Growing up in Memphis, Tennessee, Chantavia Burton’s childhood was defined by education. As a gifted student, Chantavia attended some of the city’s best schools. She thoroughly enjoyed education, but her perspective changed when her brother started school.
As he was an active African-American boy, his kindergarten teacher told her parents that he would never graduate high school, solely because he was hyperactive and had special academic needs. Knowing his teacher was wrong, Chantavia’s parents battled and navigated the education system very differently for their two children while maintaining equally high expectations for both. “My brother and I had different paths simply based on other’s perception of our abilities,” Chantavia says. “But we were tenacious and both succeeded. He is now a sixth grade math teacher at an all-boys charter school, and is the proof that all students deserve a high quality education.”
Just as it defined her childhood, education would also impact Chantavia’s career. With a passion for advocating for those without a voice, Chantavia earned a JD and MA in business management to help her cultivate credibility. During the country’s recession, she had to make a tough choice: follow her passion of advocating for the underdog or accept a lucrative offer from an insurance law firm. It did not take long for her to decline the firm’s offer. As a testament to her upbringing, she says, “I did not come this far to represent the majority.”
Back home in Memphis, Chantavia found a role as a project manager in education just when attention was shifting to Tennessee in reform circles. “Education was the inequality that I wanted to fight for,” Chantavia says. During her Education Pioneers Fellowship, she realized quickly that she was in the best place to make the biggest impact for the most unheard voices of all, children. Memphis is exactly where she wants to be.
- Strategy & Planning
As a Fellow at the Achievement School District (ASD), Chantavia managed the design and launch of a tool that connects student needs with community service providers to ensure that Memphis students have a strong circle of support in their schools and beyond.
Chantavia continues her work with the ASD today as the Chief of Student Equity and Acess for the Achievement School District in Memphis, Chantavia leverages her legal expertise to improve student safety laws and truancy, connect students who have needs with community resources, and ensure students have equitable access to high-quality educational options. She previously served as the Portfolio Compliance and Safety Manager, and Director of Portfolio Monitoring where she removed barriers to effective classroom learning for students.
“I perform critical behind-the-scenes work so that the most important people, school administrators and teachers, can make magic happen and have peace of mind in the classroom,” Chantavia says. “There’s a drastic amount of work that has to be done before everyone gets the caliber of education that I did, and I’m excited to be part of it. Even more exciting is that it’s my hometown that has given me this opportunity.”