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Welcome to Episode 002 of District Leader.  My guest this week is Dr. Lily DeBlieaux, Superintendent of the Pendergast Elementary School District in Phoenix, Arizona, where she took the helm in May of 2014.  Lily was born in New York, where she attended elementary and middle school, and two years of high school, before moving to Puerto Rico where she completed high school and college.  Lily holds degrees in Elementary Education (BA), Educational Leadership and Supervision (MA and PHD). She also obtained a Business Administration (BA). Lily owned a technology company for six years before returning to her true love: Education. Lily has been a teacher, elementary principal, middle school dean, assistant superintendent, adjunct professor, ESOL instructor, business owner, director of religious education, and volunteer extraordinaire. She loves her community and is excited to work with a school board that supports moving the school district to the next level of achievement.  Lily loves to spend time with family, read, travel, and serve her community.  Lily founded Si NoYo, Quien?, in 2015, a company offering her services as a motivational speaker and trainer, to  empower women to reach new heights in their personal lives and careers. She is married to her best friend, Earl, a retired chaplain who served 30 years in the United States Air Force.  She has two children; Joel, a network engineer who owns his own business in Ft. Myers. FL and Dr. Linda, a pharmacist in Tucson, AZ. She has a beautiful granddaughter, Evangeline.

From The Conversation

     Lily grew up in poverty, yet education was always the main focus in her family.  The impact on her life was great.   Leaders in her life included her parents, who helped her to see that things can get done.  As a result, she leads knowing that it is going to happen - make it happen!

     As a business owner Lily learned a great deal.  However, education was always her love and eventually returned to it.  The superintendency is the best job Lily has had.  In working with the various stakeholder groups, she believes that she can make a difference.  It is also the hardest job she has ever had.  It is an incredible position to be in to make a difference in the life of a child. 

  • Lily's education career began in Southern Mississippi.  It was a challenging and interesting experience, leading to her being named Teacher of the Year after her third year of teaching.  This led to her being selected to serve as principal in a small southern town.
  • By the age of 55, Lily planned to serve as superintendent - and she did it. 
  • Her first superintendency was in California.  This experience gave her insight into the challenges of the role, and the dynamics of a Board/Superintendent relationship.  As a woman and a minority, Lily found her first superintendency challenging.
  • Her next superintendency was in Arizona, where she now serves.  She is working with an incredible Board.  At the same time, there is work to do in addressing the needs of Latino students.   That requires integrity to stand your ground.  A main lesson she shares is to "be yourself, and walk away if you have to."

     The 3 Pillars:

  • Scholarship: Lily believes that she never stops learning - she has to continue learning in order to effectively serve.  Her staffs must also continue learning.
  • Leadership: She does not believe that she is the top leader.  She empowers others to lead.
  • Agency:  Lily knows where she came from, and applies her sense of agency in empowering students and staff, to mentor them, so they can succeed.

     Challenges Lily presently faces as superintendent:

  • Finding qualified teachers for her schools and classrooms.  And while she can't control the teacher shortage, she can control teacher retention and teacher recruitment.
  • Lack of funding for her school district.  Arizona looks at education as an expense not as an investment.  That's unfortunate because the result in not funding education is impacting the learning of future leaders.  Lily contributes to candidates who believe in investing in education, and speaks to the community about the power of education. 
  • Being a Latina, and a female, is a huge challenge.  Lily has become an advocate of young girls and Latinas; she helps them develop agency.

     Lily believes that a big part of what it means to be a leader is to take care of oneself.  Exhaustion is not healthy for effective leadership.  Conversations about self-care are rare, but critical.  Part of her advice is to "make time for your passions, and for yourself, and never give up on your family."  

Resources Mentioned

The Sponsors
     This episode is being sponsored by Isagenix, one of America’s leading health and wellness companies, and by, Education’s Daily Digest.

Additional resources
     You can reach Luis Valentino on Twitter, and on Facebook, at

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" yourself.  Don't try to be anything else, anyone else, be yourself, stand by what you believe in, and walk away if you have to." 

                                              - Lilly DeBlieux, Ph.D.

Episode 002: Lily DeBlieux, Ph.D.