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  • John Franco


Steering Wonderful College Prep Academy toward a brighter future

Over his 21 years in education, Dr. Adrian Manuel has lead and helped to improve schools in what many consider some of the most challenged districts in the country — including the South Bronx and D.C.

Yet nothing could have prepared him to take on the role of Superintendent of Wonderful College Prep Academy (WCPA) four months into the pandemic. However, Dr. Manuel’s desire to create authentic connections has allowed he and his staff to get a better understanding of what WCPA students and families need most.

“Schools cannot operate during this pandemic without trying to understand the needs and insecurities their students and families are facing. The home environment right now is the learning environment, so we can’t ignore that,” Dr. Manuel said. “I believe in authenticity as a leader — connecting with parents, students and my staff is probably one of the most powerful things I can do in a very authentic way. Part of that is because my values are at the forefront of what I do. I believe all of our kids deserve access to a high-quality education program, and part of that is supporting them outside of school.”

“I believe in authenticity as a leader — connecting with parents, students and my staff is probably one of the most powerful things I can do.” —Dr. Adrian Manuel, Superintendent

As a result of those values and the connections built early on through surveys, phone calls and home visits, WCPA has on a daily basis provided meal kits with breakfast, lunch and dinner to anyone in a student’s household who needs nutritious meals. Free health and wellness check-ups including physicals, vaccines and mental health support have also been provided to kids and parents by doctors and nurses on campus weekly.

Staff has also conducted home check-ins with students who’ve missed two days in a row of online instruction. Those 200 or so visits resulted in the distribution of about 150 hot-spot devices to boost students’ internet at home so they could virtually connect with their teachers each day. Such efforts have led to the district boasting some of the highest attendance rates during this time of distance learning — over 95 percent on average in elementary and middle school, and about 92 percent for high school.

Being innovative and systems driven is also critical to Dr. Manuel’s leadership. One cannot simply say ‘lets do everything we can for families,’ he said. Rather, schools must be systematic about how families’ needs are identified, as well as inequities, and how those needs are addressed and monitored over the years to ensure improvement. "Systems are more important now than ever because we have to address these needs,” he said.

The most immediate priority now of making sure all families and staff remain safe and healthy is something the two-campus preK-12th grade school system has always strove to achieve through its community school model. In addition to preparing students to go off to competitive colleges with an understanding of what they want for their future, WCPA also aims to help children develop civic mindedness, healthy lifestyles and eating habits, and a strong set of intellectual and soft skills employers look for. It’s about balancing the whole child and shaping fully developed young people who are prepared to thrive both in and beyond the classroom.

That is what excites Dr. Manuel about his role as Superintendent, and why he enrolled his own children in WCPA’s pre-K program and middle school. “The expectations, and hopes and dreams I have for my own kids are the ones I have for all WCPA students and families — and that’s a great feeling,” he said. “We are looking ahead and fundamentally changing the paradigm of how we support kids, how we support families, and how we develop a better society.”

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