Executive Director, Teach For America

How did your interest in education begin?

After graduating with a BA in international relations and economics from Bucknell University, I completed two years of nonprofit environmental work with migrant workers in California. I became aware of issues of social justice that I didn’t previously know about—particularly the pesticide spraying of farm workers in the Central Valley. It was incredibly eye opening and I thought the best way I could advocate for change was to become an educator in order to help youth see the world differently.

I also came from a family that valued education. My mom was a medical professor and a creative writing professor; she had an MD in medicine and a PhD in American literature, one of the first women to do so in the United States. Her drive for education made me want to give back.

When I decided I wanted to be a part of large-scale social change and a teacher, I found Teach For America in 1993. It seemed like the right combination of activism and education, so I joined the movement. I taught bilingual 6th grade education in Los Angeles.

How have you been involved in education, professionally or as an advocate, over the years?

I had planned to move on to a career in international diplomacy after college. Instead, after working in the non-profit environmental sector, I entered the Teach For America corps. My time teaching in LA opened my eyes to the unbelievable gaps between what could be and what is for many students in our country. While I loved teaching and knew I could stay in the classroom, I decided I needed to fight for larger systems change and have been pursuing that goal for my entire career.

I earned two master’s degrees at Stanford University—in policy and administration in order to launch my career as a principal for nine years and a district leader for another nine (assistant superintendent in the Edmonds School District and associate superintendent in Everett Public Schools). I have been in Washington since 2002 and earned my doctoral degree in educational leadership and policy studies (L4L) at the University of Washington in 2007.

I currently serve on the board of Impact Public Schools and the League of Education Voters, and I was recently a special education advisor at the University of Washington -Bothell campus.  I have also been an adjunct lecturer for the principal certification programs at UW - Bothell and Western Washington University over the past 10 years. I came back to TFA in 2016 because I think our state needs serious disruption and I see TFA as one of the single best bets for educational equity in our state. Simply put, and humbly submitted, TFA is one of the best pipelines of leadership talent in Washington. We’re proud to partner with the UW College of Education, who shares our commitment to equity, to certify our teachers through the U-ACT program.

What one or two education issues are you most passionate about (and why)?

I am deeply committed to equitable educational opportunities for all kids and believe we must have both great teaching and leading to get there. I see no path to educational equity without both (exceptional teaching and leading) at scale. We first need a clear definition of what that transformational teaching looks like and the structures in place for it to grow—particularly knowledgeable, supportive and bold leadership. It takes persistent work to make it happen and I really see no short-cuts.

Not all students have equal access to an excellent education in Washington, particularly students from marginalized communities. While our economy is one of the most rapidly advancing in the world, our state’s educational system is not and many students are left behind as a result. The people we recruit to Teach For America also believe that high-quality teaching/leading and educational equity are inextricably linked.

Since 2011, Teach For America has placed and trained 145 teachers across the state who have positively impacted 13,000 students. Our over 1,000 alumni are leading at nearly every level of the system and across sectors—including 25 principals, two district leaders, 50 lawyers and 100 in the technology sector. Our teachers and school leaders are pressing hard to change our public education system. (Check out Brandon Hersey’s YouTube channel College of Equity as one phenomenal example.)

Tell us about an educator who made a particularly large impact on your life.

Edwin Bridges, a professor emeritus of education leadership at Stanford University. Ed cared first about his students as people. He had a deep understanding of what learning should look like and the systems necessary to make that learning come to be. He is an incredible human being. I dedicated my career to him.

Share an unusual/fun fact about yourself.

I have a few. I played on an international ultimate frisbee team while teaching in Budapest, Hungary. I completed IronMan Canada in 2012. Maybe most relevant to this audience, my family and I organized the funding for—and launched—a school focused on educating girls in Cambodia in 2010. The girls named the school Stand for Change and sent us a photo standing next to a sign they made. It says, Stand for Chang. (They forgot the e.) So it goes.