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Making an impact on schools that need the most help

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Magdalena ‘Magdi’ Castañeda

UF Professor in Residence, Miami-Dade County
College of Education Lastinger Center for Learning

Professor in Residence Magdalena “Magdi” Castañeda is everywhere these days: working with elementary school teachers in her home base of Miami-Dade County, sharing ideas with colleagues around Florida and meeting with policymakers, superintendents and educators in other states.

Castañeda works with teachers in the 25 Miami-Dade County high-need schools that participate in the Lastinger Center’s Florida Master Teacher Initiative, an on-the-job graduate-degree and professional-development program.

The program, which Castañeda joined at its inception in 2006, recently won a $6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education (including a $1 million match from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation) to add 25 Miami-Dade County schools. It aims to boost student achievement by improving teaching.

“Magdi exemplifies the type of professor we’ve been lucky to have join our team,” Lastinger Center Director Don Pemberton said. “She’s passionate, committed, experienced and she gets it – and so her students get her.”

A former Miami-Dade public schools teacher, Castañeda travels to Kellogg Foundation Learning Labs in Hawaii, Mississippi and Washington to help improve early-childhood education.

Castañeda earned a doctorate in educational administration and supervision from Miami’s Florida International University in 2007. “I really believe in this work. It has transformed me as an educator and a person.”

Lastinger Center Associate Director Alyson Adams, who has observed Castañeda in action, credits the professor’s success to her ability to keep her eyes on the big picture and maintain a hands-on approach with her students.

“She truly understands it’s more than teaching them,” Adams said. “It’s connecting with them.”

Born in Madrid, Spain, to Cuban immigrants who fled the island for political reasons, Castañeda wanted to become a journalist. She changed her mind soon after becoming an FIU journalism undergraduate.

“I had my son the summer between my freshman and sophomore years,” said Castañeda, who remembers the name of every teacher she’s ever had. “I thought education would be a better choice for a mom. My mother, a teacher herself, had always told me I should be a teacher. I said many times I’d never do that …”

Today, Castañeda teaches teachers.

“I’m working in the trenches,” said Castañeda, who wrote her dissertation on mentoring, “with the teachers who need our help.”

Photo credit: University Photography