2020 35 Under 35 Alumna Dr. Britney Gandhi, Superintendent, Richland #44 School District

Written by: Brady Drake

Tell us about yourself.

I have the privilege of serving as the superintendent of Richland #44 School District in Colfax and Abercrombie, about 25 miles south of Fargo. Richland #44 is a wonderful, tight-knit community that offers the best of Class B North Dakota education with close proximity to Fargo.

I am originally from Sequim, WA, though my maternal grandfather grew up in Fosston, MN. It has been special living in this part of the country where my great-grandparents settled after immigrating from Norway.

I attended Pepperdine University in California, and after college, joined the inner-city teaching organization Teach for America that sent me to Houston (I didn’t know a soul in the state of Texas). I taught English as a Second Language to high school students in Houston, and quickly learned how passionate I was about providing the best education to students regardless of their zip code. I became a high school assistant principal and later an elementary school principal in Houston. Before moving to North Dakota in 2018 for my husband’s job, we lived in Colorado Springs for two years where I served as a K-8 principal.

I am married to my best friend Rupak, who I met when we worked at the same school in Houston. Rupak is also an educator and the superintendent for Fargo Public Schools. We have two fabulous kids: Jagger (6) and Emersen (4) and live in south Fargo.

What were some of the most important things you learned?

The most important professional takeaway I had from 35 Under 35 was to not hide my vulnerability. I first became a school administrator at age 25, so as a young female leader, I was accustomed to wearing the proverbial armor at work. I thought I had to steel myself to appear tough, non-emotional, and able to handle anything thrown my way. Through the 35 Under 35 program, I learned that the best leaders are not robots and that honest vulnerability has a major positive impact on the teams they lead. When our school district returned to in-person learning in the fall of 2020, I showed my vulnerability for the first time with our high school staff. I rolled out our plan for coming back to school and told them that I needed their help, that I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, and that the only way we would be able to do it would be together. Their response was incredible: I had never felt so supported, and I know they appreciated me opening up. It made me more real and made us a true team. I am grateful to United Way’s 35 Under 35 Program for helping me learn that displaying vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but rather a show of strength and transparency.

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.