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AGA Principal Cabrera placing a tie onto scholar, photo is in black and white and takes place outside.

Shaped at Aspire: A Leader’s Career Journey

By Marilu Aguilar-Moreno
from Aspire’s Talent team

After an extensive interview process at the regional and site levels, the Los Angeles region and its representatives selected a deserving Aspire teammate and applicant to carry on the school leadership baton. David Cabrera is the new Principal at Aspire Gateway Academy in South Gate.

Cabrera’s leadership journey began in 2011, when he took a teaching position at Aspire Inskeep Academy. Prior to that, he was a teacher resident with the Aspire Teacher Residency Program (ATR). Rooting himself in his dedication and commitment to the work ahead, he stepped into his first leadership role as Dean of Climate and Culture in 2016 and later as an Assistant Principal.

Charlie Heaton, Principal at Inskeep Academy, speaks highly of Cabrera’s work and experience in organizational leadership saying, “If you know Mr. Cabrera, he is strategic in his decision-making; the opportunity and fit to lead Aspire Gateway Academy leaves no doubt in my mind that he will lead his school to greatness. His dedication and commitment have been integral to our school’s improvement and success.”

Cabrera took time to share his journey and learnings along the way. In his reflection, he credited the Aspire Huntington Park, Titan Academy, and Inskeep Academy teams for supporting his development as an educator and leader.

What inspired your career in education and did you foresee being where you are today?
I grew up in the community – near some Aspire schools – and went to traditional big district schools that tracked students into predetermined paths and altered future opportunities. If it wasn’t for an educator who supported me throughout my middle school and high school days, I wouldn’t be here. Because someone invested in me, I went to UC Berkeley, and that’s where I had the opportunity to appreciate the need to push for change in our education system and gain a perspective that impacted my career path and shaped my own reform ideas of what school should feel and look like. After graduating, I was a Program Coordinator with PlayWorks AmeriCorps, and then joined the Aspire Teacher Residency Program.

Why did you choose to do the residency program with Aspire, as opposed to other programs?
One of the biggest frustrations with systems, in general, is that we seldom stop to think about whether they work. Aspire does it differently. You literally shadow a top teacher to truly understand what it means to be an effective educator. By [taking steps with the teacher residency], I feel like I made a stronger impact on our students. [The program] prepares and gives you the tools to learn about instruction delivery, the power of collaborating, connecting with colleagues, and learning how to balance your life with being an educator.

What are you most proud of?
I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for an educator who guided me, so I am proud to continue that tradition of support to positively impact the course for other students. Being in education, you have to have the mindset that you are a change agent – you can’t just follow the status quo. Offering that to my community gives students something to aspire to, and it affirms for families that success isn’t just talk, it’s possible.

Why did you pursue the principalship?
My personal experience as a student and as an educator led me to pursue a leadership role in our education system. When I interviewed with the teacher residency program, I was asked where I saw myself in 10 years; I saw myself in school leadership. I understood then the importance of building my capacity to truly make a possible impact, and I worked on this for 5 years. I wanted to affect change at a larger scale in a role requiring creativity. For me, principalship is an opportunity to do just that.

What has been your experience as a school leader so far?
[Aspire] Gateway Academy will be my fourth elementary school. Having been with the organization for so long, the connections I’ve formed over the years have helped me transition into my new role, where if I were completely new to Aspire the learning curve would be different. Right now, I am appreciating how much love and unity there is in each Aspire school. Each community is different, but the love is there.

What is a lesson you’ve learned or advice you’ve received in your professional career that you’d like to impart on aspiring leaders?
There’s always a learning opportunity in every mistake, every success, and in every person you meet. Find the lightness in the heavy moments – don’t get too caught up in the seriousness. Find some joy, be patient, and know well what is your pursuit.

To find similar opportunities to lead at Aspire visit our Join page.