Kadeem Leon Gill ’07 has committed his life to educating others in an effort to “satisfy a gnawing urge to justify the privilege I was afforded” at Hotchkiss. He is the executive director at Rocketship Public Schools Wisconsin, a network of schools dedicated to unleashing the potential of students in underserved communities across Milwaukee.
A gay, Black, and Latinx man, Gill attended a New York City public school before earning a spot at the Philippa Schuyler Middle School for the Gifted and Talented in Brooklyn. He then received a full scholarship at Hotchkiss, which completely changed the trajectory of his life.
“Hotchkiss provided me with a community to experience physical and psychological safety and endless resources to expand my world and concept of possibility,” he said. “It transformed my paradigm of conflict. I was able to access counseling and receive mentorship to help me understand how to advocate, set boundaries, and disagree productively within a diverse community. It is this skill I am most thankful for, which, no doubt, has had the largest impact on my success. The college advising team helped me get into 10 out of the 12 schools to which I applied. I ultimately enrolled at Princeton as a first-generation college student.”
His time at Princeton University was defining. He had planned to pursue a degree in law (and even earned a seat at Columbia Law School), but he discovered his true passion—teaching—while tutoring adults who were recovering from drug addiction to earn their GED. Tragically, the significance of education surfaced again during that time when his brother was murdered in 2008. When the prosecutor shared the defendant’s statement as evidence during the trial, it was filled with incoherent sentences and misspellings. Gill’s anger toward his brother’s killer became tempered. “I experienced first-hand the results of the path of an illiterate high school dropout from a poor neighborhood—a path that ultimately led to my brother’s murder. It didn’t feel like ‘justice’ to know that this young Black man would spend his life in prison.”
Upon graduation, Gill joined Teach For America and subsequently earned two master’s degrees: one from Hunter College in special education and a second in educational leadership from the Bank Street School of Education. He is currently finishing his Ed.D. in educational leadership and innovation from New York University.
Gill spent the next decade teaching, working in educational leadership, and consulting in the greater New York City area. His focus was always on helping underserved populations and challenged students. His work as the founding special education director at the Equity Project Charter School in New York’s Washington Heights neighborhood was particularly impactful. “Founding and building out the special education program at this prominent public charter school was among the most fulfilling projects in which I’ve engaged,” he said. “It required collaboration with talented educators, innovation within an already revolutionary model, and an opportunity to build something that has endured well after I left.”
In 2020, Gill moved to Cleveland, OH, and became managing director of exceptional student education at Breakthrough Public Schools, a 12-school public charter network. Through his partnership with families, leadership on increasing diversity in hiring, and commitment to serving students of all abilities, he helped steer the organization to new heights. “I’m proud of the culturally responsive, trauma-informed program that we co-created at Breakthrough. When many school districts were dropping in student proficiency, students at Breakthrough improved.”
He became Rocketship Public Schools Wisconsin’s executive director in 2022. He was drawn to their commitment to working alongside families to effect change in their communities and their demonstrated pledge to employ diverse staff members who serve as windows and mirrors for students.
One of the biggest obstacles is funding, explains Gill. “Wisconsin public charter school students receive about one-third less per student than their public district school peers. This results in significant challenges, including retaining top-tier teachers, offering after-school and summer school opportunities, and funding robust special education services. Special education is only funded at 30% by the state. For Rocketship, this means it needs to raise millions each year just to break even. I am grateful to be joined by fearless and talented leaders who are helping to address the fact that just one in five students are reading at grade-level in Wisconsin—one in seven if we disaggregate Latino students, and one in 10 if we disaggregate Black students.”
Gill says that an exemplary, individualized, diverse learner’s educational program is one that remediates the prerequisites for that grade without compromising access to grade-level skills and standards. “We all must believe in the limitless power and potential of our students, who will absolutely rise to the level of the standards we set,” he emphasized.
Gill reflected on June’s Gay Pride month. “For nearly 23 years, I felt inherently flawed, unlovable, and worst of all, a fraud. The relief I felt when I finally invited my friends and family into my sexual orientation was momentous. I am an advocate of the LGBTQIA community, and until we realize a fully just world that invites people of all gender identities and sexual orientations, we will continue to celebrate annually the progress we make along the way.”
In closing, Gill says, “I grew up with two brothers in the same household, the same community. One was murdered and the other is in prison. The only difference between us was my access to education, especially Hotchkiss. An investment in Hotchkiss is an investment well made.”