Tony Monfiletto is Executive Director of New Mexico Center for School Leadership. He is a father, husband, educator, visionary, thought leader, and ambitious builder of ideas and schools. He is charming, focused, intense, productive, and deeply committed to both his work, his family, and our community.
Building a passion
Tony grew up in Albuquerque with both parents as teachers in the South Valley, family roots in northern New Mexico as well as Chicano activism and Catholic social justice as part of his life. Perhaps educational reform was a natural path for him to pursue. He graduated from Hiland High School, graduated from NMSU, and then went to Syracruse University for his MA in Public Administration with a focus on finance. After working for four years on school reform and policy work in Chicago, Tony came back to NM and worked for several years for the state legislature on the public school funding formula and school budgeting. Policy, funding, and budgeting may not make everyone’s heart skip a beat, but it is work Tony always enjoyed and he knows these are key building blocks of change in the realm of public schools.
Tony explains, “At the time I was working for the legislature, my intuition was telling me that the policy work was not sufficient for me, because I didn’t know how it was playing out in the lives of kids and communities. So, I quit and took a job substituting so I could be in the schools. I also served on the committee that wrote the law for charter schools.”
Teaching and working in schools soon led Tony to dedicating eight years to establishing and leading Amy Biehl High School. He describes it as “huge and tiring work” because it was his first charter school, because it moved into an historic building in downtown Albuquerque that needed major renovation, and because he realized that he excels in “capacity-building, viability, and start-up.” ABHS is now led by Frank McCulloch, Jr. and is a thriving, specialized school serving the community very well.
For Tony, the strength of ABHS long after his own tenure is powerful, “the greatest feeling lately was visiting ABHS after 7 years and seeing the work they have done. It’s more than I could have imagined, and I can’t take credit for that, because I just helped to set the table. I hope to see all of my projects do their best after I leave. That’s when I know I did the work of building well.”
“After ABHS, the next step for me was to create a group of highly specialized charter schools which are networked and connected to each other so that they could be more viable and sustainable over time. It makes impact larger and therefore fundraising easier. It makes leadership stronger, and the entire network less vulnerable to external and internal changes.”
The New Mexico Center for School Leadership promotes a three pillar philosophy: learning by doing, meaningful support for kids and families, and authentic community engagement. When these three things happen well in schools, there is a very profound impact on kids and their learning.Tony laments that “everyone thinks we are doing vocational education (especially because we are working with low-income kids), but we are not. We are teaching critical thinking, adaptability and collaborative teamwork. We create deep, complex learning experiences – not rote or narrow learning. And we use rooted community partnerships so that schools connect disenfranchised students to social capital such as internships, professional networks, and opportunities. This is social capital that is readily available to many middle and high income students, but schools should offer that to all students.”
Tony spends his time connecting these schools and facilitating deep work supported by a healthy internal, and external network. He works towards expansion and replication by reaching out to other schools, and he commits time to educational policy work so that he can make the network robust and viable within 5 years.
To hear Tony in his own words, take a few minutes and listen to his TEDx talk. It is hard to know what Tony will build next, but chances are it will thrive well beyond his tenure.
What are you reading? “I am an Aspen Fellow and so we are reading The Executive’s Compass: Business and the Good Society by James O’Toole.”
What are you listening to? “My favorite podcast is On Being.”
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? “I always wanted to work in public service, and I thought I would work for the government.”
Do you have a personal creative practice? “I love to cook!”
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