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Dr. Nadia Lopez is shaking up the educational system in Brownsville, where she is the founding principal at Mott Hall Bridges Academy. By engaging in community-based initiatives to nudge her students to higher achievement, and shifting expectations, Dr. Lopez is seen as a hero by her students. Dr. Lopez is also a published author, winner of a TED fellowship, recipient of recognition by Michelle Obama, and Winner of the Change Agent Award. Most importantly, though, through her persistent mentorship and guidance—and yearly field trips to Harvard—her students are made to believe in the bigness, and full range of possibilities, in life.
Where did you grow up, and what led you to your career in education?
I grew up in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The birth of my daughter led to my career in education. I was inspired by her because I was concerned with who would be in the classroom nurturing my most precious gift. I decided I wanted to be the change and example I wanted to see in education.
What do you think is the most important part of your job as a principal? 
Overall, the most important part of my day is to being present for my students, present in the community, and adaptive to change.
No two days are the same. But most of my day is spent talking to, teaching, and empowering children. Managing the adults and staff in my building is also crucial because they have the largest immediate impact and contact with my scholars. Making sure they embody our founding principles and understand the brilliance in each scholar is critical.
When you first were visited by Humans of New York, did you have the sense that you were doing things differently than most principals in general, and in particular within impoverished communities?
No, I still don’t believe my work is different. For once there was just someone willing to share that this work is challenging. Many of my colleagues are unsung heroes, doing the work to change their communities every day.
What or who has been your inspiration for the way you approach your work? What is at stake?
I’m inspired by the leaders and teachers who came before me. The educators I studied under as a child, and the leaders who have given their lives fighting for the access and equity we are still striving for and deserving of. Also, as a career changer with a corporate background, I have a clear sense of what kids need to be equipped with to succeed in a 21st century career. What’s at stake is the liberation of children, especially those who have been marginalized, and the impact of future generations.
What do you find most fulfilling about your work?
When my alumni come back and they share the impact we’ve had on their lives.
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What is your proudest achievement, and what is your greatest challenge?
My proudest achievement is every graduating class we have at MHBA.
My greatest challenge is my work life balance. Finding time for self care and staying inspired and encouraged in spite of all pitfalls.
In your opinion, and based on your years of work, what are the most important educational policies that should be changed both in New York State and country-wide, to help children achieve their potential?
Policies regarding standards must be shifted. I’m not anti-standardized test but the way they are created must change. Currently, exams are not consistent and don’t accurately capture students’s growth. This is due in part to the exam creators. They don’t all have experience in schools and hands on experience with children. There needs to be more focus on portfolio-based learning that demonstrates mastery in a topic.
This week, what have you seen with a student, or a group of students, that has given you hope?
My alumni came back and sat in classes with students offering advice from their on experiences.
Who would you nominate for this list?
Sharifa Murdock, co-owner of Liberty Fashion. Born and raised in Brooklyn, and she has broken through an industry where women of color don’t own their own merchandising show. She represents the grit, determination, and drive that a true Brooklynite possesses.

Learn more about this year’s 100 Influencers in Brooklyn Culture.

Photo by Daniel Dorsa