Ronnie King

Ronnie King

EVER SINCE I ARRIVED in Jacksonville in 2006, I’ve been involved in community work and volunteerism. One of the things I realized early on was that you have two different nonprofit worlds. You have grassroots organizations that are doing almost all their work using volunteers and on a very, very small budget. And then you have organizations with multi-million dollar budgets committed for several years, but they don’t always reflect the community.

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I can’t run my program successfully unless someone else is running a program to help kids read and do math. We’re all in this together.”

If we are going to address issues in the Black community, those grassroots organizations should be leading from the front—not just bringing them to the table or trying to get their opinion. Honestly, we’ve tried a lot of different programs and strategies in the Black community, and we haven’t seen the kind of turnaround we want. The one thing we have not tried is allowing Black-led organizations to be the ones leading the change.

Bringing a community together is hard work. We can do it, but we have to be thoughtful in our approach. I think too often we see a great program that works for 100 students, and we try to dump a lot of money in that program and hope it scales right. But there is no one program out there that’s going to be able to scale across the nation. We need these pockets of communities to come together. It takes community, and we can’t do it without them.

Emily Hanford

Emily H

I’VE BEEN AN education reporter for a long time, and I’ve found there’s a pervasive set of beliefs about reading that aren’t true that have taken hold in schools. Basically, that reading is something that kids just pick up—they don’t need a lot of instruction. That as long as you read a lot to kids, they’ll be okay, it’ll come in time. For some kids, it seems like that’s the way it works. But the truth is when you get under the hood, that’s not really the way it works. And it isn’t working for a whole lot of kids.

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Parents are quite a powerful force in education. And when a lot of parents find a common story, that does lead to change.”

In schools all over this country, kids are not being taught how to read. Some kids don’t need a lot of instruction, but there’s a whole segment of kids who need a lot more instruction than they’re getting. And it’s having a huge impact on kids, families, teachers, and schools.

I think we’ve been too quick to blame all these other reasons for why kids aren’t reading. It does correlate with things like poverty and circumstances in kids’ homes, but for some reason we haven’t looked at instruction.

Dr. Simone Jenkins


EARLY IN MY career, I became a college and career counselor at a high school. Ninety percent of the students were African American, ages 16 to 21. Many of them were still reading between a first- and a third-grade level, so it was quite a challenge to put them on a pathway to obtaining gainful employment.

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Now we’re starting to see students of various backgrounds—regardless of their ethnicity or what they may be going through in their personal lives—have access to rigorous learning.”

Take a look at the workforce shortages that are growing in the health sciences, nursing, medicine, and so forth. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics projects that over half a million computer science jobs will come up by 2024, and we won’t have people with the skills to fill those positions.

We need to find innovative ways to educate our students, especially Gen Z. They’re not going to sit at desks and be lectured all day. They need something kinesthetic. They need to be able to use a QR code and work in groups. They acquire knowledge differently than my generation or the generations before me. We have to adapt our instruction to meet their needs because they’re digital natives. They were born into technology. They don’t know a world without social media. We have to make adjustments because this is who we’re preparing for the next generation of work.

Anna María Chávez


I GREW UP in a small farm town called Eloy, Arizona, which I thought was the center of the universe. It was 4,000 people—beautiful, very rural. My mom was one of the first Latinas in Arizona to be elected to the school board. People were always sitting around our kitchen table as my mom tried to help solve issues in our community. What she taught me was that people come to you to be heard, not to be told. Part of being a leader is doing more listening than talking.

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If you can speak three languages, you can learn from so many different people. It opens your eyes to different experiences in life.”

When I became a civil rights attorney, I wanted to help kids like me who had grown up in a rural community, from what people said was “a disadvantaged background.” But I never felt disadvantaged. I wanted to take the stigma away. I wanted to ensure children could live the life they wanted to live, without all the labels.

The face of our country is changing. In the 2020 U.S. Census, one of the largest demographic swings reported was individuals checking more than one race box. My focus now is trying to reach the diverse population of kids entering schools in a format they can understand and relate to.

Tony Weaver

Tony headshot home

PUBLIC EDUCATION FAILED me in a lot of ways. I was involved in gifted programs that put emphasis on pressure, and I dealt with things like depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts. After emerging and going to college, I wanted to support kids in the way that I needed support. I realized that my problem wasn’t just a Tony problem. A lot of young people think that they’re alone. They feel everybody else has it figured out and is doing okay. But the students I was mentoring in college were dealing with the same issues of lack of self-image and confidence. And, for me, the thing that brought me out of it was stories.

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We created a world where everyone can find themselves. Everyone can see someone that’s like them. Everybody can feel like their story and their perspective matters.”

It took me until I was in my early twenties to say, you’re not doing what everybody else is doing. Your brain doesn’t work the way everybody else’s works, but that’s okay because it only needs to work for you. And if you embrace it and focus on the things that bring you joy, rather than trying to shove yourself in a box, a significant amount of happiness will come from that.

Young people are learning all the time—whether they’re in school or on Instagram or on TikTok—and it’s our job as educators to understand how to engage with them. At Weird Enough, we focus on telling stories that young people actually want to read. I write a series called The Uncommons—they’re a very diverse group. We created a world where everyone can find themselves. Everyone can see someone that’s like them. Everybody can feel like their story and their perspective matters. The experiences the Uncommons have reflect those that young people are having right now.

Dr. Debbie Jones

Debbie headshot home

The secret to engaging kids is finding their passion and getting them excited to come to school every day. We have a community of businesses that is willing to take our kids in, let them apprentice, and give them real projects.

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We know we prepared them—and it began with them having a place in our schools where they felt welcome, where they felt important, and where they felt loved.”

With Ignite, Bentonville Schools’ professional studies program, it’s the difference between reading about something and doing it firsthand. Our medical students have observed open-heart surgeries. How many kids have the chance to do that? It’s the coolest thing. That’s the inspiration that gets them into a medical career. Our IT kids go on to work with all kinds of different companies. They’re prepared to go on to a great career or go to college.

As we send our students out to apprentice with different businesses, I expect good feedback. They dress like professionals. They follow the same rules that the companies follow. If they’re running late for their apprenticeship, I want to know that because that’s not our standard. It prepares students for the day when they will walk into a real job.

Ronald Perkins

Ronald Perkins

I PREACH TO young folks, “If you could wake up every single day and love what you do—what would it be? That’s your passion.” You have to find out what you’re excited about, not what society is saying you should be.

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A lot of younger folks now have a stronger sense of what they want to do. Innovation and technology have opened the doors up for a lot of them at an earlier age. We need to have mechanisms in place to keep them interested. If we don’t hold their interest, something else will.”

Everybody’s journey to employment isn’t the same. We need to address that head on, and let young folks know that it’s not just about saying, “I want to do something.” It’s having the right opportunity to take advantage of your skill set, and knowing what needs to be in place to connect you.

We’re engraved with college, college, college. Our parents said, “You don’t want to do the grunt work. Why would you want to hurt yourself or break your back going into a trade?”

But a lot of folks are afraid of post-secondary education, and that’s a conversation we don’t have. College is a big thing, especially if no one in your family has gone, and no one is pushing it. Instead, they’re saying, “Go get a job. When you gonna get bills?” Man, the professors and the scenery—that’s scary to someone who has never been exposed to college life. Even being away from home and going across town can be a challenge. Our institutions don’t get that.

Shauna Causey

Shauna Casey

IN 2019, MY son was getting ready to go into preschool. I toured every preschool I could and was on 10 waitlists. My son is dual language, and he had a speech delay. This was going to be his first schooling experience. I was really worried thinking, is there a chance for personalized learning for my child?

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There’s never a time in your life where you’re this imaginative and this inventive. What would a world look like where they could have more personalized learning in those earliest years?”

I was working in tech, but that led me to becoming a volunteer preschool teacher. I got to see firsthand what was happening with early childhood education, the environment, the struggles of teachers oftentimes making minimum wage with no benefits, no support. The churn in the industry is 50 percent for preschool teachers. I was at a venture [capital] firm, and I realized of all of the industries that I’ve looked at, early childhood education needs the most help. Why hasn’t the model changed? Why isn’t more being done to help families, parents, and especially the children?

Each child has their own special set of interests at this age. There’s never a time in your life where you’re this imaginative and this inventive. What would a world look like where they could have more personalized learning in those earliest years? That’s when I left venture and launched WEEKDAYS, which provides effortless technology and start-up support to parents and teachers interested in creating neighborhood micro-schools.

In early childhood education, the technology should help the educators. We have a curriculum framework that really supports personalized learning, but actually seeing it come to life has been so meaningful. One of the themes is “Maker Week.” One [class] here in Seattle chose to make bread. Another class wanted to make ice cream. They got a chance to measure it out and learn math hands-on, through figuring out how to make something. These are real life skills.

Claudy Chapman

Claudy Chapman

THE BEAUTIFUL PART about tutoring is that it’s a close relationship. Students don’t have to compete against a room of 25 or 30 other people to get attention. A high-quality tutorial is based on informed practice. It’s not just working with somebody on their algebra lesson and then leaving and wondering whether or not the student understands it. It’s about relationship building.

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In Saga’s Math Lab, students learn to say, ‘Can you help me with this?’ That kind of freedom to be vulnerable, to get what you need, is life changing.”

Those relationships encourage students to move forward and not be afraid to make a mistake because that’s how they grow. They become more eager to take a chance, to take a risk on a problem, and not feel defeated because it didn’t turn out the way they thought it would.

Being willing to make a mistake. Being willing to ask for help. Those things are so huge—taking that whole idea of failure and turning it into an opportunity for growth. In Saga’s Math Lab, students learn to say, “Can you help me with this?” That kind of freedom to be vulnerable, to get what you need, is life changing.

Moving forward, I’m hoping we find a way that parents can choose, without penalty, to be more engaged in their children’s education—whether we’re talking about being in the classroom or at-home virtually. I want to be real clear: parents in poor communities struggle to be involved in their children’s education.

Sharon McMahon

You’re a former high school history teacher with an Instagram account @SharonSaysSo that has 639,000 followers. Who knew non-partisan civics lessons could be so viral?

“I won’t bore you with my life story, but the short version is that right before the 2020 election, I started seeing so much misinformation circulating on social media. The big catalyst—where I was like, something must be done—was on a friend’s Facebook page. Somebody said something that was just patently false, and I was like, that is not what the Constitution says at all. That was why I started making videos and using my Instagram platform to explain how the government works.”

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How can educators help kids get better at spotting misinformation?

“As Gen Z likes to call it, you need to bring receipts. And what I mean by that is proof. I’m always looking for primary sources—the actual source of the data, who originated this, where did this come from? Like, what do I see on Snapchat? Where’s that person coming from, and how does that lens impact what they’re talking about or reporting? Critically analyzing your source materials is going to be even more important moving forward.”

We have to care about the students, absolutely, but we also must care about the teachers.”

Has this year changed the way you see the teaching profession?

“What a challenging year, and major hats off to all of the teachers who literally invented a new form of education with no runway. Talk about building the plane while you’re flying it, also, while everyone’s screaming at you that you’re doing it wrong. Sounds fun, right? We have to care about the students, absolutely, but we also must care about the teachers. We have to treat teachers like they’re important and not expendable, act like their job satisfaction matters to us, act like they are valued partners in this educational experience.”

Nekima Levy Armstrong


IF IT WEREN’T for the actions of a 17-year-old Black girl, Darnella Frazier, a high school student at the time, the world still might not know what happened to George Floyd. Think about the fact that a child, on her way to the store, would turn back around after seeing the police accosting George Floyd and make the decision to document what she was witnessing for the world. For her to hold that camera steady all that time, as she’s watching the life be choked out of a man, is incredible to think about. As I watched the video, tears just started to stream down my face because I knew that I had witnessed a lynching.

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Some people have been awakened and have expressed a desire for change. But I haven’t seen that desire be transformed into a willingness to get uncomfortable. Most people want some form of justice without having to do anything. Without having it impact their own lives. So of course you’re going to get a superficial version of justice if people aren’t willing to put some skin in the game.

When we have young folks who are relentless in the pursuit of justice and know and demand their rights and challenge adults to get uncomfortable—that is how we will move to a better world.”

Our movement in the Twin Cities is intergenerational. You have teens out there on the front lines, but you also have people who are middle aged and elderly on any given day. Which is how the village should be. It’s how school should be too, in terms of the village coming around our young people and making sure that they’re supported, cared for, and have a strong sense of purpose and direction.

Ze Min Xiao

Ze Min Xiao

HOW DO WE make sure that families have a seat at the table, and that their participation is not just a one-time thing? We call them ‘participatory architects.’ If we are building a house, we want to make sure that the people who live in the house have a say in how the house is designed.

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A sense of belonging means feeling like you’re accepted, but also that you can contribute.”

Why don’t families participate in PTAs? Why are they not involved? A lot of it is fear. The fear of not being able to speak the language. The fear of being undocumented. Schools are the first trusted space of immigrant families. They’re a starting point to build relationships with others in the community and a space where individuals can be seen. Our education structure needs to find ways to serve the entire family, not just the students. First and foremost, schools need to make sure they build relationships with parents and create an environment where everyone feels like they belong.

Viridiana Carrizales


PRIOR TO THE pandemic, decades of anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies have led to immigrant families not seeing schools as places they can trust. Any space they could create between the schools and themselves was a way of keeping their families safe.

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COVID-19 hit our families, many of whom identify as Latinx, extremely hard. The pandemic has exacerbated many of the existing challenges experienced by immigrant students and families—access to health care, mental health resources, food, rental assistance, and so many other basic necessities that were intensified as a result of job losses. We see this firsthand at ImmSchools. When you add immigration status, many of our families avoided going to the doctor, even if they had COVID-19 symptoms, because they were afraid of being deported.

I envision a place where our students are coming in, knowing they can thrive and that they can do anything they dream of without having to think about their immigration status.”

I was formerly an undocumented student myself. I understand what it feels like when you go somewhere and they ask you for documentation that you don’t have. I know how it feels when you go home as a kid and you’re afraid that you might not find your parents there.

What I have learned working with K-12 schools is that the voices of our immigrant students and families have been systematically erased and silenced. But our immigrant families are not silent. They have a voice. We don’t have to guess or assume what they need. We can ask them. Right now, there are no opportunities for families to engage with the school district in a language they speak. Teachers are depending on Google Translate or asking one of their third graders to translate—that’s not the responsibility of our students. It is the responsibility of the school system to find professional translators, so that families know what’s happening and have the opportunity to help schools craft a path forward.

Eddie Koen


THERE ARE NO silver bullets in education. You’ve got to get the hammer on a lot of things at one time to really see long-term, transformational change.

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There’s an interesting political will now that did not exist three or four years ago. We have a real opportunity to integrate mental health and wraparound social services in schools, really integrating curriculum and student time with social services and parents. We just can’t ignore that anymore. It’s impossible to expect students to perform when lights are cut out at home, or violence is happening. Really, it’s like we need a new idea: What are the social determinants of education? And how do we radically integrate them?

I think we should re-imagine education by asking how and who should educate us. It’s not so much about what we teach—it’s every mechanism and who is getting to educate our students that we should rethink.”

Within those programs and initiatives, there’s incredible power. I’ve learned this in my own life. It’s the personal touch. You never know when the opportunity for transformation can open up with a student or a teacher. The more you have that continuous, intrusive contact, it can happen. I’m optimistic that it will happen if we’re really intentional about building relationships.

Drew Furedi


OUR MIDDLE SCHOOL is the receiving school for the only family homeless shelter in downtown Los Angeles. How do you prioritize eighth grade math standards, when that eighth grader is worried about where they’re sleeping at night? That’s difficult on so many levels for everybody in that equation—for the teacher, the social worker, the principal, for the mom, and for the kid, right? What I appreciate about going back in now is that there is broader education community language around social, emotional wellness, and mental health that makes it possible for that eighth grader to learn their math standards while feeling safe and cared for, and making sure the other pieces of their world are going to be put back together the right way.

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We have to knock down this idea that you have to prefer either academic outcomes or social, emotional wellness—that one needs to come before the other. In every one of our centers or schools, with our six-week-old children or our 24-year-olds, we have full-time case managers looking at the comprehensive needs of the child and the family.

We have to knock down this idea that you have to prefer either academic outcomes or social, emotional wellness—that one needs to come before the other.”