Change Advocate: Alumna Brandi Boyd

by Tom Hanlon  /   Jun 24, 2019

news item picture

Brandi Boyd sees the need for change in the classroom. Now, as an assistant principal, she is making that change happen.

Note: This article is one of a series that the College of Education is running on alumni who have quickly ascended the ranks of educational leadership and have made a big impact on students in the process.

When Brandi Boyd was freshly minted as a teacher, she advocated for one of her second-grade students. An instructional specialist in the school wanted to refer the student, who was black, to special education.

“I said, do you have data to support this, because that’s not what I’m seeing,” recalls Boyd, who earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 2012 from the University of Illinois and two master’s degrees from Illinois, one in Curriculum & Instruction in 2014, the other in Education Policy, Organization & Leadership in 2018. She also earned her Illinois Principal’s License in 2018.

“We have an over-identification of African-American students in special education,” says Boyd. She convinced the specialist to keep the child in the regular classroom. “And you know what? That student is in middle school and doing just fine.”

Boyd is now assistant principal at Booker T. Washington Elementary, a STEM Academy in Champaign. She ascended in leadership for one primary reason: to be an advocate of change for students—this time in a role where she can advocate for many at once.

“I always wanted to have a greater impact,” she says. “I want to be a representation of change, of something bigger. I want to help facilitate that change.”

Part of that change, she says, will come from bringing people with different perspectives together. “We need to engage in dialogue about why things are the way they are and try to understand where others are coming from and get them to see there’s another side to this,” Boyd says. “I feel like this is my purpose.”

For example, she says, the old-school way of disciplining students really works against the students. “Kids don’t have a voice,” she says. “What’s the learning experience if they’re suspended and sitting at home? We need an in-school resource instead of suspension, where students can remain here in this environment, learning, while still having a meaningful consequence.”

Boyd says her time in the College of Education helped her discover her own leadership style. “It taught me the importance of translating theory into practice in the school setting and provided me with support in doing so,” she says. “The support included professors and fellow educators who were always open-minded in allowing us to be reflective. I am grateful for my educational experience at Illinois and the role it has played in creating the educational foundation for the administrator I am today.”

Boyd loves to celebrate students’ successes. “I also love it when families feel like they can trust the schools again,” she says. “When parents say I know you’re invested in my child, I know you see my child. And I particularly love to see kids prove people wrong, when they exceed people’s expectations and control their own narratives.”

Speaking of narratives, Boyd has some interesting twists in her own. She was not only conceived on the U of I campus; she was conceived in the very dorm room she lived in as a freshman. “My parents and I walked into the room, and they looked at each other, and then I saw their initials are etched in the door!” she says.

Her career path took a turn from pre-med to education after she met Violet Harris, now professor emerita in the College of Education.

“She said you need to be a teacher,” Boyd recalls. “I said what? I prayed on it and then said, let’s go for it.”

She went for it, and the lives of the students she oversees are the better for it.