Author Archives: Mary K. Wells

“Ambicultural” Latinx Students and Educational Equity: A Q&A With Tina Fernandez

When I think of someone who exemplifies the Bellwether mission, Tina Fernandez is an obvious choice. She’s been part of the Bellwether family, in many different capacities, since our founding.

A long-time friend (we were college roommates) and one of the only lawyers I knew, I reached out to Tina for advice when Bellwether filed for its nonprofit status back in 2007. She helped with our filing and served as a founding member, and later as chair, of Bellwether’s board of directors. In 2014 she left the board to join Bellwether full-time as a partner, where she co-led the launch of Bellwether’s talent management and organizational effectiveness services. (These services have since spun off into a new organization, Promise54.)

It was a bittersweet moment when Tina left Bellwether’s staff in 2015 to lead Achieve Atlanta, where she’s been serving as Executive Director ever since. In her role, she works to dramatically increase the number of Atlanta students completing post-secondary education. Luckily, she’s back on our board, and brings an invaluable perspective on the advisory work we do, the leaders we serve, and the problems in urban education we are trying to help solve. (She’s held a number of other impressive roles in the past, including law professor and classroom teacher — you can read more here.)

September is Hispanic Heritage Month, so the interview below touches on education efforts specific to Latinx communities, as well as broader lessons from her current role. I’m so glad I haven’t let Tina lose touch after all these years.

This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

When we were college roommates, I had not yet landed on education as my likely career. When did you know that you’d pursue a career in education? Can you remember a concrete moment or experience that showed you your future path?

I grew up in the wonderful Rio Grande Valley of Texas and attended a public school where over 90% of the student body was Latino/a. When I went away to college, I realized how inequitable our high school education had been; I was one of only a few Latino/a students on my campus.

So I knew from early on that I wanted to work with low-income youth. At college, I quickly sought out opportunities to work with kids who had similar backgrounds to mine. I joined CityStep my freshman year, an organization whose mission is to promote creative self-expression and mutual understanding through dance. I served as the executive director my last two years in college. For four years at CityStep, I also spent a substantial amount of time teaching dance and self-expression in 4th and 5th grade public school classrooms. Through this, I really developed a passion for youth development.

During my sophomore and junior year summers, I worked with an organization called Keylatch, a summer urban camp serving youth in Boston’s South End and Lower Roxbury. These experiences allowed me to develop relationships with the most wonderful, intelligent, and promise-filled kids and solidified my commitment to fighting for educational justice.

By my senior year, I decided to apply to Teach For America, an organization which was only two years old at the time. And the rest, as they say, is history. I’ve taken a couple of detours in my career, but I’ve always stayed connected to education and children’s rights.

Tell us a little bit about your work at Achieve Atlanta, and the biggest hurdles and most exciting opportunities your organization faces in achieving its mission. Continue reading

New Hires & Promotions

We’ve built a whip-smart staff here at Bellwether; pooling our experiences from past lives as teachers, nonprofit leaders, and congressional staff to deliver sharp insights and solutions that dramatically improve outcomes for kids. It’s what makes us special.

And it makes sharing hiring and promotion updates that much sweeter. I’m thrilled to announce a new hire to the Bellwether team and a number of promotions that will increase our ability to deliver on the ambitious goals we’ve committed ourselves to for kids:


First, I am excited to share that Alyssa Schwenk will be joining our team as Development Director. Alyssa comes to us by way of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, where she led external relations for the organization after managing fundraising and partnerships for some time. Alyssa is a former teacher and Teach For America corps member and taught at a public charter school in D.C. We’ve built a successful and sustainable organization without focused attention to development, so I’m really excited about what we can do with her leading this work for us.


On the promotions front, Gwen Baker recently took on the role of Chief Operating Officer and Senior Adviser. Gwen is drawing off of her experience as an entrepreneur, supporting me and our team of partners in driving progress on our new strategic plan. She will continue to serve clients, helping Bellwether develop its growing expertise in technology as a driver of learning and business effectiveness — something Gwen knows a lot about. She joined our team last year after many years as the co-founder of CoreSpring, Inc., whose mission is to provide the field with access to high-quality formative assessment content and digital authoring tools.


I’m also delighted to share that we have promoted Katie Rouse to Principal. Katie joined us about a year ago; she was previously the COO at DC Prep, a successful charter network. She has also held positions in Chicago Public Schools and Bain & Company. At Bellwether, Katie quickly distinguished herself for leadership on client projects, including leading strategic planning for charter schools, launching new organizations and initiatives, and supporting innovative strategic plans at complex nonprofits. In addition, she brings experience in developing talent systems and processes to our leadership team, and serves as an amazing coach for our Strategic Advising team.

Evan Coughenour has been promoted to Associate Partner on our Strategic Advising team! Evan joined us over 3.5 years ago and has served a wide range of clients, from start-up organizations to long-standing nonprofits to charter networks. Most recently he has helped develop our cohort-based strategic advising work that has been integral to delivering growth solutions to districts and charter networks looking to expand and in driving the continuous improvement of our approach to advising these clients. Over his years here, Evan has also offered his time to many of our team members to build their financial modeling skills.

Justin Trinidad has been promoted from Research Assistant to Analyst on our Policy & Thought Leadership team. Justin quickly absorbs all the content we throw at him and is on his way to becoming an expert in teacher prep, juvenile justice, and the inner workings of teachers’ unions and legislation. His insight, thoughtfulness, and poise are adding value to the projects he works on and to our policy work overall. Justin joined the Bellwether team with years of experience in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) advocacy, having spent time with the White House Initiative on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and OCA – Asian Pacific American Advocates.


Starr Aaron has been promoted to Executive & Business Systems Assistant. Over the last two years, Starr has provided expert support to some of our busiest senior staff. In this new role, Starr will continue to support some of those folks, while taking on new work in supporting our entire team with systems and technology. Prior to coming to Bellwether, Starr received her masters in education and spent almost two years as a technical trainer on proprietary banking software, where she developed and produced webinar tutorials, edited complex and highly technical training materials, and trained clients on new systems.

I’m so proud of our entire staff and their unwavering commitment to delivering smart, tailored solutions to our clients and recommendations for the field at large. If you’re interested in joining our team, please check out our open roles here.

Some Exciting Hires and Promotions

Announcements of new hires and promotions are some of my favorite blog posts to write, because I get to showcase the talent on our team and celebrate our common purpose and passion. New hires also mean we’re continuing to build a nonprofit where we are all proud to work.

Today is no different. We’re excited to announce two promotions on our leadership team:

Allison Crean Davis has been promoted to partner on the Policy and Thought Leadership team, and will lead our growing work around educational program evaluation.

Ali Fuller is now a principal on the Strategic Advising team and will continue to work on — and lead — a range of strategy, business planning, and organizational effectiveness projects.


We’re also pleased to announce two new hires:

headshot of Bellwether chief of staff Stephen Purcell

 

Steven Purcell joined us in July as our new chief of staff. He will lead operations and human capital work, including continuing to build strong organizational systems and culture. Prior to Bellwether, Steve worked with the KIPP Foundation, Los Angeles Unified School District, and San Francisco Unified School District.

Tresha Ward is joining us later this month as senior adviser for academic strategy, supporting CMOs and districts as they assess their academic strategies to improve student outcomes. Tresha previously held roles at the KIPP Foundation, KIPP NYC, KIPP Houston, and the Houston Independent School District.

Please join me in congratulating our team for their extraordinary commitment, and help us to welcome our new teammates aboard!

Exciting News

I have two pieces of news I’m thrilled to share:

"Unrealized Impact"First, today marks the public release of “Unrealized Impact: The Case for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.” This report is the product of a collaboration with a diverse group of stakeholders, including funders, leaders in the sector, and members of our Talent team. It’s also the first report from Promise54 — more on that in a moment! “Unrealized Impact” is an important paper that is the result an effort to gather data and promote progress on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the education sector, and it is authored by Xiomara Padamsee and Becky Crowe. I invite you to visit the study website to download your copy today!

Second, the tremendous anticipation for the “Unrealized Impact” study has prompted the launch of a new organization: Promise54. Xiomara Padamsee and Monisha Lozier —  partners and management team members who lead the Talent Services group at Bellwether —  were inspired by the report’s data to explore an expansion of their team’s work and impact. After months of extensive business planning, these two leaders, the rest of the Bellwether leadership team, and our Board of Directors determined that Promise54 should be established as a standalone organization. Its goal will be to aggressively pursue the opportunity to support education organizations in building and sustaining healthy, inclusive, and equitable environments where a diverse set of staff choose to work — and can thrive.

Promise54Promise54 will enable organizations to deliver on the promise of educational opportunity for all students, symbolized by the landmark 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. Xiomara Padamsee will serve as the organization’s founding CEO and will lead in partnership with Monisha Lozier, one of Bellwether’s founding partners. In addition to new services, Promise54 will continue to offer the full range of services (executive search, talent structures and systems, coaching, etc.) that Bellwether’s Talent Services practices offers today with a deeper focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Bellwether is committed to supporting the launch of Promise54 because we share a common understanding that diversity, equity, and inclusion are bedrocks of strong organizational effectiveness. We know our sector is in urgent need of support on this vital work and believe the launch of a new organization will allow both Bellwether and Promise54 to hone our focus to better meet the needs of education organizations.

Helping seed and support crucial ideas for the field and helping those ideas grow is a core component of Bellwether’s mission, and launching a new organization is another way to grow our impact. I know I speak for all of my partners at Bellwether when I say we are thrilled to support the launch of Promise54.

This work is so important, and I could not imagine more capable, passionate leaders than Xiomara and Monisha to lead it.

And, as excited as we are about the impact that Promise54 will have, this news is also bittersweet. We love our colleagues on the Talent Services team and will miss how our day-to-day-interactions enrich Bellwether. It’s in this spirit of collaboration and camaraderie that we’re committed to the creation and continuation of two transformative organizations.

I hope you will join me in celebrating Unrealized Impact and Promise54!

Welcoming Our New Senior Advisers

It’s a great privilege to work with my colleagues every day. Individually and collectively, the people at Bellwether offer remarkable ideas, skills, and talents to help build the education field in a way that delivers superior solutions and results.

Our team is made up of experienced education leaders with decades of hands-on experience. Three-quarters of our staff have worked in the classroom, some as teachers, others as school operators, and some in both roles. This direct experience gives us an understanding of the work “on the ground” in schools, districts, and education organizations.

Members of our team have also served as founders, policymakers, government officials, nonprofit and district executives, executive search professionals, organizational development and coaching practitioners, and strategy consultants in top-tier management consulting firms such as Bain & Company, The Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey & Company, and Deloitte.

Regardless of where we’ve been, all of us at Bellwether are united by a common passion and purpose. Bellwether is a mission-driven nonprofit, and we do this work because we know that when education organizations set and meet lofty goals for students, more kids receive an education that puts them on track for a life of choices and self-determination. And today, I’m thrilled to announce that our team is expanding with the addition of two new leaders who share that commitment to ensuring every child has access to a high-quality education: senior advisers Gwen Baker and Bill Durbin.

Gwen BakerGwen Baker brings over 15 years of experience in education reform, specializing in the use of technology to advance ambitious goals. Before joining Bellwether, Gwen brings direct organizational leadership experience as the co-founder of CoreSpring, Inc., whose mission is to provide the field with access to high-quality formative assessment content and digital authoring tools. Gwen built the organization from an idea into a successful nonprofit, managing all aspects of product development, fundraising, business development and talent management. Prior to her work at CoreSpring, Gwen worked at NewSchools Venture Fund, New Visions for Public Schools, and Teachscape. She began her career consulting at Accenture.

Bill DurbinBill Durbin has worked in education over the past 18 years, focusing on school leader development and management, school performance management, and network growth strategy. At Bellwether, Bill will help school systems define their academic strategies and build the scalable systems to support strong academic performance. For the past two years, Bill served as the chief of schools at DSST Public Schools in Denver, Colorado. In this role, he was responsible for 12 schools and 5,000 students, leadership pipeline management, leader development programming, and the yearly school planning processes. Before DSST, Bill served as YES Prep Public Schools’ head of schools.

Gwen and Bill join Bellwether’s Strategic Advising team, which advises leaders and organizations on their most pressing strategic and operational issues. The Strategic Advising team’s work ranges from supporting entrepreneurs through business plan development, to partnering with established organizations on growth and performance improvement, to assessing new opportunities for impact as the field evolves. I look forward to our work around education technology and academic strategy deepening with Gwen and Bill’s leadership.

Please join me in welcoming our new teammates!