Remembering our friend and colleague Sidney Thompson, 1931 – 2023

Although our hearts are heavy, our memories are strong.

By Tonikiaa Orange, Director of the Principal Leadership Institute

The UCLA Principal Leadership Institute (PLI) is a community connected by our collective vision for equity, and transformative leadership. So it is with great sadness, that we say goodbye to one of our most equity driven and transformative leaders, Sidney (Sid) Thompson who passed away peacefully on December 2nd, 2023. For PLI, Sid was our colleague, friend, and mentor who worked for over two decades to support PLI in its vision. His legacy speaks to everything we work to embody in our program, he was an innovative leader who disrupted systems to make change, he was a trailblazer being the first African American Superintendent in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and most importantly he was driven by his strong belief in the power of young people.

Since 2000, Sid worked with PLI students, providing mentorship and wisdom. As a colleague, he was inspiring, giving off warmth and kindness effortlessly, and providing stability for PLI students and colleagues in the ever-changing context of educational leadership. He spent many hours alongside Nataly Birch, PLI’s Program Coordinator, recruiting the next generation of PLI social justice leaders. Many of you might recall your encounter with Sid as you engaged with him during a PLI information session. His enthusiasm was sure to draw you into the program as he spoke about the importance of leadership in the hardest of times. His smile and laughter allowed everyone to feel PLI was the program for you.

We feel honored that he chose us, we feel honored that he decided to share his time, knowledge and many stories that exemplified his unyielding hope for the students and communities we serve. In his legacy we will continue to hope and take action, we will question, be the ones ready to disrupt, and the ones ready to take up leadership with kindness, care, and openness.

Sid, thank you for your smile, and the many side bar conversations that left us all feeling good about the work we were accomplishing and the possibilities we are still striving for. You forever have touched our hearts, and will continue to be our motivator for justice, as we follow in your leadership footsteps. It is important for us to not only remember what you gave us, but as a PLI community we will continue to use the gifts you have bestowed to continue to grow.

See the article by Joanie Harmon for the UCLA School of Education and Information Studies.