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Stories of Leadership: Sandra McBrayer

Sandra McBrayer, CEO of the Children's Initiative, supports children, families and communities through her work.

Sandra McBrayer is the CEO of the Children's Initiative and an internationally known advocate for children, youth and families.

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Sandra McBrayer

The Children's Initiative is a San Diego based child advocacy agency. Dedicated to assisting children, youth and families, it provides leadership, advocacy, cross system collaboration, training and technical assistance to government entities, community organizations, schools and businesses.

The initiative draws upon more than 20 years of experience, working across the areas of health, education, community safety, and economic security to implement positive system and policy change that support children, families and communities.

Q. Tell us the highlights of your professional career. What are your proudest achievements?

For me, teaching is a big achievement.  After I received my bachelor’s degree, I took a job as a teaching assistant which helped me realize that I have an affinity toward working with kids.  

In 1987, I founded and developed the first successful school in the United States for homeless and unattended youth, serving as head teacher for the Homeless Outreach School (now known as Monarch High School) in San Diego until 1996. 

In 1994, President Clinton presented me with the National Teacher of the Year honor, and as such I served as an education ambassador.  I was also quite honored to be asked to be the commencement speaker at SDSU shortly after being named National Teacher of the Year. 

Another great milestone in my career was being able to meet Mother Teresa when she was in the United States and feeling humbled by her and her unwitting comment to me, “don’t give up; who will do it if you give up?”  I now go to work every day thinking, if we do better, our kids will be better-served.

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Q. What’s your favorite college memory?

I was the first in my family to go into higher education and get a degree.  I could not be who I am if I hadn’t gone to San Diego State University. I worked hard as a student supporting myself and was focused on getting my degree so I didn’t have much time for extracurricular activities, but I do have fond memories of things I did with my friends.

Q. Who was your favorite teacher and/or what was your favorite class?

Alberto Ochoa and David Strom in the graduate program in education, because they allowed students to question, think, problem-solve and create solutions.  The Dean of the College of Education, Lionel “Skip” Meno has been a huge influence in my career development and being accountable and to strive for excellence.  I think he is a living legend in education.

Q. If you were to give current SDSU students some advice, what would you say?

Get engaged and do more.  Get involved in whatever way you can with your colleagues, friends and things going on at the University. Be nice and do something for someone on a daily basis.

With regard to your education, feel empowered to ask questions and use your teachers’ knowledge and experience to the fullest and through them, get the most out of your education.

Q. What are you currently reading? What’s your favorite book?

"California Gold" by John Jakes, "Six Out Seven" by Jess Mowry, and "Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand are books I enjoy reading because of the historical value and message of how one can survive and thrive.

Q. What is your passion?

Living — the attitude to get back up. I love working to help better the lives of children.  Outside of the work environment, I enjoy camping, biking and have been involved with triathlon activities.

Q. What is your motto?

Don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t steal. Do right for someone else.

Q. If you won the lottery, what would you do with the winnings?

I have a commitment to be working, but I would take time for myself and my family.  I would set something up to attain sustainability for my agency.  I would consider going to law school and maybe starting a new school with a new model.

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