Debra Duardo, 2023 Prize Winner
Through her leadership, courage, and foresight, Dr. Debra Duardo has made the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) the premier hub of innovation in California’s efforts to transform education through a whole-child, whole-family approach. As the superintendent of the nation’s most populous and diverse regional education agency, she has led the way in integrating a wide range of resources and programs to improve student outcomes, individual and collective well-being, and organizational excellence. Her holistic approach goes beyond traditional K–12 students to include very young children as well as justice-impacted youth. Key programs initiated by LACOE under Dr. Duardo’s leadership have served as regional and national models. The California legislature recognized LACOE’s Expanded Community Schools Pilot as a blueprint for creating a learning environment in which children thrive and allocated $4 billion to scale up the program. LACOE partnered with the UCLA Center for School Transformation to implement an award-winning Road to Success project-based model to increase access to career technical and continuing education for justice-impacted youth. And as home to the nation’s largest Head Start program, LACOE is leading the charge to expand the reach of high-quality preschool to very young children. Dr. Duardo’s commitment to a whole-child, whole-community approach went into overdrive in tackling numerous pandemic-related crises and aftershocks; among her many initiatives, she created a Wellbeing Branch to provide mental health services to districts through multi-agency collaboration. Dr. Duardo’s passion for achieving educational equity is rooted in her life experience as a teen mom and high school dropout who transformed her life through education. She knows firsthand the obstacles that students face, and she dedicates her life's work to breaking down those barriers through scalable innovations that exemplify Harold W. McGraw, Jr.’s belief in education as the key to personal and professional success.