A Conversation With Dr. Georgia Ann Lazo, Principal

Photo by Margie Limon

Georgia Ann Lazo, Ed.D., joined UCLA Lab School as principal in July 2018. She brings with her more than 28 years of experience working in Los Angeles area schools as a teacher, principal, and director of instruction. She also has been co-teaching a course on Democracy and Accountability in the UCLA Principal Leadership Institute since 2012. 

As background, could you share a little bit about your family and your life growing up?

Dr. Lazo: I spent my formative years in Southeast L.A., in the South Gate area. I went to California schools — UC Irvine and then Pepperdine and then UCLA. I have one younger sibling, and I have many foster siblings. And I have one son, Samuel. He’s 11 years old and he plays the guitar and loves the Dodgers.

My parents are very generous people and very empathetic, and I think I learned those values and those traits from them. My mother is Salvadoran. During the war in El Salvador in the early 1980s, we had a lot of extended family members living with us. It taught me that the world is much bigger than what we know and what we see on a daily basis. There are crises that happen in the world and they impact human lives. I think that was a lesson I learned early on.

What was it about the UCLA Lab School principal role that attracted you?

Dr. Lazo: This is a very unique principal position in that there is a lot of opportunity to influence and impact what goes on not only at the Lab School, but at many other schools statewide and even internationally. That’s really exciting for me.

The work of a principal is really complex. It involves direct contact with students, teachers, parents, and community partners, and then, in this particular position, researchers and professors. I love the idea of being able to facilitate learning for all of those different groups.

I also love the idea of reciprocal learning. The University can learn a lot about what goes on at the Lab School, and the school also learns from the university. There’s the work that’s being done with CGI (Cognitively Guided Instruction), for example, learning how students really learn about mathematics and conceptualize ideas related to math. The teachers here are benefiting from the work Professor Megan Franke has done in that area. By the same token, researchers in the Graduate School of Education & Information Studies (GSE&IS) are learning more and more about how children learn through the work that goes on at this school.

What is your style as a leader? How do you promote collaboration among stakeholders?

Dr. Lazo: I think whenever we talk about working in a democratic way, the challenge is that sometimes people do not see eye to eye; they don’t agree on how to approach a problem. It requires active listening. It requires empathy. And there is no one right answer. The challenge is in posing the right questions to be able to guide people’s thinking so that there’s some convergence and consensus. For me, that’s exciting. It’s invigorating. I love to get people with different perspectives in a room and hear all the different ideas. When I hear that people are upset or frustrated, I also see it means they are passionate. They have a genuine interest in what’s going on. I think when I get concerned is when people are apathetic. That, to me, signals disengagement, which is much harder to deal with.

We have a group of very high caliber teachers and professionals, not only at the school of course, at the University. The challenge then becomes getting people with really good ideas to think about those ideas collectively. What does it mean for us as a group? What does it mean for us as a team that is working toward a specific vision?

We’re just finishing up the first quarter of the school year since you came on board. What are your thoughts on where the school can and should be headed?

 Dr. Lazo: I don’t have all the answers just now because I am still learning and gathering information. And the work I’ve done so far and will continue to do this year will help us create a strategic plan together, with input from all stakeholders. But I do see that this school can influence work internationally. I would like to see our work expand in that way. And I think this school is really on the right track with developing a full inclusion model for complex learners within an inquiry-based approach to teaching and learning. I would like us to explore deeper questions about what that looks like and how teachers actually make it work. Then I think our role can also be exploring solutions for global problems, such as global warming and immigration. Our students and teachers can be innovating around all the really deep and rich complex problems that exist in our world. With all these possibilities, I’m excited to keep learning from all our community members and to work on our vision for the future together.