Hi Becca! I’d love to hear a little bit about your journey in education.
I’ve spent over two decades now in education, most recently with Detroit Public Schools Community District. My work focused on bringing educator talent into the district, which included developing new programs to develop existing staff members. Things like an alternative teacher certification program, partnerships with universities, that kind of thing. These were mostly new initiatives within the district that my team and I built from the ground up. Before that, I spent about a decade with TNTP, mostly designing teaching fellowship programs. And I started my career as a special education teacher, so I spent 10 years in the classroom. When I say that all together, it doesn’t sound like it adds up to 20-ish years. But I guess it does. There's been a lot. And I am old.
Where did you teach?
I taught mostly in the greater Lansing, Michigan area, which is close to where I live now. I taught mostly middle and high school special education, primarily for students with emotional and behavioral disorders.
What interested you in coming over to the family-facing side of things?
I’ve always been interested in this idea of empowering families. I think about that from a lot of different perspectives. As a special ed teacher, I saw firsthand the number of times that school leaders, district leaders, and teachers would almost intentionally withhold important information from families, because they felt like families couldn't take it all in, or just because they had created this negative perception of families. In doing so, they were taking the power away from families, and undermining their ability to understand what their kids need and be able to advocate for them.
And then as a parent, I've experienced that differently. My daughter is a sophomore in college, and she had this privilege of school choice and having a mom who knew the education system. When we lived in Chicago, Emma went to Chicago Public Schools, and so was part of a very large, diverse district. But when we moved back to Michigan when she was in sixth grade, it was striking to me how much choice I had. We knew that for us, it was important for Emma to go to a school where she would be challenged academically, but also where she would be included. She has a diverse family structure. I mean, it's not particularly unique, but she has a mom and a stepmom, and a dad and another stepmom. It was really important to us that we find a school district where her family would be accepted and she could speak freely about her family structure.
Anyway, that was a long-winded way of saying that over time, my perception of how parents and families are experiencing school has shifted so much, because of my work but also because of my experience as a parent.
What are you excited about doing here at EdNavigator?
I'm excited by our new service model—that we’re clearer about what we do and don’t do, so we can go deeper in the areas we find that parents need the most support. Obviously as a former special educator, that is an area where we see so much injustice and disservice and inequity, particularly in communities that serve a lot of students of color. The fact that we have a team who can really support families in understanding their legal rights and being able to advocate for what services their students need—that is very exciting to me. That's true for all of our service areas. College and career planning, for me, again, it's a game changer for families. I was a first generation college student and I really struggled my first year. I actually got “dismissed” from college my first year, which is just a nice way of saying I got kicked out.
Nobody in my family had gone to college. My parents wanted so much for me, but they didn't know who to ask or what to ask for. And I didn't know those things either. I was working a lot, trying to earn money to pay for college. I eventually figured it out and graduated from college and grad school, but I wish my parents had EdNavigator when I was in school. Our college and career planning service is designed sequentially to support families to understand the college search, applications, and admissions process, and provide a lot of direct support to students too, so they’re really set up for success.
What do you see as the biggest barriers for families right now?
I think schools tend to undervalue the expertise that families have about their own kids. That’s been a barrier for a long time, and it continues. But right now, as we have to face the learning recovery from the pandemic, it’s even more urgent that we overcome that. The intention often is a good one, in that teachers might not share information because they don’t want to overwhelm families, but then parents don't have the full story. It’s a real problem that families often think their kids are doing much better in school than they really are.
Last but most important question: What’s something you love to do outside of work?
I like to grow and make our own food.
What's your favorite thing to grow and then cook?
Well, Michigan growing is hard, right? So ... tomatoes are a good thing. As long as you have sun, you can grow tomatoes. And I have taken to making some pretty great tomatoes sauces and jams and things like that. I love to can and preserve food, too. We pickle a lot of things around here. Jalapeños, red onions, cucumbers. We make a nice little Bloody Mary mix.