Author Archives: Mary K. Wells

Bellwether is Growing: New Hires and Promotions

One of the best things about working at Bellwether is the diverse, passionate, mission-driven, brilliant people that work alongside me. I am delighted to welcome several new leaders into our organization. They will play vital roles in expanding our capacity and deepening our expertise.

  • Tom Gold joined Bellwether in April as a senior associate partner in our Policy and Evaluation practice area. For the past two decades, Tom’s work has been driven by the urgency to utilize research and evidence to advance social change and greater equity in education. He brings extensive experience as an independent consultant and education leader, including within the New York City Department of Education directing its external research team and as adjunct associate professor of education studies at New York University. His work will deepen Bellwether’s evaluative field impact.

 

  • Anson Jackson joined Bellwether in May as a senior adviser in our Academic and Program Strategy practice area. A seasoned educator and school and instructional leader, he was recently the deputy chief of schools for Uplift Education and the superintendent of Summit Public Schools in the Bay Area. In his education career, Anson has also overseen innovative school design, school turnaround, leadership development initiatives, and leading systems with an emphasis on equity. He brings an unparalleled insight into the inner workings of school systems to our Academic and Program Strategy team. 

 

  • DaWana Williamson joined Bellwether in June as a partner and chief operating officer. A chemical engineer and an MBA by trade, she has spent the past 15 years working for nonprofits in the education and technology sectors honing her operations and change management skills. Most recently, DaWana served as senior vice president of youth development operations for the YMCA of Metro Chicago. She currently serves on the Advisory Board of the David Lynch Foundation, Chicago, an organization dedicated to bringing the practice of transcendental meditation to at-risk populations. As Bellwether continues to grow, DaWana will play a critical role in supporting the evolving needs of our team.

 

  • Daniela Torre Gibney joined Bellwether in July as a senior associate partner in our Policy and Evaluation practice area. Daniela has extensive experience designing and implementing complex mixed-methods evaluations and research projects, and providing technical assistance to organizational leaders focused on using data for continuous improvement. Prior to Bellwether, she led foundation- and federally-funded evaluations at SRI International. Daniela’s work focuses on supporting programs and informing policies that improve teaching and school quality, particularly for multilingual learners and marginalized students. She will further enhance Bellwether’s evaluative expertise and field impact.

 

  • Alex Cortez joined Bellwether in September as a partner in our Strategic Advising practice area. He brings an extensive range of experiences, including as an operator, a consultant, a funder, and in nonprofit board governance. His most recent work, as a managing partner at New Profit, focused on parent power and systems change, scaling the direct and widespread impact of K-12 models and postsecondary success. He also previously served in multiple roles within KIPP, including with KIPP Houston Public Schools and with the KIPP Foundation. Alex sits on multiple nonprofit boards and the Massachusetts State Board of Higher Education. He will bring an operator’s sensibility to our work, a strong lens around inclusion of stakeholder voice, and an extraordinary level of strategic acumen to guide and shape our Strategic Advising work. 

 

I am equally delighted to celebrate recent leadership promotions of incredible team members who have raised the bar, every day, and who have been a critical part of Bellwether’s growth in recent years.

  • Melissa Steel King has been promoted to partner. She leads our Evaluation practice area and has been a key team member since joining Bellwether in 2015. Her leadership has grown Bellwether’s expertise in program evaluation, teacher preparation and training, whole child development, and evaluation capacity building. In addition to her expertise in conducting evaluations on behalf of client organizations, Melissa is particularly skilled in working with clients in building their internal capacity to measure impact, inform growth and improvement, and ultimately to drive outcomes for the communities they serve. Melissa’s deep expertise and dedicated focus on equity are evident both in her work with clients and in her many contributions to Bellwether as an organization.

 

  • Evan Coughenour has been promoted to senior associate partner in our Strategic Advising practice area. Since joining Bellwether in 2014, he has advised a diverse range of projects, building deep expertise in charter and parochial school growth and sustainability planning, long-term financial planning and analysis, and postsecondary access and success efforts. Evan is an exceptional leader of projects and teams and a skilled mentor to newer team members. His leadership will continue to be instrumental to the ongoing impact of our Strategic Advising team.

I hope you will join me in welcoming our new Bellwarians and congratulating senior team members who continue to grow and advance here on their new roles. Through client and field-facing work, our entire team is approaching this school year with a renewed focus and energy around helping the sector accelerate its impact for students who need it the most at this critical moment. 

We are also still growing and hiring, check out our open roles here.

A Statement on Solidarity

Friends of Bellwether, 

Right now we are searching for the words to describe what we are feeling: anger, frustration, and also a deep sense of urgency that America must be better than this. This most recent crisis comes in the midst of a pandemic that has robbed many children, often the ones who need great schools the most, of one-third of their learning this year. And on top of all that, Black communities are still being called to demand basic human rights that most Americans take as a matter of course. 

The most recent horrific acts of racist violence against Black citizens are heartbreaking and a painful reminder of the endless ways our public institutions and systems fail Black people and communities. What our country is experiencing is neither new nor unexpected. It’s important to be clear: The killing of George Floyd in Minnesota is not a random event that sparked a sudden or inexplicable backlash; it is part of an inexcusable pattern that must stop.

Our systems of education likewise systematically disenfranchise Black children as well as other historically marginalized students. Even as Bellwether works to address these issues, we believe more radical and broad-based change is required to realize the vision of an equitable and just society.  

We are making space for the visceral pain of our Black teammates and colleagues, and standing with communities across the nation, especially those most targeted by racial injustice. We stand with those fighting to address the ways racism destroys individuals and communities. They do not stand alone — it’s incumbent on all Americans, especially white Americans, not only to speak out, but to act.

Please Help Us Congratulate Our Newest Partner

As Bellwether marks our ten-year anniversary, building a team of talented, respected, and dedicated education professionals is one of the many things we celebrate. Today I am privileged to announce the promotion of one of my colleagues, Tresha Francis Ward, to the partner team. I am excited to watch Tresha’s contributions to the field and to the Bellwether team continue in the role of partner.headshot of Tresha Francis Ward, partner at Bellwether Education Partners

I have been privileged to work closely with Tresha over the years on several client engagements and to join with her to build out our academic and program strategy service offering. Tresha came to us as an experienced school leader, instructional coach, and expert in principal development. She brings years of hands-on experience with schools of all types, including turnaround schools. When we sit down with school and district leaders, Tresha’s obvious empathy and expertise quickly establish authentic and collaborative relationships.

Internally at Bellwether, team members love to work with Tresha: she is a fantastic mentor and manager who has helped many of our team members grow. She is also co-leading one of our most critical internal priorities, our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work. Working alongside her, I have appreciated her tireless and thoughtful contributions to help Bellwether become a more inclusive (and fun!) work environment.

Please join me in congratulating Tresha! You can read more about her here. She also co-authored a piece yesterday with her colleagues on responding to coronavirus, which you can read here.

Three “Must-Have” Areas of Freedom that Autonomous Schools Need to Succeed

My colleagues and I have been working with districts in several states to design and launch autonomous district schools, and over the past several months, we’ve rolled out a series of blog posts and other resources to explain how these kinds of schools can work best, including the new video below:

An obvious question in this work is: Which types of autonomies are crucial to the success of autonomous district school efforts?

Having worked with hundreds of high-performing schools around the country over the past fifteen years, I believe that strong alignment within and across three key areas is necessary to deliver excellent outcomes for students:

1. People

In a traditional district school, the principal likely has a number of people on her team who she did not hire. Maybe a few of them are not bought into the principal’s vision and would rather be on another campus. 

Principals in autonomous schools must have control over who is on their team, how roles are structured, and how teachers use their time, as my colleague Tresha Ward has written extensively about. Think about high-performing charter schools or networks: inevitably they have a leadership team and staff that believe deeply in the mission and unique instructional approach. 

Similarly, principals in district autonomous schools need to be able to select and support a team that is aligned around a common vision and strategy for educating children, wants to be part of the school, and is committed to professional learning and growth. Continue reading

Media: “District Schools? Charter Schools? There’s a Third Way — Autonomous Schools That Work Like In-District Charters” in The 74

Alejandra Barraza was working as a school principal when San Antonio Unified School District identified her as a strong leader who could impact more students. Now she runs two schools that enjoy freedom over their curriculum, professional development, and a portion of their funding.

Autonomous schools like the ones Barraza runs are cropping up across the country. Whether they will live up to their promise depends on whether they’re given enough autonomy over resources and time to customize their approach to meet their students’ specific needs.

Read more in my op-ed published over at The 74 today:

With many teaching and learning responsibilities moved away from the district level, central office staff can focus on operational functions like human resources, transportation, food service, maintenance and school facilities. Mohammed Choudhury, the district’s chief innovation officer, explains: “We want to ensure our schools have autonomy around the use of talent, time and resources. We don’t want our principals in autonomous schools to worry about janitors, procurement processes or air-conditioning service providers.”

You can also read a recent resource on autonomous schools I co-authored with Tresha Ward here.