Jeff Kang was a strong systems thinker who thought he knew what he wanted when he jumped into his career as a technology consultant immediately after college. For many, especially in a tough economy, a position like this was a dream opportunity and a chance to make big money.
Jeff was good at his job and the pay was as promised, but he frequently felt disengaged and wanted more. His most fulfilling moments came when he mentored and tutored kids, but despite the rewards he knew that teaching probably wasn't his calling.
While Jeff was figuring out his next career move, I was building momentum for a national nonprofit I founded only a few years prior, in 2003 -- Education Pioneers. My parents made great sacrifices to ensure their five children had top-notch schooling. That investment continues to open countless doors for us to this day. Because of the opportunities I was given, education, and creating opportunities for others, has been my passion for as long as I can remember.
After I graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1995, I applied for a program that had recently launched, the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). ACE placed me at St. Jude High School in Montgomery, Alabama, a small school serving African American students from a wide range of socioeconomic backgrounds. In my job as a history teacher, I was struck by both the incredible promise of the students I served and the lack of strong preparation many of them had for college and careers.
With a burning desire to improve K-12 education for underserved students, I earned a law degree from Stanford hoping to combine my passion for education with my legal skills even though I wasn't yet sure how to do this. After law school, I served as the legal counsel for Aspire Public Schools, a California charter school network that now serves more than 12,000 students in low-income communities. During my work there I witnessed firsthand how entrepreneurial leaders can have a transformative effect on education from outside the classroom.
Everything clicked for me and the idea for Education Pioneers was born. I knew great leaders were out there, but there wasn't a clear way for many of them to connect to high-impact opportunities in education. Like Jeff, they knew they wanted to use their skills to make a difference but didn't know how. That's where Education Pioneers comes in. We work to identify and train talented people and match them with school systems and education organizations that will benefit from their work, so that all students receive an excellent education.
Jeff was accepted to the Education Pioneers Graduate School Fellowship while attending U.C. Berkeley's Haas School of Business. He spent the summer of 2007 working at Prince George's County Public Schools (PGCPS) in Maryland, creating frameworks to track and measure student achievement and key district performance indicators.
"We all believed in what we were trying to accomplish," he told me later. "I got so much from taking part in that shared vision."
Jeff's skill set was a great fit with the needs in PGCPS, and the work was very fulfilling. After receiving his MBA, Jeff secured a continuing role with the district through The Broad Residency in Urban Education. More than five years after he began this journey, Jeff remains a leader in education, working with a number of public school districts to build human capital and attract quality teachers and administrators to our schools.
Now, nearly 10 years after Education Pioneers was born, we are proud to have built a network of more than 1,600 leaders like Jeff and to partner with more than 180 school districts, charter school networks, state agencies and other education organizations nationwide. We recruit talent from top graduate schools and private sector firms in the nation and nearly 70 percent of our leaders go on to full-time jobs in education after graduation.
Building on our momentum, we recently launched Activate ED in collaboration with two major partners on the vanguard of urban education work: The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems and the Strategic Data Project housed at the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University. This partnership combines our recruitment efforts and creates a national network for our leaders to connect and share resources and best practices.
Together we will continue to look for the best leaders, managers and analysts in the country to support, strengthen and transform urban education. We believe that collaboration is vital for success, whether in schools, districts or within the new Activate ED network.
There's an African proverb that captures the spirit of our collaboration:
"If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
Thanks to our partners and to leaders like Jeff, I believe U.S. education is going to go the distance.
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