been like no other as you kind of alluded to and I think as an educator you always are continually growing in your craft and wanting to get better. This pandemic has offered me and the folks that I work with, the teachers I work with to kind of recreate how we view educating young people and it's been just exciting in a lot of ways and also very daunting in other ways.

Jennifer Moss:

I would imagine so with the pandemic at hand, I mean, you had to really come in, you know, first days in and deal with a massive amount of changing the way we educate, as did all businesses because we went from in person to not in person and that had to be a new challenge at that point.

Dr. Leadriane Roby:  

It was and it still is. Education is something that always again continues to change and, you know, we were learning  in the classroom, right prior to the pandemic and after we went to our homes where we could not leave and where people were not sure what this actually meant. It meant that we had to change education and how we approach teaching and learning. Getting students devices so that all of our students were one to one where learning can take place in their homes in the safety of their own homes. Families became more involved in education. I think that's always a positive thing but, it also taught our students and our staff that education takes place outside of the classroom and so students continue to investigate their world and continue to explore other learnings and also help facilitate their learning a little bit more closely than what they were doing prior to the pandemic.

Jennifer Moss:

In Powerful Women segments, we always talk about how women navigate through their challenges. What's been the biggest challenge for you as you continue to navigate being superintendent here at GRPS especially during this pandemic?

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

Lots of challenges I think, you know, finding my voice in a new community in a new city, also getting to meet people and being authentic in that meeting and so there's always been this barrier since I've been here where I’ve met people via Zoom or via a phone call and now I'm starting to get to meet people in person and I have to kind of reintroduce myself. So that would be a challenge and then also navigating a new space. We are in a very critical time in education as our young people are seeing lots of different things that are taking place across our community and across the world and to be able to explain it in a way that's thoughtful but, then also encourage them to investigate for themselves. So it shouldn't just be what I believe or what their parents believe but, what are their beliefs and to have some discourse around that and so those are kind of some of the challenges that I have seen in education and then even with myself, as I'm getting to learn this community to find out what has been the history of Grand Rapids and figure out how to how do I imbed kind of my experiences into that rich fabric and then also to move the district forward and help move the community forward as part of a new grand reopening.

Jennifer Moss:

Yes, because there's a lot of moving parts to me because, again, the pandemic is like the threshold here. That's the biggest thing that's been happening in everyone's world for this last year as we kind of navigate through that now but, you're in a new city, you're meeting new people and you're a new schools superintendent, a new job. I mean, you have so many new things to navigate. You know, it's been a big year for you.

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

It has, it’s like checking off the box. Where do I start first? And I've been very fortunate where I've taken time to get to know the city. My husband and I we drive around on weekends and evenings just to get lost so we can figure out how to find our way back home and then also making connections between the different buildings. To the point of with respect to, you know, getting to know people that has been I think the probably the hardest part just because again, when I came in July, everything was still pretty much shut down and trying to get to know people and you know, we're talking via computer first and then getting to reintroduce myself to them in person and then, you know that everybody has a mask and when I see people without their mask I'm like, “okay, have I met them?” and so it's been kind of how of things are taking place for me.

Jennifer Moss:

So, you know, Powerful Woman is written all over the work that you do. We are talking about that. One of the things too and I'm going to jump back for a second, though, as you get to know people I have to touch on this. Your name also is a conversation starter many days, isn't it? Because, I mean, you're introducing yourself to the Grand Rapids community and people like lead- treat Le, let, lead and it's Leadriane-(Lee-dree-in), I just want to establish that fact for some people when they do meet you now. It is Dr. Leadriane Roby.

Dr. Leadriane Roby:  

I've been called a little bit of everything and sometimes it's not been so nice, but it is Leadriane and my name has significance in my family, my grandmother actually named my brother and myself and she had a thing for L’s her name was Lillian and my dad's name is Lloyd and I’m of course Leadriane. So there was a thing around that. She wanted my name to be a conversation piece. I remember as a little girl, I wanted something a little bit more simple because I always you know, the first day of school when the teachers calling off names. I always knew when they were at my name because they would get stuck and I would just say it’s Leadriane like Adrienne and so that's usually the clue I give to folks when I'm introducing myself for the first time because I know it's a very unique name. I'm looking forward to meeting any other Leadrianes that are out there. I haven't met them yet, but we'll see.

Jennifer Moss:  

One day, maybe one day. So as I wanted to reintroduce Dr. Leadriane over here so as we look at powerful women, we look back at our lives and we say, OK, there were barriers as we look at you, the person, what are some of the barriers that you perhaps faced as you traveled along your career’s path?

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

I think when I look back over my career finding my voice and you know building that confidence. I think we are inundated oftentimes with images that shape who we think we are, who we should be. I was very fortunate that I had a mother and an aunt who were extremely powerful women. They always said you can be whatever you want to be and I remember even as a young girl giving me that voice something as simple as an Easter speech and, you know, making sure that I projected my voice and used my voice in a powerful way was kind of an image that sat in my head but, the other kind of things that I would see was like, oh, you know, I'm not tall enough you know, I'm not this and that that and kind of quieting those negatives around who I am and to really just say, yeah, you can do it. does have to be perfect? Nope, but when it's not, this is how you learn and this is how you try again and that's something that I have tried to take with me as I've matured and you know, both in my personal life and also my professional life that it doesn't have to be perfect. It just has to have an earnest effort to try and also having a board of director, so to speak, with friends, close friends to be those accountability partners to say, hey, this is what I'm thinking, did I do this good? You know what other advice could you offer back?

Jennifer Moss:

Feedback?

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

Yeah and you know, people that you trust and I also have to be that for my friends and folks that have asked me to stand in and give them feedback.

Jennifer Moss:

Because I was going to ask, as one of my favorite questions is, what has it taken for you to find your own voice. Would you say the things that you do and especially with your mom being a good role model for you, of course. Did you get comfortable in your own skin, would you say that you are now?

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

Yeah, I would say probably when I hit about 35 it like I was on all cylinders, right and it very much was, you know, that conversation and then also kind of distinguishing who needs to be in your circle in talking on the more personal level. You still, always want to keep people in your circle who will give you that critical feedback and you know, say “OK, girl, you know, you may want to think about this,” but, then also are your champion, your cheerleaders and I want to mirror that back out to my friends as well to be their champion and cheerleaders and if I can't be that positive influence or give my folks critical constructive feedback to help them grow, then I probably need to remove myself from them.

Jennifer Moss:

It’s a give and take.

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

It is absolutely.

Jennifer Moss:

So being the GRPS Superintendent, of course, you work with many people and in fact, the entire community, what leadership traits do you like to see? I mean you're heading a you know, large organization here in Grand Rapids. What leadership traits do you like to see perhaps in those who are with you on this journey perhaps and those you are mentoring? What are some of those traits?

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

Couple of things. You have to have a growth mindset, right. You have to believe in the potential of people also being reflective. I think it's important as a leader to understand that you're not always going to get it right and then when you don't get it right being open and honest and saying “you know what, I could have done this a little bit better and this is my plan moving forward.”.  Also as a leader what I look for in other leaders is what I look for in myself and I try to encourage others to do so is to have again  those critical thinking partners where in a district this size it's not just me making the decision. Ultimately, I'm the voice but I take in input from the community. I take an input from teachers and principals in our Cabinet and our board and that's all part of that decision-making process and then when we come forward, we have evidence to support why we're making a decision even when it may not be a popular one. So, I think it's important as a leader to be reflective and engage other voices So you don't just have the people who going to agree with you because I don't think that necessarily helps.

Jennifer Moss:

That's not building on what you need in a foundation.

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

Absolutely. If I have a whole bunch of yes, people that doesn't help. I need people to disagree and say, hey, have you considered this? Or were you aware of this information? That all feeds into that conversation as we make decisions moving forward.

Jennifer Moss:

And it allows you to grow I would imagine too.

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

Absolutely.

Jennifer Moss:

What would you say to your 21 to 25-year-old self because you said at 30 you pretty much have found that voice. You were comfortable so what would you say to that 25 year-old?

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

It's okay to say no and I think sometimes no is a complete sentence where you don't always have to offer a reason for a no.

Jennifer Moss:

As in no period?

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

As in no period. No- explanation point. Not no- question mark. No. and that protects your peace right and to have that balance because people will come at you and ask for lots of different things and even though you want to be able to do it, it may not be reasonable or feasible for you to do it and so it's OK to say, “you know, I'm sorry, I can't do that at this time,” and so that would be what I would advise my 25 year-old self to do. To be okay with saying no. Instead of stressing out that someone’s not going to like me or, you know, I'll miss out on this opportunity. I had gotten over and the fear of missing out, so to speak, sometimes I just don't need to be a part of certain things.

Jennifer Moss:

Absolutely we’ve all been there. So I know you throughout your career, you have kids and so you were a busy mom as well as one who was flowing along your careers path. For advice for those who are looking and listening in. What would you say to younger people who are, you know, trying to balance it all but, yet have that that powerful woman career?

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

Sure, going back to the “No” It's OK to say no to certain things and I stand, you know, with my husband. We did this together and so when our children were at home he might be taking the boys to basketball practice and I would be running my daughter to dance practice or to other things and so we were constantly moving. Sometimes the meals wouldn't be so great at home and that's OK, but everybody got fed. So again, it's, you know, trying to figure out what that sweet spot is. It's like nope we didn’t necessarily have these really gourmet fancy meals when our kids were at home because we were trying to do all those other things and allow them to have some experiences and then also we wanted to make time for couple time too right?

Jennifer Moss:

Date night.

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

Date night we used to take a dance class and you know I’ve shared that before and we've got to get back to some of those things but, if you want to be that powerful woman it doesn't mean that you have to do everything but, just trying to figure out what your priorities are and then mapping them out and then also remembering to have fun and sometimes stepping back so that you're not so overly committed that you are trying to do everything and be everyone and be in every place. I don't think that's always as important.

Jennifer Moss:

It's a lot and that's a perfect segue to my next question is: what do you guys do for fun? You know, you advance in age and you do different things. We're not old by any means. That didn’t come out quite right. Getting older.

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

We are seasoned.

Jennifer Moss:

What do you do in your spare time? You know, fun with family and friends? What do you do?

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

We like to do, my husband Stephen and I and you know, I will tell people he is the chef and I’m the sous- chef. So we do a lot of cooking at home and so he comes up with these really creative ideas and I'm the chopper, right and I clean up after and do all that stuff but, he's the kind of the brains, the executive chef, so to speak. So that's one of the things that we do for fun. Prior to the pandemic, we would do a lot of outdoor activities we do a lot of walking and go bike riding and we were in Minnesota because we knew the city a little bit better. We’d go to little spots and you know, sit down on the deck and hang out and do some things like that. What I'm looking forward to as the weather gets warmer here in Grand Rapids is exploring our city a little bit more and we've started to do a little bit of that where we've done a little bit of walking. We talked about getting on our bikes and we haven't done that yet this year but, we plan on doing some of that just to get out and explore the city a little bit more. We walked downtown a couple of times. So those are kind of the main things that we do. We do cooking at home and then, you know, kind of a little bit of exercise and we, have a little small dog that loves to go out for walks.

Jennifer Moss:

Are glad to be back in Michigan then?

Dr. Leadriane Roby: 

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Jennifer Moss:

Easy breezy question but one of my favorites, I ask to everyone. What makes you laugh?

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

Oh, gosh. So, I have 2 grandchildren, right and my granddaughter who's 3 years old. Her name is Reese. So quick little shout out to Reese 3 year-olds say kind of the funniest and most amazing things and you know, when I really feel like she's been here before because some of the stuff that she says she calls me dear and if she gets exasperated with me, she’ll kind of sigh like “yes, dear” and it's just so funny coming from a 3 year-old because it's like, okay, you know what I'm reading into it is what do you really want? So she makes me laugh just sitting around with family and friends. You know, just talking chatting it up and telling silly stories about our kids and many things that may have happened in the past that, you know, things that make me laugh. A good comedy show. I haven’t been to one recently, of course but you know, those are all the things that can make me laugh.

Jennifer Moss:

Absolutely. OK, so before I let you go so much is happening in our world today. People often are looking for just that little word of encouragement do you by chance have any favorite sayings or mottos that you may use to encourage yourself and others?

Dr. Leadriane Roby: 

That's a good one and I have all sorts of sayings and mottos. I’ll use one that my grandmother always used to say to me, “common sense is not always common,” and so when she  used to say that I would think what does mean by that. It's like you can't always assume that people have common sense and so that was one that kind of resonates with me something I might say to my own kids or my family is “be true” to yourself and let your words be aligned with your actions. So make sure that there's congruence between what you say and how you show up for people and how people will decide how they interact with you.

Jennifer Moss:

Absolutely. Good word to end on. Dr. Leadriane Roby, it is so nice to have you here with us today. We really enjoyed this conversation. I really enjoyed speaking with one of our powerful women right here in West Michigan. Thank you so much for joining us.

Dr. Leadriane Roby:

Thank you for having me Jennifer.

Jennifer Moss:

And I also want to thank, of course, all of our listeners for joining us for this edition of Powerful Women, Let's Talk. I'm Jennifer Moss.

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>> Produced by women about women. These powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women, Let's Talk? Get additional interviews at WGVU.org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women, Let’s Talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.

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