Superintendent Elizabeth Giacobbe oversees a school district where 70% of students live below the poverty line. During her first teaching position 20 years ago, Giacobbe said, she grew passionate about the “plight of the urban student,” and eventually went on to become superintendent of Beverly City School District, located in Burlington County, where it’s not uncommon for students to begin the school day already tired and hungry.
If you could give your younger self one piece of career advice, what would it be?
I was a teacher for only four years before I went into administration. While I love my job, I would tell myself not to be in such a hurry to leave the classroom.
What do you think is the most important issue facing women in the education field?
While the education field is predominantly female, the role of superintendents is still predominantly male. I find that when I have an opinion about something or want to have my voice heard, I am often perceived as a “B” as opposed to being seen as a strong, respected individual.
What inspires you?
My inspiration is my students. They make me want to wake up and drive over an hour each way. They are some of the most loving students I have ever worked with in my 20 years. Over 70% live below the poverty line, yet they come to school with love in their heart, despite the fact that many are coming to school each day hungry, tired, scared and in pain. Knowing what they have to go through inspires me and makes me want to be the best for them.
How has being an educator helped you define your purpose?
I can honestly say I did not always know my value. Even though I have been an educator for 20 years, it was not until I started working with children who live in poverty that made me define my purpose. It truly is a passion and a calling.
What is the most rewarding part of being an educator? And how about, in particular, being an educator for low-income students?
The most rewarding part is watching my students learn, grow and laugh. I love when former students come back and visit, but I love it more when they come and share their successes – like when they get into a college. Over 70% of my students live below the poverty line and several live in transition (homeless or foster care). It makes me appreciate what I have, how I was raised, but it has also inspired me to become a foster parent to help provide a loving home for students like mine.
What is the biggest professional challenge you’ve faced?
Probably the biggest challenge is being able to strike a balance. I commute over an hour each way and am working to complete my dissertation, which makes it hard to find time for other things like a social life and working out.
Why would you encourage other women to enter the Grow Your Value bonus competition?
I would encourage other women to enter as the entire experience has been so empowering. Even if I don’t win, I already feel like I did. It is helping put my school district of Beverly City on the map, when we often get overlooked. I also found the gift of being able to go through the Johnson & Johnson Human Performance Institute to be a true game changer for me. I found that to be so rewarding. I am eating healthier, working out more and not letting anything impede my ability to honor my mission.
What do you hope to gain from the Know Your Value movement?
It has been so empowering to me; I am hoping that I am able to take this “movement” to empower my students and faculty.
Elizabeth will join two other Grow Your Value finalists on stage this Friday, October 23 at Boston’s Know Your Value event - part of a nationwide movement to empower women in the workplace. You can catch her and the other Grow Your Value finalists compete for $10,000 at msnbc.com/knowyourvalue where we’ll be livestreaming the event.