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Welcoming our Fall 2018 interns!

Bellwether’s Policy and Thought Leadership internship program provides skill- and knowledge-building opportunities to students and professionals developing their careers in education policy and program evaluation. Interns work on substantive projects matched to their skills and interests and are treated as core members of our team.

This fall, we’re happy to have Truc Vo and Armand Demirchyan joining us through the end of the year! Read their bios below, and stay tuned for blogging and research from these two.

Truc Voheadshot of Truc Vo

Background: Truc Vo is an intern with Bellwether Education Partners in the Policy and Thought Leadership team. Truc received her master’s of public policy degree and bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Virginia (UVA). During her time at UVA’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, she further explored her interest in education policy through taking cross-listed classes with the Curry School of Education. For her master’s capstone project, Truc explored ways to increase racial diversity in Teach For America’s teacher corps.

Why I do this work: Growing up Vietnamese American, my family always emphasized the importance and value of education. My educational upbringing was very privileged, growing up in the well-resourced Fairfax County Public Schools and having college-educated parents. However, I know my public school experience was very different from many other minority students, especially other Southeast Asian students, and I want to help all students have equal access and opportunities.

Contacthttps://www.linkedin.com/in/thanh-truc-vo-40ab7013b

Armand Demirchyanheadshot of Armand Demirchyan

Background: Armand Demirchyan is a Policy and Thought Leadership Intern at Bellwether Education Partners, where he has conducted research on race, housing, and education. After college, he served as an Americorps member with Reading Partners in his hometown of Los Angeles,  working on literacy intervention with elementary students. Armand is currently pursuing his master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University and holds dual degrees in Quantitative Economics and African-American Studies from the University of California, Irvine.

Why I do this work: After graduating college, I served as an Americorps member with Reading Partners Los Angeles. My experience gave me a deeper understanding of the inequities at play for low-income and low-resourced schools. However, I believe that with the right amount of support and investment, strong public education has the power to transform lives.

To learn more about Bellwether’s Policy and Thought Leadership internship program or to apply for a future semester, click here.

Straight Talk for City Leaders on Unified Enrollment: A Q&A with Shannon Fitzgerald

In many cities across the country, school application and enrollment processes are built like high-stakes obstacle courses, where families with the most time and resources at their disposal tend to come out on top. A unified enrollment system is one way that cities with broad school choice have tried to level the playing field, and make enrollment processes less burdensome and more equitable for families. In cities like D.C., Denver, and New Orleans that have unified enrollment systems, families submit a single application and rank the charter and district schools of their choice. Then each student is matched to a single school via an enrollment algorithm.

These systems can decrease inequities by making enrollment processes for families easier to accomplish and harder to “game,” maximizing students’ likelihood of getting into their top choice schools. Unified enrollment can also decrease budget instability for schools caused by unexpected enrollment changes in the beginning of the year. For city leaders, data from unified enrollment systems can reveal important lessons about family demand for specific schools or programs. But that does not mean there are no risks, speed bumps, or potential problems. There is a lot that has to happen behind the scenes to create an enrollment system that meets families’ needs and avoids unintended consequences.

Shannon Fitzgerald knows what it takes to implement a lasting unified enrollment system. She was one of the first in the country to do it as the Director of Choice and Enrollment for Denver Public Schools from 2008-2013. Now, as an enrollment systems consultant, she works with other cities and districts who are interested in reforming their enrollment systems. I talked with her recently about the lessons she’s learned along the way and her advice for city leaders.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

How do you define a unified enrollment system? What differentiates unified enrollment from other enrollment approaches?

I think about enrollment systems as a spectrum. On one end, you have “wild west” systems. Nothing is coordinated: families have to go all over the place and apply to each school individually, and there are different deadlines. You have students enrolled in multiple schools — who knows where they will show up in September? On the other end, you have truly unified enrollment systems like Denver, Indianapolis, and New Orleans. They include all public schools in the city, district and charter; they have common tools, a common timeline, and a common application; and every student gets matched to a single school of their choice. In between those two ends of the spectrum are about 50,000 different variations.

Continue reading

Expand Your Ed Policy Toolkit with Human-Centered Design

Design Methods for Education Policy Website

Design Methods for Education Policy Website

In February, I released a white paper making the case that policy professionals can create better education policies by using human-centered research methods because these methods are informed by the people whose lives will be most affected.

Yesterday, we released a companion website (https://designforedpolicy.org/) that curates 54 human-centered research methods well-suited to education policy into one easy-to-navigate resource. We took methods from organizations like IDEO, Stanford’s Hasso Plattner Institute of Design, and Nesta and organized them by the phases of a typical education policy project. We included brief explanations of how each method might be applied to your current work.

To be sure, you probably already use some human-centered design methods in your work, even if you don’t think of them that way. Interviews and observations are commonplace and provide highly valuable information. What the design world brings is a mindset that explicitly and deeply values the lived experiences of the people who are most impacted by problems and an array of methods to capture and analyze that information. It also adds a heavy dose of creativity to the process of identifying solutions. And despite a common misconception, when done well, human-centered design methods are very rigorous, fact-based, and structured to root out assumptions and biases.

When combined, common policy analysis methods and human-centered design methods can result in a powerful mix of quantitative and qualitative, deductive and inductive, macro and micro, rational and emotional elements. Continue reading

High School Sucks for Many Queer Youth — I Was Lucky

photograph of author Jeremy Knight in high school

photo courtesy of the author

The common narrative is that for many queer-identified people, high school is a time of awkwardness, isolation, or fear. As young queer people come into their own identities and expressions, they navigate building supporting friendships while being true to themselves, and may even experience taunting or violence.

But during those years which most of my queer friends bemoan, I actually flourished.

Sure, coming out is difficult, and it’s particularly difficult as a black man. There were very few public examples of queer identity, same-sex love, and men bucking traditional forms of masculinity, especially ones that included men of Caribbean descent like myself.

But as I came out during my sophomore year in high school, I actually found solace in school. Antithetical to the schoolyard bullying that many face, all of my teachers, administrators, and peers loved me for who I was. Business went on as usual — I still got parts in our theater productions, kept all my friends, managed to date, and was even elected student body president. All without issue. And, importantly, all while getting a rigorous education.

I owe a lot of that to my environment — I spent my middle and high school years in a pretty racially mixed, middle-class suburb outside of Atlanta after spending my early years in a black, working class community in the city. My mother moved us to the suburbs because the schools I was zoned for were notoriously dangerous and had poor academics. Even in elementary school, I had instances with teachers questioning my academic ability.

Had I stayed in the schools I was zoned for in Atlanta, my story would likely be very different. It’s hard for me to imagine getting the same emotional and academic support.

I owe a lot to my high school teachers and administrators. They created a school environment that felt safe, inclusive, joyful, and deeply rooted in strong academics. It was this environment that encouraged me to think about pursuing a career in education. When I got to college, I began taking a few education courses and joined Students for Education Reform, a student organizing group advocating for better K-12 schools, and realized policy and advocacy could be an avenue to make large-scale changes that affect more than one school building. After graduating, I led and supported successful campaigns to raise teacher pay in North Carolina, elect a school board member in Los Angeles, and get better supports for English language learners in Massachusetts.

This passion started because I wanted to help design a school that was as supportive and enriching as my school in the suburbs — but for kids in neighborhoods like mine in Atlanta. I want a world where black kids can be challenged, supported, and realize their limitless potential in a loving school community — no matter what identities, interests, or experiences they bring into the classroom. I’m encouraged by the progress major urban districts have made this past decade, and look forward to the next generation of young, queer school advocates who will continue to lead with equity and intersectionality in mind.

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.