2024 Breakthrough Leadership Institute


Dr. Maria Ott

USC Rossier Irving R. and Virginia A. Melbo Chair in Education Administration; Award-winning Retired Superintendent

Maria Gutierrez Ott, PhD, holds the Irving R. and Virginia A. Melbo Chair in Education Administration at the USC Rossier School of Education. In addition to her years as a classroom teacher and site and central office administrator, Dr. Ott served more than 40 years as an educator in K-12 urban systems. That includes, fourteen years as a superintendent and five years as senior deputy superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District. Her transition to higher education was an opportunity to apply her experiences to the preparation of leaders for school systems, colleges and universities, and other organizations.

Ott designed and launched the USC Rossier Urban Superintendents Academy in 2015 in partnership with AASA to prepare diverse and equity-minded leaders for K-12 system leadership. She serves as a member of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents (ALAS) Board of Directors to promote the goal of advancing diverse leaders who work to close opportunity and achievement gaps for Latino and youth of color. She was honored with the 2021-2022 ALAS Lifetime Achievement Award and received the USC Rossier Dean’s Superintendents Advisory Group (DSAG) Achievement Award in 2017. Ott is recognized for her leadership and advocacy for bilingual education and programs for English language learners, leadership development for women, and public-private partnerships in education. She is a founding member of the California Association of Latino Superintendents and Administrators (CALSA).

Her work on cultural proficiency is detailed in her books, A Culturally Proficient Society Begins in School: Leadership for Equity (2011) and Now What? Confronting Uncomfortable Truths About Inequity in Schools (2023) with co-authors Carmella S. Franco and Darline P. Robles. Ott has presented to national audiences on the topic of her books and continues to contribute to the educational literature about the importance of cultural proficiency in closing achievement gaps. She is a member of the Ethical Educators Panel for AASA’s School Administrator Magazine and contributes ethical advice in response to real cases encountered by superintendents in their school districts.