Category Archives: Talent

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Celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week: Team Reflections

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley for EDUimages.

We’re celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week May 2-6. In honor of educators who have shaped all of us at Bellwether, we asked a few team members to reflect on a specific teacher who had a direct and lasting impact on their lives. 

Michelle Croft, senior analyst, Policy and Evaluation

My favorite teacher, Mr. Todd Black, is retiring this year. Mr. Black was my junior high and high school band director. I’ll always be grateful for his time, patience, and encouragement. Through my involvement in band, I had a creative outlet surrounded by a wonderful community (that Mr. Black fostered), and I learned perseverance that would serve me well in life and in my ongoing love of playing music. 

As an adult, I’ve also grown to appreciate how Mr. Black sacrificed evenings and a few weekends away from his family each year to take us to area colleges for honor band. As a first-generation college student, these trips were invaluable, not only for the musical experience, but for the exposure to different colleges.  

Thank you, Mr. Black, and congratulations on your retirement!  

Liz McNamee, associate partner, Strategic Advising

Ms. Rush had a tremendous impact on my life. She taught economics and also supervised our high school newspaper. Ms. Rush inspired me to examine and understand current events — and sharpened my writing so I could report on issues with depth and nuance. I enjoyed her classes so much that I strongly considered a career in journalism. Even though I didn’t become a reporter, my life trajectory would not have been the same without her mentorship. 

I appreciate Ms. Rush for her impressive tenure as a public school teacher, for her use of humor to make economics a fun subject, and for her guidance as I pursued my academic passions. 

DaWana Williamson, partner and chief operating officer

I had two favorite teachers growing up — my first-grade teacher, Mrs. Thompson, and my seventh- and eighth-grade science teacher, Mr. Freddy Prinz.

Mr. Prinz is the teacher who had the biggest impact on my career choice to become an engineer. He made science exciting and fun, and no two days were ever the same. Mr. Prinz had a way of engaging a bunch of hormone-raging teenagers that felt authentic and so amazingly respectful, unlike so many of our teachers at that time! As I think back, Mr. Prinz must have had a great understanding of the teenage brain and what he needed to do to get the most from us. He was witty, energetic, and so much fun!

There are some teachers you experience so fully that you wish you could bottle the feeling you had when you were in their classrooms and share it with every teenager you know. Not only do I think it would give them a great love and appreciation for science, but I think it would change their lives. I know that’s what Mr. Prinz did for me. 

Katrina Boone, associate partner, Policy and Evaluation

Ms. Ashby was my drama teacher. Her class was rigorous, but she knew how to make things fun. She taught me how to do improv, read iambic pentameter, run the lights for a show, be a stage manager, and chase down the perfect piece of furniture for a set (before Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace).

I frequently stopped by her classroom after school to chat, and she always made time for me. She put down the papers she was grading or the lesson she was planning, looked into my eyes, and listened. I was a kid who desperately needed to be seen, to be listened to, and she was always there to see and listen to me. When I ended up on the other side of the desk as a teacher, I did my best to be that person for my students. (Also, she taught me about Simon & Garfunkel, and that is priceless.)

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 Window of Opportunity to Create a Diverse Teacher Workforce

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

The racial imbalance between U.S. students and their teachers is stark: 80% of all K-12 teachers identify as white, while more than half of students identify as students of color. The lack of teacher diversity presents the field with an urgent problem, but one that states and districts can address right now.

The influx of federal COVID-19 recovery funding, now in the billions of dollars, is an opportunity for states and districts to not only create a more diverse teacher workforce, but also an environment where teachers of color can thrive and remain in the classroom. As states submit their recovery spending plans to the U.S. Department of Education, they have a chance to set this in motion through innovative recruitment and retention strategies. 

In Window of Opportunity: How States and Localities Can Use Federal Rescue Plan Dollars to Diversify Their Teacher Workforce, Andy Rotherham and I outline a range of policies and solutions that states and districts can implement with federal funds to diversify teachers in the classroom. 

Now is the time to build a high-quality teacher corps that reflects the tapestry of America. Let’s not let this opportunity slip away.

How Much Do You Know About Rural Education? Part 4: Reversing the Teacher Shortage Trend

Photo courtesy of Allison Shelley for EDUimages

This concludes Dr. Jared Bigham’s four-part series for Ahead of the Heard amplifying issues facing rural school districts, students, and communities. Read the series in its entirety here, here, and here.

My grandfather used to say, “You’ll sit a long time with your mouth wide open before a fried chicken flies in.” So too goes the work of recruiting and retaining rural teachers across our country, as most young or new teachers increasingly pursue jobs in urban and suburban areas. Many rural schools and districts spent considerable resources and time on this issue before the nationwide teacher shortage began in 2009; it’s a challenge that continues to grow with each passing school year. Whether it’s the competition of pay scales, in vogue fusion restaurants, craft breweries, or strip malls offered in urban or suburban areas, rural districts have started relying on grow-your-own models to meet talent needs.

To be clear, there’s a difference in hiring local and hiring local intentionally through grow-your-own talent strategies. Hiring local means you give Johnny a job because he grew up in the community, left and earned a teaching certification, and now wants to move back home to work. This scenario is OK if Johnny is, or has the potential to be, a good educator. But the scenario also represents the double-edged sword of rural human capital plans that hire based on tribalism vs. talent acquisition. The problem arises if Johnny is only a mediocre educator, because in most cases he’ll be in the classroom until he’s ready to retire…or becomes the principal. Unfortunately, this is a common practice in rural schools, whether it’s in response to a sense of loyalty to community members or to the pressing need to fill positions.

Please don’t misunderstand me: it’s not that rural communities can’t or shouldn’t hire local. It’s that the most successful rural schools are meeting their hiring challenges through intentional, proactive strategies of identifying local talent, recruiting that talent through various incentives, and retaining that talent by cultivating their potential as educators. 

A great example of this is Globe Unified School District in Arizona, led by Superintendent Jerry Jennex. As recently as five years ago, his district faced teacher shortages and a high turnover rate before implementing a talent pipeline and retention strategy. His team identified talented, local non-certified staff working in the field of education as paraprofessionals and Head Start workers, and supported them in obtaining a traditional teacher certification through the satellite campus of a partnering university. Globe USD also prioritized alternative licensure pathways, which make up approximately a quarter of its districtwide K-12 teaching staff.

For prospective teachers taking the alternative certification route, Jennex said they, “Identify people that have the knowledge and technical skills; then we help them with the pedagogy side.” “Our district vision statement is Capturing Hearts and Empowering Minds. This is how we approach our recruitment of community members to be teachers. We want them to feel a connection to our district, and we will take care of supporting them on the instruction side,” he added. In addition, Globe USD has an innovative strategy for student teachers they want to keep in the district. The district pays student teachers 50% of a first-year teacher’s salary, covers health insurance, allows them to participate in the state retirement system, and counts their student teaching as one year of service.   

Jennex said they also put just as much effort into retention as they do recruitment. His team wants to support new teachers in “growing into the profession.” As a result, their turnover rates over the past five years have dropped from 25% to single digits. The key to Globe USD’s success? “It’s one of the great things about being in a smaller rural district, we can try innovative things quickly without the bureaucracies of larger, urban districts,” Jennex said.

In addition to serving as Superintendent of Stanfield Elementary School District #24 in rural Arizona, Dr. Melissa Sadorf is part of the U.S. Department of Education School Ambassador Fellowship program. Like many rural district leaders, she competes for talent with surrounding urban and suburban districts that offer much higher pay scales. To combat this, her school district developed an intentional, strategic grow-your-own talent model that takes investing in future teachers to the next level. Sadorf’s district recruits current non-certified staff members and offers to pay for them to complete a credential in education. In exchange, the new teachers commit to teaching in the district for three years. Sadorf says that the strategy has not only been successful in recruiting local talent, but it’s also been successful in retaining that talent. The teachers feel they have invested themselves in the community, and, in turn, the community has invested itself in them. “There is a level of mutual respect because it’s an investment on both sides…the board’s resources and the person’s time and effort,” said Sadorf. 

God loves a normal bell curve, and they’re seen in just about every facet of life where statistics are applied. However, teaching is one area we can’t afford to have a majority of practitioners that are just “average.” We owe students so much more than that. Some of the best rural schools and districts across the country are successfully using grow-your-own strategies to stack the teacher pipeline deck so that the distribution is skewed to the betterment of students and communities. 

Dr. Jared Bigham is a fourth-generation rural educator. He serves as senior advisor on Workforce & Rural Initiatives for the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, is board chair of the Tennessee Rural Education Association, and is active in the National Rural Education Association. He is the proud husband to an assistant principal and father of four children.

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.