Honoring the Legacy of CEL’s Founding Director

Sep 7, 2023

On September 5, we said goodbye to Dr. Stephen Fink, Founding Director of the Center for Educational Leadership (CEL), and life-long champion of all young people in schools.

In 2001 Steve became the Founding Director of CEL, bringing 12 years of school leadership and classroom experience to the role. Under Steve’s visionary direction, CEL grew into a self-sustaining, people-first, learning organization with a national reputation.

The original vision of the center was to partner with education leaders providing professional learning with evidence-based resources and experts committed to fighting for educational justice and building schools where all students would have access to high-quality learning.

Steve’s deeply held belief that the best way to address education inequities is through building the expertise of education leaders remains a cornerstone of CEL still today.

As a life-long learner himself, Steve approached the work rigorously, constantly searching for the most impactful leadership practices in the fight for educational justice. But he also brought a generous spirit that helped the CEL team feel okay with our current state–to learn from mistakes–and encouraged us to push for continuous improvement.

Steve’s mantra: “Leaders can’t lead what they don’t know” was often heard around the CEL office. He built a vision around the idea that the best leaders are learners. Steve believed in the power of creating the conditions for adults to learn and to witness their students engaged in high-level thinking. At his core, Steve believed in the power and capabilities of all students. He was dedicated to helping adults get better on behalf of kids. Steve would challenge leaders: “If you’re not changing the lives of kids every day, what are you doing?”

Over his seventeen-year tenure, Steve grew CEL into a self-sustaining organization and built countless partnerships–including the enduring National Principal Supervisor Academy with the American Association of School Administrators (AASA). The impact of Steve’s vision and CEL’s partnerships reverberates through the students whose lives have been transformed. It echoes in the classrooms where educators and leaders lean into the idea that they can become better instructional leaders for the sake of students. And it resounds in the broader educational community in the fight for educational justice.

Steve always felt that students need teachers and leaders who have clear visions and who are connected with their “why”: their belief in the power of education. And that teachers and leaders need partners to help them get there. This is CEL’s mission.

Steve didn’t just fight for educational justice for a day or even for a year or many years. Fighting for a quality education for all students was Steve’s life; it was his core. At CEL we are committed to recognizing the shoulders we stand on. We are working on a plan to honor Steve’s legacy into the future and will share it on our site once we have more details.