Yvonne Caamal Canul wants children in her school district to “dream big, explore the unknown, and experience success.” It’s part of a broad world view that started during her childhood in Latin America and has expanded during a 40-year career in public education and the private sector.
“Every child has a right to a free education and without that right, we would be a country of castes where upward mobility would be for the ‘haves’ and not the ‘have not’s,’” says Canul, superintendent of the 11,000 student Lansing School District since 2012.
Canul’s majority-minority district in Michigan’s capital city faces multiple challenges. The median family income is $43,000, and 100 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced price breakfast and lunch. Yet Lansing has a 95 percent attendance rate, and the graduation rate ranges from 73 to 77 percent at the district’s three high schools.
When Canul took over as superintendent, she led a bold restructuring plan that uses research-based models to improve instruction in grades pre-k through 12. Key to the plan is the Lansing Pathway Promise, a career and college readiness partnership with the local business community that provides internships, mentoring programs, and shadowing opportunities for students. Graduates who complete the program are eligible for scholarships to a local community college or Michigan State University.
“Our public education system has embraced students and families from every corner of the world and given them a foundation for a future in which they can contribute their talents,” Canul says. “This is what makes us a great nation. From the many, one.”