An Interview with Trustee Joseph Dragone
An Interview with Trustee Joseph DragoneKemba Dunham, Senior Director, Communications
This summer, All Access had the opportunity to chat with Dr. Joseph P. Dragone, College Board trustee and superintendent of schools at Ballston Spa Central School District in New York.
Over the course of his career, Dr. Dragone has led urban and suburban districts through school and district improvement planning, instructional technology implementation, data analysis, organizational and instructional capacity-building, and much more. He spoke about his career, the U.S. educational landscape, and the College Board's impact.
Q: What led you to education?
A: It's an interesting path. I really wanted to be a musician [he played the saxophone], and while growing up in Buffalo, NY, I had the opportunity work with many great musicians throughout high school—most of them were also teachers. The advice I received then was, “Get a degree in education, and you can have the best of both worlds”—I could share my craft with people as a performer and with students as a teacher. So I received my Bachelor of Science degree and my first Masters in Music Education, and I taught middle school and high school band for six years. The program was successful, so one of my principals suggested I get into administration, as there is a need for strong leadership. So I went back for my administrative certification and ultimately a Masters, Certificate of Advanced Study, and Ph.D. in Educational Administration and Policy.
Q: What's the most critical issue in education today?
A: There are several significant issues, especially as the policy field is so dynamic. I think one of the biggest is access to opportunity, which is why I enjoy my work with the College Board—we share that core value. In New York, the popular political mantra is that your zip code shouldn't determine your educational opportunities; but the reality is, it does, and politically, no one wants to tackle this problem. Locally, in my world every day, we keep this issue in the forefront of all of our work to start with, understanding that our role is to provide opportunity for kids. That takes many forms—coursework, personal supports, mental and behavioral health services, after-school programs—all of which supports further opportunity for kids after they leave high school.
Q: What do you love about your job?
A: Knowing that I can make a difference at the systems level. When you can change the system, you can have a holistic impact on what can happen moving forward. I do miss working directly with kids on a day-to-day basis, but it's very satisfying to see when I've had an impact on an initiative or program to create opportunity for kids.
Q: In your professional life, which accomplishment are you most proud of?
A: That's like asking a parent what child is their favorite! If I’m picking one, I have to say it's the work I've done building relationships to strengthen my organization. My district is fortunate to've been recognized at many levels for various accolades—as have I—for leading work on behalf of children. But none of this would be possible without building relationships across the organization or building a collaborative culture with high expectations.
Q: In your view, what’s the most significant way the College Board is making an impact these days?
A: As far as I'm concerned, it's about changing the narrative regarding access and opportunity, and in turn having a major impact on many more students at scale. It's no mystery that the SAT, AP, etc. used to be regarded as elite opportunities—that was the perception, even though it was never really the case. I give tremendous credit to [current College Board President and CEO] David Coleman for changing that narrative over the past several years, and I think now we are really seeing this shift take root. Our work is for all students, and everyone benefits from access to challenging coursework and the best educational opportunities. The organization’s reach has grown exponentially, and our collaborative work with national organizations that share our mission is expanding our reach by leaps and bounds.