Pivoting with Purpose: How EP Impact Fellows are Responding to COVID-19

Pivoting with Purpose How Education Pioneers' Impact Fellows are responding to COVID-19

Leadership and management in education matter now more than ever. On a typical day, the work of our Impact Fellows is behind the scenes, supporting teachers and students in the classroom. The COVID-19 crisis has made their work visible; they pivoted quickly in the initial weeks following school closures from their initial Fellowship projects to support the education sector’s response. Their work continues to support kids and familes in their local communities, but in a new and complicated context. 

The stories below, from some of our current EP Impact Fellows across the country, highlight how important the skills, mindsets, and experiences of our leaders are — now more than ever. Now is the time for adaptive, inclusive, and equity-focused leaders — now is the time for EP Impact Fellows.

EP FELLOW ROB LETESTE joined City Colleges of Chicago to support administering a grant aimed at recruiting and matriculating nearly 200 People of Color to and through certificate programs like community healthcare, phlebotomy, sterile processing, and EMT training that put them on a path to living wage jobs. At the beginning of his project, Rob focused on analyzing data to help identify courses where students may need additional support to ensure success or evaluate how academic programs could become more equitable. 

COVID-19 radically disrupted how these students would complete these programs: limiting their ability to log clinical hours, making it difficult to transition to online courses with childcare closed, or bridging the digital and technology accessibility gap with campuses closed. Rob quickly expanded his work — he knew these students had necessary and essential skills that could immediately support the public health sector’s response. He now spends most of his time coaching and counseling them about how to convert their schooling and experience, even without their certificate completion, into an opportunity right now — like becoming contact tracers to help stop the spread of COVID-19. 

Rob’s path to this work started nearly a decade ago when, while serving as an AmeriCorps member after earning his joint bachelor's and master's degrees in economics, he was doing financial literacy work. “I’d be sitting with a client working on their budget and I couldn’t get the numbers to add up without increasing their income. The root cause was often education — and the opportunity gap which limited their access to programs that led to a living wage,” he says. Equipped with his master’s degree in education from the University of Buffalo, he became an EP Fellow to tackle that root cause he identified all those years ago. “My work on this project combines my early AmeriCorps experience with an enhanced focus on education and confronting the opportunity gap,” he says, “but now I have the tools to better support long-term impact like improving people’s income and career trajectory.”

EP FELLOW KIRA MORIN joined Shelby County Schools (SCS) to leverage her skills to support the district’s 10-year strategic plan, Destination 2025, by defining and driving performance analytics. She continues to conduct data investigations, interpret raw data, and translate findings into actionable insights to improve educational outcomes for the 100,000+ kids enrolled at SCS. However, COVID-19 has also necessitated that she pivot her analytics work to review student online learning data to discover how many students they’re reaching and help inform where additional supports may be necessary. Leadership at the district uses her data insights to strategize around remote summer school options. 

Kira and her colleagues are also using this as an opportunity to reflect on their current data practices and build additional reporting capacity into their standard resources. 

Ali JafferyEP FELLOWS ALI JAFFERY & BENJAMIN FRIEDLANDER designed and led an equitable and transparent implementation and execution process for the Memphis Education Fund’s grants initiative to help families in need during the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic recession. The grants to over 500 families, and representing more than 1,500 Memphis students, can be used toward rent, utilities, transportation, educational supplies (technology), medicine, cleaning supplies or other essential needs.
Ali notes how the implementation process has “challenged me to consider equity in a whole new light, as we aim to serve the highest need, public-school families from across our city.”

BENJAMIN FRIEDLANDERAli has also been involved with arranging partnerships with community organizations, including Whole Child Strategies where EP Fellow Raina Henderson is working, to target Memphis zip codes where the need for support is the highest, especially regarding internet access. Part of that work is a $50,000 contribution to two organizations who are working to address the digital divide experienced by some Memphis students.

EP FELLOW RAINA HENDERSON at Whole Child Strategies typically collects and analyzes data on attendance, behavior, and course performance. Now that schools have switched to virtual classrooms, her role has shifted to the creation, distribution, and analysis of surveys to inform distribution of resources to help students and families in the community.

Raina observes how the pandemic has shone a light on the barriers that exist and contribute to the disparities in the achievement and opportunity gap for underserved communities. “The prevalence of these disparities has helped to start more constructive conversations about how we view schools and education. They are the pillars of the community, serving as food distribution centers, safe havens, technology hubs, and centers of hope,” she says.

She hopes the data Whole Child Strategies has collected over the course of this crisis can create change to current policies and help drive equity in education to the forefront.

EP FELLOW NAOMI WIENER is the Data Inquiry Facilitator at KIPP Bay Area Public Schools; she leverages her data analysis skills for an initiative to improve the experiences and outcomes of African-American students. Her project involves analyzing data related to attendance, behavior, and academics while also developing tools, reports, and systems — all to better understand the enabling systems and conditions required to improve outcomes among students at the four schools selected for the initiative. 

Due to COVID-19, the scope of her work has broadened — she’s now building new distance learning reports to ensure all of their students have access and are supported in making progress with their learning. She’s also developed systems and processes to make certain that students across communities have equitable access to resources during this time. 

EP FELLOW DAVID LI is the Strategy and Scalability Fellow at Rocketship Public Schools. Once the COVID-19 outbreak hit, Rocketship Public Schools knew it had to take action for families; given their student demographics, they knew many families would likely be exposed to acute medical and financial risks.  David partnered with organizational leaders to design and administer a COVID-19 Family Relief Fund that could support Rocketship students and families. Through the fund, they were able to help mitigate any toxic stress caused by financial burdens and ensure that students could continue to learn and grow even while schools were physically closed.

EP FELLOW ERIC KOTIN is the program manager of an initiative at the Texas Education Agency (TEA) in Austin called Math Innovation Zones — an effort to scale blended learning (an instructional model that combines traditional face-to-face instruction with online learning) across the state through grants to school districts and charter schools. 

When COVID hit, TEA went into all-hands-on-deck mode to support the 1,200 districts and 5.4 million kids learning across Texas. His team developed an Instructional Continuity Planning Framework to help districts think through how strong instruction could be maintained in a remote environment, and then compiled the Texas Home Learning site to help districts access print and digital instructional materials for the remainder of the year. All of this was done in just a few short weeks, and as Eric observes, “though it's different than what I usually work on, it's been an awesome experience to see a state agency operate in this relatively nimble way.” Thankfully too, the 60 districts involved in Math Innovation Zones — Eric’s initial project —experienced a much smoother transition to online learning. “Their early investments in digital learning best practices paid off when an unexpected crisis hit,” Eric says, “I'm proud to have helped prepare them, even if we didn't know what was coming at the time.”

There's still time to get involved with our Fall 2020 cohort of Impact Fellows⇒  

Become an EP Impact Fellow

Your strategic project management & data analysis skills are needed as schools plan for a new year. There's still time to apply!

Hire an EP Impact Fellow

If your school, district, or education organization could use the capacity of an EP Impact Fellow to support your immediate talent needs as well as the long-term gaps that may exist as a result of the COVID-19, let us know. Submit your project through our website.

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