Ariel and Renny Lajara.
Their job as instructional leaders is to get to the root causes that are not allowing the students in the district to achieve their full potential. Photo credit: Kianni Figuereo.

A family dedicated to education

Ariel and Renato Lajara are cousins and work colleagues at the Philadelphia School District.


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In 2010, cousins Ariel and Renato — or just Renny — Lajara began working together at John B. Stetson Charter School. While Renny was the principal, Ariel was a teacher dreaming of achieving big things. 

After four years, Ariel realized he couldn’t grow anymore under his cousin, so he made one of the hardest decisions of his life: to leave. In 2022, after years of growing apart and doing their own projects, their professional lives met once again as Renny became an Assistant Superintendent for the Philadelphia School District — the same position that Ariel has been serving since 2020. 

Last month, AL DÍA had the pleasure to have a conversation with the two cousins about family, education, work and life. With Dominican roots, they were excited to share their perspective as Latinos in such a position of power and their influence in the community. 

“I know his heart and that he does everything he can for his students and their families, as well as teachers,” Renny said about Ariel. “It was exciting for me to work alongside him, it’s an honor and a privilege.” 

Their fathers, who have already passed, had a strong connection with each other, and Ariel and Renny make sure to keep the family together in different ways. Inspired by one another, they have each other as inspiration. 

“I aspire to be like him [Ariel] one day,” Renny said. 

Besides the last name, they share the same passion and dedication for education. Committed to helping as many students from the city of Philadelphia to prosper, their goal is to serve the community they are a product of. Understanding all the challenges the school district faces, especially related to violence, the cousins know how important and intentional their work needs to be. 

“Representation matters, and to see two Latino males as Assistant Superintendents in the city of Philadelphia brings light, love, and hope for a lot of people,” Ariel added. 

While Ariel serves 14 schools in South and Southwest Philadelphia, Renny oversees 17 schools, mainly in North and West Philadelphia. Although each school has its own challenges and needs, Ariel celebrates being able to go from one institution to another and still offer meaningful support to teachers, students, and families — and it can look and sound totally different. 

Their work includes working with principals and observing classrooms to see what level of education students are receiving; also understanding how to grow, support and build capacity. Coaching individual principals to ensure they are achieving their full potential and meeting the needs of diverse learners is also part of the job. Staying in touch with the city, what’s happening around it and how it can affect schools is also an essential part of their daily routine. 

Working with the community and meeting with parents is crucial, but for the Lajara cousins, the best part of the job is to be around the students in the classrooms. Watching teachers do their job meeting the needs of students and seeing them value a quality education is what makes their days better. 

“When you put in this much work, it is not about seeing the fruits of your labor. It’s about seeing the joy in classrooms,” Ariel added.

To know more about their lives and work, as well as their thoughts on the challenges Philadelphia faces in the education field; make sure to watch the full interview. 


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