• by Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed. • IDRA Newsletter • September 2000 • Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed.

We celebrate diversity as strength, model leadership that maintains faith in every person’s (child and adult) ability to learn and contribute, and value mutual respect and trust in building support for change. At the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), two initiatives funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation are allowing us to further this “valuing” concept in relationships among universities, public schools, parents and the broader community. Among the major goals for both projects is promoting Leadership in Diversity. ENLACE focuses on Latino students, while Project Alianza specifically focuses on English language learners and preparing teachers to address their assets. Leadership in Diversity is our phrase for a new paradigm in leadership.

Dr. José A. Cárdenas, IDRA founder and director emeritus, presented a paradigm shift with the publishing of Theory of Incompatibilities: A Conceptual Framework for Responding to the Educational Needs of Hispanic Americans, co-written by Dr. Blandina Cárdenas (1977). In the textbook he wrote almost two decades later, he referred to a new educational paradigm that ensures the success of all children in school.

For (this) new paradigm to be successful, it is necessary that it incorporate the three characteristics that have been so successful in innovative programs: valuing students, the provision of support services and the inter-relationships among home, school and family (Cárdenas, 1995).

In keeping with this concept, we extend “valuing” to the families and communities of the students, which now includes colleges and universities. Continuing Dr. Cárdenas’ legacy, and that of many other pioneers of progress in education for all children (especially economically disadvantaged, minority, recent immigrant and those speaking a language other than English), we are now facilitating this new kind of leadership in diversity.

Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Dr. Cárdenas’ successor as executive director of IDRA, recently rephrased the paradigm:

The only thing we have to change is our belief that some students deserve success and others do not. The new rule is: All students stay in. The new promise is: All students succeed. Failure is not an option (2000).

Dr. Blandina Cárdenas, a professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, has assisted IDRA in developing the Leadership in Diversity model. We have conceptualized an “asset model” for this. It allows for the discovery of partners’ capacities and assets and the application of those assets to seeking solutions to barriers that affect the development of a community.

In an article written last year about Project Alianza, Josie Danini Cortez states:

As a general rule, universities and communities operate in a “provider-to-client” mode rather a partnership mode where both share a common goal and capitalize on each other’s unique assets to reach that goal. Our challenge will be to model and experience the benefits of educating a community as a partnership that acknowledges, cultivates and nurtures those assets that the university and community bring to the table (Supik, 1999).

The Purpose of Leadership in Diversity

The aims of Leadership in Diversity are to:

  • Reconnect universities and local communities in a strong and lasting alliance where they mutually reinforce each other’s assets and nurture a healthy relationship to resolve issues critical to the education of Latino students, and
  • Consider and utilize the assets of the community in ways not previously done to improve academic access and success for Latino students.

The process is designed to cause universities and public school systems to value communities, including Latino parents, as assets that must be integrated into school improvement efforts and to cause institutional and community changes to be sustained beyond the life of the project and that continue to improve access of educational opportunities for Latino youth. The process will open communication within the university structure vertically and horizontally to improve recruitment, admission, and retention of Latino youth and to improve curricula across disciplines. It continually celebrates and acknowledges successes among academia, community colleges, kindergarten through grade 12 education, Latino neighborhoods and the community at large by increasing the quality of education provided to Latino youth. It also establishes and institutionalizes internal measures of institutional evaluation that incorporate the “asset mapping” paradigm.

Guiding Principles of Leadership in Diversity

The Leadership in Diversity model is guided by mutual partnerships in support of excellence that do the following:

  • provide a firm foundation and blueprint for educational renewal and community regeneration,
  • foster asset-based, internally-focused, and relationship-driven sharing of concerns to solve challenges affecting the health of scools and communities,
  • build on the remarkable work already occurring in communities and universities; and
  • build and rebuild relationships and partnerships among key stakeholders continually.

There are five operating principles and guidelines in the model:

  • Celebrate diversity as strength.
  • Maintain faith in every person’s (child and adult) ability to learn and contribute.
  • Value mutual respect and trust in building teams with true partnership and ongoing communication.
  • Build peer support for change with high trust levels among varied stakeholders.
  • Distribute responsibility and leadership with minimal bureaucracy and clear accountability.

In each community that is currently carrying out this model, a Leadership in Diversity team is guiding the process. As part of the model, IDRA has outlined a recommended make-up of representation on these teams that is one-third from each major category: higher education, kindergarten through grade 12 (K-12) schools, and community members. For the higher education representation, all major aspects – teaching, administering and researching – should be represented as well as two-year and four-year institutions. For the K-12 school partners, central office, campus administrators, faculty and counselors should be represented as well as elementary, middle and high school levels. For the community representation, at least one-third of the team members should be from historically underserved Latino families with children in school. Some representatives can be college or university students who come from the community.


The Leadership in Diversity process suggests steps that are consistent with the introduction and management of change within the participating institutions. Each site takes a series of planned steps that bring together various stakeholders and support individual and collective input from higher education, K-12 schools, community in creating a seamless educational pipeline for Latino students. Each stakeholder group speaks from its strengths, experiences and point of view. The process offers chronological steps in introducing and carrying out these changes and the relationships among the different stakeholders and sectors of the community.

One of the analyses suggested in the process is a relational map, or sociogram, that reveals the connections of influence and power within an institution in ways that the formal organizational chart might not show. This analysis is useful for the Leadership in Diversity team to develop practical strategies to institutionalize ways to increase academic access and success for Latino students.

Oanh H. Maroney described how the ENLACE initiative is progressing through Leadership in Diversity:

Communities are being strengthened by the development of inclusive, interrelational partnerships where everyone is a stakeholder in the well-being of that community. It is anticipated that communities will see that the new entity being formed is stronger than all of its parts, and can look within themselves to determine how to capitalize on the strengths that each part of the community brings to bear. People are, in fact, willing to change the status quo – eager to make a difference (2000).

The challenges of this specific brand of “leadership in diversity” are great. We are not defining leadership as the individual qualities of assertiveness and ambition that shine through a charismatic individual. Leadership here means collective commitment to progress – wise and tough actions that create new systemic regularities in our institutions of higher education. It means constructing a seamless pipeline for all our children from pre-school years to completing college. It means making changes that are beneficial and sustainable. Families, communities, schools, colleges and universities are fulfilling the promise of democracy. It means institutions and communities work for the greater good of our world.

Partnerships for Successful Schools

The formation of the unique partnerships that characterize successful school programs requires at least the following to reduce the polarization and alienation that currently exists.

  • A mutual respect among the school, the home and the community based on the assumption that each of the three entities has a vested interest in the successful schooling of the child.
  • The clarification of the overlapping roles of the school, the home and the community in the education of the child.
  • An opening and widening of doors to facilitate extensive interaction and the planning of cooperative activities.
  • Extensive communication among the three entities.
  • Participation by the three entities in making decisions impacting upon the child.

– Dr. José A. Cárdenas, Multicultural Education:
A Generation of Advocacy

Glossary for Leadership in Diversity


A place that is an identifiable neighborhood or region, has physical boundaries, and is representative of the broader Latino population. At a minimum, this community is comprised of various stakeholders: one group is historically under served Latino families with children in school; other members are community-based organizations, the private sector, universities, public schools, civic organizations, faith-based groups, and potential funders and foundations – all of which serve or have the potential to serve the Latino population.



The team shares a mutual resolve and commitment to make a difference for Latino students in education. All represented groups have equal status around the table. Participants agree to be open to different opinions and to other capacities and assets that can become part of the solution. This kind of relationship:

  • capitalizes on previously unrecognized or underutilized assets and resources;
  • collaboratively seeks solutions to problems and removal of barriers and has a mutual resolution to change;
  • is initially among those already committed to the vision of the project and who also have the authority, respect and influence within their constituency
  • eventually the partnership brings in others who need more information and dialogue to become committed to the goals of the project;
  • develops and instills processes for sustaining the dialogue, self-renewal and institutionalizing the new relationships; and
  • causes the university to connect to communities that it has not previously connected with in a partnership previously not experienced.



Capacities inherent in individuals and communities that include skills they can put to work, abilities and talents they can share, experiences they have learned from, and interests and dreams they would like to pursue.

Asset Mapping

(as used in ENLACE)

Asset mapping is a process for universities, schools and communities to value and capture within themselves the potential of their members to make a difference for students. Members and community residents identify and value their full potential and direct their capacities toward improving the academic access and achievement of Latino students. Asset mapping is an antidote to the deficit model and a tool for bringing to light and utilizing previously ignored strengths and capital. It is data collection used by the Leadership in Diversity team to make decisions and plan strategies.
 – Intercultural Development Research Association


Cantu, L. “Project Alianza: Tapping Community Resources for Bilingual Teachers,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, February 1999).

Cárdenas, J.A. Multicultural Education: A Generation of Advocacy (Needham Heights, Mass.: Simon and Schuster Custom Publishing, 1995).

Cárdenas, J.A. and B. Cárdenas. Theory of Incompatibilities: A Conceptual Framework for Responding to the Educational Needs of Hispanic Americans (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, 1977).

Kretzmann, J.P., and J.L. McKnight. Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing a Community’s Assets (Evanston, Illinois: The Asset-Based Community Development Institute, Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University, 1993).

Maroney, O.H. “The ENLACE Initiative: Strengthening Communities, Increasing Opportunity, Fostering Success,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 2000).

Montemayor, A.M. “The Nurturing of Parent Leadership,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, September 1997).

Robledo Montecel, M. “Musical Chairs and Unkept Promises,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, January 2000).

Robledo Montecel, M. “Hispanic Dropouts: Addressing the Leak in the Pipeline to Higher Education,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August, 1997).

Supik, J.D. “Project Alianza – A Model Teacher Preparation and Leadership Development Initiative: First Year Findings,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, August 1999).

Supik, J.D. “Perspectives on ‘Leadership,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, , October 1997).

Aurelio M. Montemayor, M.Ed., is the lead trainer in IDRA’s Division of Professional Development. Comments and questions may be directed to him via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2000, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2000 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]