Gil Traverso: A Fixture of Educational Leadership in New England, Knows How to Enact Change in a Big Way

4 Mins read

Gil Traverso has built a career in education that has spanned almost three decades, and there’s still more he’d like to accomplish. As an educational leader of color in Connecticut and Massachusetts, he is part of a group that makes up only 1% of educational leaders in the region. But Traverso felt compelled to enter a leadership role after observing how detrimental poor leadership can be to a staff and school community, and he has never looked back. 

Currently serving as the Executive Director of the Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School (PFSJCS) in Chicopee, Massachusetts, Traverso shares how he lives his truth, what makes a great leader, and how he has turned several failing schools around.

Change Can Be Hard

In 2010, Traverso was appointed as principal at the Roger L. Putnam Vocational Technical Academy in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was selected to take a school with a high dropout rate, poor test scores, an unsafe environment, and a bookkeeping system in disarray, and turn it around. Being the catalyst for change isn’t easy, but Traverso is the man for the job; Putnam is now a national leader in vocational-technical high school education. 

Having been in a leadership role for the better part of two decades, Traverso knows what it takes to motivate a staff and build a strong community while achieving high-performance metrics. But his journey isn’t without struggles.

“As a leader, there are reproductions when you challenge institutional bias and the status quo,” he says thoughtfully. “Being an advocate for social justice can lead to false narratives and non-credible accusations. This often becomes compounded due to being a leader of color. More importantly, the opportunities that exist for leaders of color are limited. For example, in Connecticut and Massachusetts, opportunities for leaders of color in education hovers around 1%. Therefore, persistence is the key to overcoming the barriers and responding to who you are internally, not to what you’re being categorized externally.”

Now pursuing his Superintendent Certificate at Central Connecticut State University, Traverso is deeply passionate about his career path. He supervises and mentors other principals, training them on the strategic planning, operations, goal setting, resource, and priority alignment that they’ll need to be successful.

“Any aspiring leader needs to first understand the behind-the-scenes challenges before embarking on a leadership journey,” he explains. “It is imperative for an aspiring leader to shadow a successful mentor in order to gain a better understanding of the personal sacrifice and demands that will ultimately impact a leader’s tenure.”

Creating a Supportive Environment

In order to engage his staff and lift them up, Traverso celebrates their accomplishments and shows empathy in times of struggle. When it comes to motivating students, he knows that collaborating with parents and stakeholders in the school is crucial.

“A key component in building parent relationships is to make families feel welcomed,” he says. “It is essential to provide accessibility and information and school activities. Making parents feel valued by including them as partners in their child’s education creates a collaborative experience. Programs to reduce dropping out become more effective when parents are critical partners. Providing services to parents such as Parent Academies supports the notion of collaboration.”

At Putnam, Traverso designed and implemented an early warning drop-out system that included showing parents a matrix of remediation measures that could help keep kids in school. Used in conjunction with his other efforts, Putnam is now tied for the lowest dropout rate at .7 statewide.

When it comes to allocating resources to students in order to provide support, Traverso makes careful decisions after reviewing the facts about where needs exist:

“Priorities and strategies are implemented after careful data analyses and inquiry to find root cause and understanding. As a leader, I prioritize equitable access, individual and group needs, and creating viable and measured interventions.”

He then creates tiers of support that keep students engaged and accountable. He also isn’t afraid to make changes to staffing to facilitate progress. The results speak for themselves.

“My priority upon arriving at Putnam was the kids and their parents who wanted their children to come to a safe school with strict policies, education, discipline, and opportunities,” Traverso said in a 2012 interview. “There was little to no accountability, and the environment made it difficult for the kids to learn. We are proud to state that Putnam now has the lowest number of fights across Springfield’s high schools.”

Putting the kids first, and structuring programs and funding around what works best for them, is the secret to Traverso’s success. He is constantly looking for solutions that address the root cause of problems, not just seeking a temporary band-aid for a bad situation.

What’s Next for Gil Traverso

After years of overseeing budgets, implementing systems, creating accountability, training leadership teams, improving school cultures, and uniting teachers unions as a principal, Traverso is now focused on becoming a Superintendent. This will put him in a position to oversee daily operations and planning for the long-term of an entire school district. 

Traverso is well-prepared for the step up. After serving as an assistant principal of the State Department of Education-Connecticut Technical High School for 14 years until his tenure as principal at Putnam, Traverso then moved on to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School and New Haven Public Schools before ending up at PFSJCS. He has embraced his many roles in education but is looking forward to more responsibility.

What won’t change is his approach to pinpointing problems and how he methodically crafts solutions.

“After careful examination of data, climate, and resources, it is imperative that strategic planning addresses the specific areas in need of improvement,” he says. “Building teams that support the strategic planning goals is required for shared leadership. Timelines, alignment of resources, and support need to be followed by accountability measures to measure effectiveness.”

A fixture of New England educational leadership, Gil Traverso has carved out an inspired and inspiring career. He has broken through stereotypes and become the man to call when rapid, significant change is needed. And he’s not done yet.


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