School District Leadership Insights

Redlands Unified Superintendent

Juan Cabral


Building Trust and Inspiring Leaders: A Conversation with Superintendent Juan Cabral

School leadership is often perceived as a daunting task shrouded in multifaceted challenges. However, through the lens of Juan Cabral, Superintendent of Redlands Unified School District, leadership unfolds as a journey teeming with opportunities for growth, learning, and significant impact.

Throughout an in-depth dialogue with CheeTung Leong, Co-founder of EngageRocket, Cabral imparts wisdom gleaned from his experiences in steering one of the top districts in the state.

This article excavates the pivotal elements that constitute effective educational leadership, elucidating the manifold ways in which leaders can foster robust environments conducive to academic and community success.

Key Takeaways


 •  Leading Through Core Values: The essence of leadership lies in recognizing and steadfastly abiding by one's core values, which invariably influence decision-making and community engagement.

 •  First 90 Days of School Leadership: The initial phase of school leadership focuses on building trust and relationships, setting the tone for future achievements and challenges.

 •  Embrace of Technology and Data: Advancements in AI and technology are pivotal tools, integral for modernizing educational practices and fostering continuous improvement.

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The Significance of Core Values in Education Leadership


Staying True to Your Leadership Compass

Successful leadership is not simply about achieving goals but about consistently aligning actions with a set of deeply held core values. Superintendent Juan Cabral highlights the import of these values, asserting that "your values are how you behave," and this becomes the North Star guiding all leadership undertakings.

For Cabral, three key values underpin his approach: focusing on what can be controlled to maintain positivity, making decisions that are the best for students, and embracing inclusivity by rejecting the "tyranny of or," which suggests that one must always find collaborative solutions that do not exclude possibilities.

"And because they're from the community, many of our teachers are from within the community. They feel like we're teaching our kids and there's a big feeling of that, and I think that's helped us historically."

This focus on community-centric values showcases how leadership philosophy can catapult a school district toward excellence. By setting an example rooted in these values, Cabral encourages a ripple effect of positive influences among his staff and the school community at large.


Building Trust: Can Actions Speak Louder Than Policies?

When it comes to leadership, trust-building transcends all other objectives. As Cabral suggests, "if they see the person at the top doing it, it makes it easier for them to want to be that way."

His philosophy borders on the pragmatic, emphasizing that in the moments when values conflict—such as during the height of the pandemic—it's necessary to pivot back to policies and education codes to ensure decisions made are best for the students. His approach exemplifies how values can coalesce with policy adherence to navigate complex challenges in the educational landscape.


The Crucible of New Leadership: The First 90 Days

Setting the Foundation for Lasting Impact

The first 90 days of leadership are seen as a pivotal period to establish trust and lay the foundation for long-term goals. Cabral underscores that the period should hinge on fortifying relationships and demonstrating the ability to lead by listening. The assurance of backing his leaders and working collaboratively through mistakes cultivates a trust-rich environment. 

"I think it's important for a 90-day plan to be created which needs to center around building trust."

Cabral's insight into handling the start of a leadership role shines a light on the nuanced challenges a new leader may face, particularly in a dynamic educational setting where decisions reverberate through the lives of students, staff, and the wider community.


Safety Valves and Course Corrections

The conversation touches upon the mechanisms for early identification of issues under new leadership. Prompt interventions can prevent long-term negative impacts on student outcomes and community trust. This early resolution strategy is integral to maintaining a healthy and thriving school culture.

"You have to make a decision. The worst thing that a leader can do is be indecisive or make a decision and then immediately change that decision. That's almost worse than not making a decision at all."


Technology and Data in Leadership: Harnessing Modern Tools for Educational Success

AI and Tech: Education's New Frontier

Regarding technology, AI, and data, Cabral acknowledges the transformative role they play in modern education. He describes an atmosphere of positive embracement, wherein tech advancements are seen as allies rather than adversaries.

"AI is the new. It's not even really new anymore. We have to embrace it."

This forward-thinking perspective ensures that the Redlands Unified School District remains at the forefront of educational innovation, integrating cutting-edge tools to enhance the learning experience and operational efficiency.


The Broader Landscape: Envisioning the Future of Educational Leadership

Reflecting on Juan Cabral's tenure and philosophy offers a template for aspiring superintendents and educational leaders. It spotlights the essence of personal values as the bedrock of thoughtful decision-making and the proactive embrace of technological advancements to enrich educational environments. From the hands-on approach to nurturing new leaders to the recognition of AI's burgeoning role, these insights provide a framework for how educational leadership can adapt and thrive in an ever-evolving landscape.

Cabral's parting advice encapsulates the spirit of his leadership approach, encouraging potential leaders to relish the challenges and rewards of the role. He leaves us with a parting thought that leadership, especially within education, should always revolve around the fundamental aim of improving the lives of students and, by extension, their communities. As Cabral poignantly states, "We need for our communities to continue to have leaders that are here for the kids regardless of outside influences." This encapsulation of purpose is what drives successful leaders to transcend the adversities faced within the field of education.



Juan Cabral

Superintendent of the Redlands Unified School District

Juan Cabral


Juan Cabral, who resides in Menifee, has been the Superintendent of Redlands Unified School District since July 2023. Redlands Unified is made up of 26 schools, 20,000 students and 2,300 staff members.

Most recently, Cabral served for seven years as the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources for Val Verde Unified School District and in various other roles within his 28-year career there.

Cabral received a master’s degree in educational leadership from the University of Redlands and a bachelor’s degree from the University of California, Riverside. 

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