Virtual Agents of Change: Shining a Spotlight on Leadership Through Crisis

On April 7, more than 150 EP Alumni, Fellows, and friends came together for EP’s first-ever national (and virtual!) Agents of Change event. Typically a local in-person event planned by regional Alumni Boards, Agents of Change is a long-standing EP tradition to celebrate and learn from community leaders and EP Alumni who are advancing transformation and systemic change on behalf of students and families.

Leaders from regional Alumni boards were inspired to re-imagine the usual Agents of Change structure in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, turning it nationwide and online via zoom for the first time. Planned entirely by Alumni for Alumni, Virtual Agents of Change became an evening of learning and inspiration in the face of the year-long crisis, trauma, and upheaval -- bringing together 150+ attendees from EP hubs like Boston, Chicago, the Bay Area, and Memphis, alongside others from Charlotte, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Portland, and more. 

Catch all the highlights from the event below. 

Truly one the inspired evenings of the year #EPAgentsofChange @edpioneers CEO @melissawu99 thoughtfully acknowledging the impact of the pandemic on education and the opportunity for #EPAlum to serve. Thrilled to be in community with fellow #EPAlum

— Stephanie T. Nguyen (@stephienguyen) April 7, 2021

Keynote by Frances Messano, President of NewSchools Venture Fund

We were excited to welcome Frances Messano, newly named President of NewSchools Venture Fund, as the keynote speaker. NewSchools is a critical investor in the education system and a longtime EP champion, having hosted 35 Fellows in the past 15 years. 

As an ecosystem leader, Frances kicked off the evening by sharing trends in education emerging from this past year -- including increased parent engagement as they become more aware of what happens in their child’s classroom, students requiring more holistic learning environment, educators and other adults invested in student success rethinking how they support learning, and more. View her full address >>

Frances ended with a charge to the EP network:  

We are at a moment where we can build a new legacy for ourselves and our nation. The call has never been more urgent to innovate -- to bring new approaches to solve old problems that will give every child a great chance at life. The genius to create an equitable education system already exists in our communities.

Now we’re seeing that stimulus funds are coming [...] an unprecedented infusion of capital that will flow directly to states, cities, and school districts. For some high-poverty districts, it will represent 20-35% of their budget -- and yet, most districts are consumed with the urgency of now and don’t have the talent capacity to identify and implement the systems-changing opportunities needed to support students. This is where EP Alumni and Fellows come in.

Education Pioneers leaders are needed now more than ever in education. This moment requires bold, equity leaders ready to unleash their creativity. Leaders who know how to build alliances and who can challenge the ways things have always been done. Leaders who understand the impact of systemic racism, educational inequities, and have a vision for creating a new future.

You -- EP’s Alums -- are positioned to create change from the range of leadership roles you hold today. You all know how to get hard things done. We need your perspectives, personal stories, and solutions to meet the moment.

NewSchools President @FrancesMessano shared powerful words about #diversity, #inclusion, and #opportunity during @edpioneers #EPAgentsOfChange event. We're thrilled she had an opportunity to reflect on her personal connection to the amazing work she's doing at @nsvf!

— NewSchools (@nsvf) April 8, 2021

Panel: Equity in the COVID Response

Next, a panel of EP Alumni spoke to the challenges and opportunities before the K-12 sector given the COVID-19 pandemic and the emphasis on equity in response and recovery.

Alumni panelists included Martrice Gandy (2015 Alum), Founder/Exec. Director, MindWorks Collaborative & COVID Response Fellow, reGeneration Schools; Chris Hill (2015 Alum), COVID Response Fellow, Shelby County Schools; Maritess Plewnarz (2009 Alum), Program and Policy Development Advisor, LA Unified School District; and Angira Sceusi (2014 Alum), Founding Vice President of Operations and Investments, redefinedED atlanta. Joel Scott (2015 Alum), Partnership Director, Turnaround for Children, and EP NYC Alumni Board co-chair, moderated the discussion. View the panel >>

On the opportunity before us: “We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to do this right; we can literally rebuild from here. How do schools make sure that every moment from this moment is best serving each individual child? [...] What does and could public education look like for every child ro be successful, not just an elite few?” - Martrice Gandy

“[We also need to] use data to see where we’re falling short. You're hearing more folks talk about anti racism and equity -- but there’s talking about it, and then there’s really doing something about it. You have to use data to see where we’re falling short and use that to hold ourselves accountable.” - Angira Sceusi

On the importance of engaging communities: “[One of the biggest opportunities for significant change] is engaging community members as much as possible. For example, there was a lot in the survey that showed students of color, especially Black males did not feel safe coming to school, dand id not feel that uniformed police officers were on their side being at school sites. Just about two months ago the board approved the plan to reinvest and create a school climate coach position at every secondary school instead. It’s a huge opportunity rethinking the status quo. [...] I think it’s the most promising approach to engage community members for this.” - Maritess Plewnarz

“We set up a pandemic relief fund [for Atlanta families]. It was important for us, as soon as we seeded the fund, to literally hand it over to parents to run it and figure out how to distribute the money -- because we knew they could act with urgency and were best positioned to see where there was the most urgent need. That’s a big shift [in how we operate]. The pandemic helped accelerate some of this work for us; I’m excited about that direction.” - Angira Sceusi

On the importance of supporting the whole child: “We’re going through a global trauma. As students are coming back to schools, they’re bringing that with them. Teachers are bringing that with them. [...] In the current situation, a teacher needs to know how to identify what’s going on with their students and how to get support,  and what approaches they can use with their students to help them through this recovery process.” - Maritess Plewnarz

“Our schools are much more than just a place where students get education [...] All these things have come to light about how school services a child: students are going to school and getting nutritional services, mental health services, physical health. That’s the safest place for them  a lot of times. So we have to start looking at schools like that. My charge to everybody: we need to build a case -- a true business case --  for how supporting the whale child is something a school has been charged with, but hasn't been given the resources to do. There has to be a different focus on what the outcomes of that school are supposed to be.”  - Chris Hill

Celebrating Our Network 

Agents of Change was capped by a celebration of the broader EP network: 4,500 leaders, 50% leaders of color, and 3,000+ continuing to work in education. 

There is so much potential for individual and collective impact across this vast network -- and we were thrilled to recognize three Alumni who have been driving meaningful change during the past 12 months. View their full remarks >>

  • Ijeoma Anyanwu (2014 Alum), Manager of School Transformation at Boston Public Schools. Inspired by her own lived experience and Ibram X. Kendi’s How to Be An Antiracist, Ijeoma led anti-racism professional development and dialogue across the district, ultimately leading to a systemic review of all BPS policies through an anti-racist lens -- the first review in 10 years.  
  • Hassan Hassan (2012 Alum), CEO of 4.0 Schools. Hassan and 4.0 led multiple rounds of grantmaking to education entrepreneurs re-envisioning K-12 during COVID, and started philanthropy circles for Black education investors to raise their collective impact. 
  • Jonathan García (2014 Alum), former Chief Engagement Officer and newly-named Chief of Staff at Portland Public Schools. Jonathan helped reimagine the experience of Portland’s students of color, and raised $1M in direct COVID relief support for their basic needs. 

"Change is hard. Letting go of power is even harder. But nothing reassures me more that we are on the right path because I trust in the truth spoken and experienced by students of color. Centering our decision making on their voices not only removes barriers for every student, but it makes our communities stronger.  [...] Let’s also remember to hold each other’s humanity close; and let’s make sure and trust in the truth of our communities that we haven’t been listening to. We owe us that." - Jonathan Garcia


Grateful to @edpioneers Alumni Planning committee for a great event! From the opening with @melissawu99 to the keynote with @FrancesMessano, an amazing panel and ending with Tracy Session, it was an inspiring night! What a great network of change makers. #epagentsofchange #epalum

— Jen C (@ACTforEducation) April 8, 2021

We are incredibly grateful for the EP community that made this first-ever national Agents of Change possible -- from the speakers and panelists who lent their perspectives, wisdom, and personal stories to inspire our attendees, to the 150+ Alumni and Fellows who joined us for over two hours to learn and dialogue. We’re also thankful to the Exelon Corporation, our event sponsor, and especially the eight EP Alumni on the Agents of Change planning committee who dedicated hours over the past several months to realize this virtual convening. Thank you for your leadership! We look forward to future network events.



2015 EP Alum

2017 EP Alum
2009 EP Alum

2018 EP Alum

2016 EP Alum
New York

2017 EP Alum
New York
2015 EP Alum
New York

2019 EP Alum
Bay Area

Join the Conversation

Commenting Policy

Education Pioneers does not discriminate against any views but reserves the right to remove or not post comments that are off-topic or contain obscene language, threats, or defamatory statements.