In this Q&A with Rocketship Education, Ryan Romaneski, Education Pioneers' Director of Partner Strategy and a 2013 Alumnus of the Graduate School Fellowship, shares his thoughts on leadership, EP partnerships, and the keys to attracting our nation's best and brightest to careers in education.
[KB] Before we dive into your work at EP, I’d love to begin with your story. Why do you work in education?
[RR] In high school, I mentored kids who were in foster care or recently out of juvenile detention. I saw firsthand what it meant to be a kid trying to succeed in a system that had failed him, and it inspired me to become a teacher and help change that system. I spent five years in the classroom, and while I loved working with kids, I eventually grew tired of the teaching profession: I was never observed, received no feedback on my teaching and felt like the only way to advance in my career was to become an administrator and leave the classroom altogether.
Not aware of other options in education, I decided to look at opportunities elsewhere, ultimately joining a tech startup. I spent nearly ten years in the private sector—ten long years—working in project management, business development and sales. And while I also loved much of that work, I was still driven to make a difference in the lives of kids and desperately wanted to get back into education. I wanted to know that I was doing something meaningful.
As an “on ramp” back into the sector, I pursued a master’s degree at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where I first learned about Education Pioneers. EP’s mission resonated with me—helping great people who are passionate about education figure out where they “fit” in the sector. I became a Graduate School Fellow in 2013 and had an awesome experience at Boston Public Schools. Post-Fellowship, I joined the EP team and became a part of the 70+ percent of EP Alumni who stay in the sector full-time.
[KB] Why are strong leadership and analytic talent so critical to transforming results for students?
[RR] Central to our work at EP is the belief that extraordinary change requires extraordinary people. Proof points demonstrate that we can get education right for every student in our country, and EP supplies the exceptional and diverse talent the sector needs to deliver on the promise of a high-quality education for all students.
Great teaching is essential, and so is great leadership. Education research has found that leadership is second only to classroom instruction among all school-related factors that contribute to what students learn at school. Our nation’s public education system is a $600 billion industry—responsible for the second largest workforce in the country—with complex and high-stakes leadership and management opportunities. We recruit and prepare exceptional and diverse leaders and managers for critical roles outside of the classroom to support great teaching and learning results.
[KB] What do you do in your role now as the Director of Partner Strategy?
[RR] My work is fundamentally about meeting the talent needs of EP’s 200 plus partner organizations across the country that, collectively, are responsible for the education of millions of students nationwide.
I develop and optimize EP’s strategy to meet our partners’ short- and long-term talent needs, manage our relationship with a portfolio of national partners like KIPP and The New Teacher Project, support new product development and network expansion (including launching our work in Denver in 2014), and oversee the implementation of these efforts across the 20 plus cities nationally in which we work.
[KB] What do you, and EP, look for in your partner organizations?
[RR] It’s pretty simple: at EP we are excited to work with talent-minded organizations making a difference in the lives of kids. That list is pretty expansive and includes districts, charters, nonprofits, state and federal agencies, education technology companies, advocacy organizations and beyond. If an organization has a talent mindset and is getting it done for kids, we want to partner with them.
[KB] What types of projects do Fellows typically work on?
[RR] To be able to address the range of needs of our partner organizations, we recruit candidates with widely diverse skillsets: finance, operations, data leadership, project management, curriculum and instruction, program design and development, HR, policy, law, education technology and more. Because we recruit top performers, our Fellows hit the ground running—whether completing a ten week project, consulting on a ten-month data analysis engagement or transitioning into a full-time role.
At Rocketship, our Fellows have tackled a number of critical needs, including leading the organization’s annual and strategic planning process, developing performance dashboards for Rocketship’s leadership team, launching an online project management toolkit for staff and analyzing critical financial data to recommend new expansion sites for Rocketship’s network.
[KB] I know that here at Rocketship, we’ve been hosting Fellows since 2008. What do you hear from partners about why they return to EP year after year?
[RR] At Education Pioneers, we’re proud that we’ve been able to grow with quality. We know that we’re successful at getting the right people to the right places, because 91 percent of our supervisors rate their experience with EP as good or excellent.
What we hear from our partners is that top talent is hard to attract. Our partners consistently value the pipeline EP provides to top-quality candidates, specifically matched to meet their needs. Whether our partners are looking for an earlier career professional with sharp analytic skills, or an advanced degree holder from a top education, policy, or business program, we connect our partners with the talented people they need for their critical work. And often these leaders are people who our partners would likely not have access to otherwise.
[KB] What’s in the future for EP?
[RR] We just finished developing our strategy for the next five years, and as both a team member and an EP alumnus, I’m thrilled by what’s to come. To ensure that all students receive a high-quality education, we have an ambitious goal to build a network of 10,000 diverse leaders working at all levels across the education sector by our 20th anniversary in 2023.
To get there, we’ll continue to focus on deploying the right leadership and management talent to the right places to drive transformative change. We’ll also actively pursue opportunities to expand our product offerings to meet a broader range of partner needs and spur educational improvement and innovation across the sector. And we’ll continue to bring new knowledge about leadership and management into education and foster sector-wide learning and connections among our leaders and our partners.
[KB] How can people get involved?
[RR] Partner with us — but act fast! We are still placing top analytic talent in roles across the country right now, but our placement process for 2014 is nearly complete.
Connect with Rocketship Education ➟ @RocketshipEd
Kevin Bronk works on the Rocketship Network Support Team and is the Editor of Beyond. He is a former Special Education teacher in San Jose, with experience teaching in both traditional public and Rocketship schools. He earned a BA in Journalism and Digital Arts from the University of Oregon. A current Bay Area resident, Kevin is passionate about education, story-telling and creative exploration.