Woman’s journey includes working with schools to improve education models

Growing up in Brooklyn with a mother who always worked in school systems, Debra Brathwaite of Dayton knew she was destined to become a teacher.

After graduating high school in 1969 in Brooklyn, Brathwaite went on to Brooklyn College to pursue her bachelor’s degree in education. She got her advanced education certificate in 1982 and earned her Doctor of Philosophy at the University of Dayton years later.

“My mother was a school aide all my growing up years,” Brathwaite said. “She followed me wherever I went.”

Brathwaite started out teaching in an elementary school in Brooklyn in 1973. She worked there for seven years and then became a curriculum writer and developer. She was then presented with an opportunity to become a supervisor of early childhood education in another school district in New York and eventually became a principal.

“I became deputy superintendent in the same school district and was there for about two years before I was offered a job in Cleveland, Ohio,” Brathwaite said. “That was my first time in Ohio.”

In Cleveland, Brathwaite was an assistant superintendent after a former superintendent for whom she worked in New York, asked Brathwaite to join her in Ohio. She remained in Cleveland from 2001 through 2003 before a recruiter called about an opportunity in Dayton.

“To be honest, I wondered at the time where Dayton was,” Brathwaite said. “I had several interviews with Dayton Public Schools and Dr. Percy Mack.”

Brathwaite was offered the job of deputy superintendent in the academic office of Dayton Public Schools and accepted it in 2003 and moved to Dayton. It was a big job with bigger responsibilities as Brathwaite found herself supervising all DPS department heads in a district with 16,000 students. Then in 2008, Mack was offered a position in Columbia, South Carolina and asked Brathwaite to join his team there.

“Mack and I helped take DPS out of academic emergency while we were there,” Brathwaite said. “So I agreed to go with him.”

Her time in Dayton, though, made an indelible impression on Brathwaite, who moved back to Dayton after retiring from her education career in 2014. Though she continues to own a condo in New York, she built a house in the Wright Dunbar neighborhood of Dayton because she said it felt most like home.

“I came back to Dayton because I like Dayton,” Brathwaite said. “It’s convenient to so many places and it’s cost effective to live here.”

Brathwaite’s adult daughter, Naneka Brathwaite, still lives in New York in her mother’s condo.

But retirement for Brathwaite isn’t what it is for most people. Refusing to sit back and sit still, Brathwaite created her own business — “Transformative Education consulting,” in 2014 and consults with schools on ways to improve their education models. She serves on the Miami Valley Fair Housing Center board and is a former member of the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery board of directors, on which she served for six years.

Brathwaite also works as a Delmar Encore Fellow, a program of the Dayton Foundation. She worked with the YWCA of Dayton in 2019 and moved to support Preschool Promise in 2020, where she remains today.

“During my time at Preschool Promise, I have been working with early childhood educators to help them create pathways for young children to become successful adults,” Brathwaite said. “It is my job to research other institutions and help create these pathways locally.”

As a result of her research, Brathwaite wrote two reports for Preschool Promise — “Who Will Teach Our Youngest Children” and “Educating and Diversifying the Early Childhood Workforce.”

“I recommended we create a position for a career advisor,” Brathwaite said. “This person was hired to help early childhood teachers find ways to continue their educations.”

Today, Brathwaite is also working with an organization that is new to Dayton this year — Bottom Line. Daytonian James Cosby was hired to be the director and he asked Brathwaite to be on the board.

“Bottom Line’s goal is to help black and brown students receive quality secondary education,” Brathwaite said. “They don’t provide scholarships, but they help students find financial aid and support them throughout college.”

Brathwaite’s passion for early childhood education has never wavered and she is now working on a new initiative called “Black Boy Brilliance,” that focuses on young African American males and helping them identify their talents and skills at young ages.

“The first five years of a child’s life are the most important,” Brathwaite said. “It’s when 90% of brain development occurs.”

And as if all her work in education wasn’t enough, Brathwaite spends her free time traveling the world with her daughter and going to visit family on the east coast.

“I try to learn something new every day,” the now 72-year-old said. “I don’t see myself slowing down or just staying at home. I enjoyed my career in teaching, and I still like to mentor people to this day. I really enjoy being around younger people too.”

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