Our People / Published Feb 15

Meet Shantelle Wright: “We have got to figure out how to get parents what they need for their children right now.”

For our new Chief Program Officer, families come first.

Our new Chief Program Officer, Shantelle Wright, brings to EdNavigator twenty years of experience advancing educational equity. Shantelle is the founder and former CEO of Achievement Prep, an award-winning charter school network, a former lawyer, and a proud dog mom. We’re thrilled to welcome her to the EdNavigator family! We sat down to learn more about who she is and what gets her up in the morning. (Besides the dogs.)


Hi Shantelle! Tell us a little bit about what brought you to EdNavigator.

I came to EdNavigator after leading a charter school network in Southeast Washington, D.C. for the last 15 years. We were very intentionally located in Ward 8, one of the most marginalized and underserved areas of the city. And one of the things that I always wanted and tried to do as a school leader was empower our parents to make us better. To let them know that they actually have the power to make moves for their children and push their school, their teachers, their leaders to meet their needs.

So when I heard about EdNavigator, it was like, "Wait a minute, an organization that empowers parents to be advocates and understand how to navigate the educational system? This is unreal." I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do next. I knew I wanted to advocate for parents, particularly marginalized Black and brown parents, to understand the power they hold. So this really called to me.

You haven’t always worked in education, right? How’d you get here?

I always wanted to be a teacher, but my mom said, "Teachers don't make any money, you're going to law school." I grew up in a time when you did what your parents told you. So I went to law school. I worked in a corporate law firm. Four hundred attorneys—only 11 of us were Black. I was absolutely miserable. I was just making rich people richer. That's all I was doing.

But coming out of law school, I couldn’t afford to do the work that I really wanted to do with law—public defender, working in the district attorney's office. Those roles don't make money, and I was too poor. I grew up very much like the families we seek to serve. I didn't have much, and education was really the thing that changed my life.

Then I found out about Building Excellent Schools out of Boston, and I joined their fellowship program to learn about school leadership. That brought me out of the legal world and let me follow my dream of starting a school.

What are you most excited to work on here at EdNavigator?

The first thing is our pediatric partnerships work. I think this has so much potential. We know parents trust their pediatricians. The fact that right then and there, the doctor can identify an issue that’s affecting their child in school and say, "Call this number to get support"—it gives us a very unique chance to close some real gaps between the education and healthcare systems.

I’m also especially excited about figuring out how EdNavigator can really support families in this new era as we move through the pandemic. Early on, obviously we all thought that this was a short trend and then we'd get back to where we were. But we can't continue to wait for back to normal. I think it's something everyone is trying to figure out, whether you’re a school, a community-based organization, churches—everybody's trying to figure this out. My hope is that because we are a small, nimble organization and we have this direct way of serving families, we’ll be able to support parents and families in the ways they need now. That’s exciting to me.


“Families have so much on their plates right now, and children need so much to repair the damage of these last two years, in and out of schools. So how can we anticipate what families need and what resources are available to them, and then go ahead and put that in their hands, so they don’t even have to ask for it?”

What do you think that might look like?

Part of it is thinking about how we can be proactive for families and create plans that are very targeted and intentional, based on the needs of their child and the resources available to them. I think we can help solve the problem of, you know, this is who you call for this and this is who you call for that—even before parents ask. Families have so much on their plates right now, and children need so much to repair the damage of these last two years, in and out of schools. So how can we anticipate what families need and what resources are available to them, and then go ahead and put that in their hands, so they don’t even have to ask for it?

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges as we try to do that?

I think the first challenge is getting parents’ attention. That’s real. And then once we have their attention, the next challenge probably is striking the intricate balance of providing the guidance and support without making parents feel overwhelmed.

Sometimes help can be overwhelming. There’s this feeling of, despite all that I have been doing and all that I'm balancing, I've got to do this now too? We’re coming out of a time when for almost two years, parents have been and in many cases still are doing the work of being a parent and a teacher and a child care provider on top of whatever else they are doing to support their family. And so I think the challenge is providing supports to families without being another thing that overwhelms them or makes them feel like they're still not doing enough for their children. Parents are doing more than enough. But how can we make their lives easier and give them the tools they need right now? And that’s not just at EdNavigator. As a whole country, we have got to figure out how to get parents what they need for their children right now.