Dan Cardinali

Dan Cardinali

President, Communities in Schools


Public education is a fundamental component to having healthy and thriving communities.

Great teachers, a terrific curriculum, phenomenal data systems, leaders who are accountable and community engagement are all critical to American public education—and to helping young people grow into their future lives as citizens who vote, volunteer and innovate in both the business and social sectors. When education and community are unified, we create a much more comprehensive sense of what it means to be a fully integrated and productive member of society.


Because not everyone is coming from the same starting point, public education is compromised in its ability to deliver on the American dream.

There is a perception that all young people come to school equally prepared and capable of receiving the same standardized education. But the reality is that is far from the truth. The playing field is not level, and in disenfranchised communities, those who come to school without a strong support system in place are unable to take advantage of public education because it is not structured to address the needs of the whole child.


When you level the playing field and provide the opportunity for young people to flourish, regardless of the circumstances or environment into which they were born, they will flourish.

Remove the barriers and put resources in place that support young people, and those young people will do well. And, ironically, the experience of struggling builds a kind of resiliency that propels young people toward leading and creating change, in addition to reaching their full potential.


Within the community lies the wisdom to solve its own problems.

Relationships are at the heart of our work. Relationships build trust and create dialogue among members of a community. As a community, we continuously strive to put in place the most effective practices and strategies that enable our young people to make good choices. This is particularly true for those who are poor and disenfranchised from the mainstream community. Our work organizes community resources and connects them with public education so that students and families have the support they need.


Once you create opportunities for transforming lives, you are morally obligated to make sure you are acting responsibly.

There is great responsibility in saying to a child: You are in a situation where you are suffering, and we will bring to you the absolute best tools we know to eradicate that suffering so you can reach adulthood, become economically self-sufficient, and build successful lives and communities. Those of us in the field of shaping young lives don’t have a choice but to be accountable, and continually evaluate whether or not we are effective and understand how we can get better.

The views expressed on this site are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Pearson Foundation.


Dan Cardinali is president of Communities In Schools, Inc., the nation’s largest dropout prevention organization, with operations in 25 states and the District of Columbia. Established in 1977, Communities In Schools serves more than 1.25 million of America’s most disenfranchised students each year. Under Cardinali’s leadership, the organization has developed and embraced an evidence-based model of integrated student service provision and has launched a national growth strategy to increase the organization’s impact on improving public education. Cardinali’s background as a community organizer has helped the organization continue its steady and measured growth, establish its voice in the national education policy debates, and launch an organization-wide quality improvement campaign.

Cardinali is a 2007 Annie E. Casey Children and Families Fellow. He also currently serves as a trustee for America’s Promise, and as chairman of the board of directors of Peace First. Cardinali is a board member of The Harwood Institute of Public Innovation and Child Trends. In May 2011 Dan Cardinali was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

Trained as a community organizer in Guadalajara, Mexico, Cardinali served on a team organizing a “squatter” community of 120,000 to secure land rights, running water and public education. He returned to Washington, D.C., to receive a one-year research fellowship at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University. At Partners of the Americas, Cardinali coordinated its leadership training program, the International Fellowship in Community Development.

Before assuming his current position in 2004, Cardinali served as executive vice president of Field Operations at Communities In Schools.

Cardinali holds a bachelor’s degree in international relations from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service and a master’s degree in philosophy from Fordham University.