March is Women’s History Month, and what better time to recognize women who are making and shaping education history than right now? At NewSchools Venture Fund, we invest in teams of educators and entrepreneurs whose bold ideas are reimagining learning. I’m proud many of these pioneering leaders are women.
I recently visited Solar Prep, a woman-led school in Dallas that focuses specifically on building the women leaders of tomorrow. These little girls—in kindergarten through second grade—are learning everything they need to assume their rightful positions in the boardroom, classroom, lab, or wherever their futures might take them. They each recite an inspiring and empowering pledge that begins, "I believe in myself. I play big. I refuse to let anyone define me."
Strong women leaders have always been central to education—creating new learning experiences for students and pushing the boundaries of what we know about learning. We are proud to showcase just a handful of the women school leaders who have received investments as part of our Innovative Schools portfolio. These leaders are bringing innovation into the classroom, supporting student ownership in learning, and emphasizing diversity, equity and inclusion in their schools. They are working across the U.S to create schools and networks that expand opportunities for future generations. Being able to support these women is one of the many reasons I love working at NewSchools.
Kriste Dragon, Citizens of the World Charter Schools
Kriste is the Founder and CEO of Citizens of the World Charter Schools, currently operating in Los Angeles, New York, and Kansas City. Citizens of the World schools are working to expand the definition of success for their students to include not only academic achievement, but also a sense of responsibility for themselves and their communities. Their experiential learning model provides close connections to community partners, and the schools are also committed to racial and economic diversity. Having begun her teaching career in Los Angeles, Kriste also served as Teach for America’s executive director there and as the Vice President of Regional Operations. In addition, Kriste has worked to impact education on a broader scale through her association with many other organizations. Examples include as a professional development leader in UCLA’s Center X, the founding co-chair for the national advisory board of The Collective, Teach for America’s national alumni of color association, and as a Broad fellow and a Pahara-Aspen fellow.
Jen McMillan and Kyle Smitley, Detroit Prep
Jen and Kyle are cofounders of Detroit Prep. Kyle, who is the executive director, came to Detroit after an early career in entrepreneurship. Her work founding a leading a company landed her on Inc. magazine’s 30 Entrepreneurs under 30 and in Forbes magazine as one of the country’s top ten most promising women entrepreneurs. She now leverages those experiences in her work leading the growth and operations of Detroit Prep. Jen, who serves as Head of School, was a founding teacher at Detroit Prep's flagship Detroit Achievement Academy, where her students were consistently ranked amongst the highest growing nationally. Most recently her students were in the 99th percentile for growth in both math and literacy, and she was named the 2015 Michigan Charter School Teacher of the Year. Jen began her teaching career in the Bay Area, and has extensive experience coaching teachers with Teach for America and The New Teacher Project. The mission of Detroit Prep is to provide a world-class, equitable education that will give all students a foundation of academic excellence and character development. As an expeditionary learning school, Detroit Prep has broadly expanded the opportunities available to students and seeks to foster a love of learning and passion for exploring and fulfilling their potential as learners, leaders, and world-changers.
Sara Cotner, Redbud Montessori for All
In San Antonio, Sara Cotner is leading Redbud Montessori for All’s efforts to partner with families in diverse communities to educate and empower their students to be lifelong learners. After working as an AmeriCorps volunteer, recruiting and training reading tutors, Sara joined Teach for America in rural Louisiana and received a State Teacher of the Year award for leading students to significant academic gains. Sara brings a wealth of experience in a variety of classroom models to her work at Redbud. Montessori for All brings a whole-child approach to public education, and was inspired by a desire to rethink education so students are empowered to become agents of change for their families and communities. After serving students in Austin since 2011, Sara will begin leading Montessori for All’s Redbud school in San Antonio when it opens for the 2017-2018 school year.
Nancy Bernardino, Solar Preparatory School for Girls
As an all-girls STEAM school, Solar Prep is designed to empower the next generation of women leaders. Nancy is the founding Principal and has had an extensive career in teaching and school leadership. In 2013 she was honored by the Southeast Dallas Chamber of Commerce as Principal of the Year. Born in Mexico and raised in Dallas, Nancy was the first in her family to earn a Bachelor’s Degree, and is now inspiring public school students in Dallas through an academically rigorous school that focuses on building confidence and leadership within its students. The Solar Prep model is built on high-quality instruction and creating a culture to meet the needs of girls. It is also socio-economically diverse by design. Solar Prep is on a mission to build an inclusive environment where all girls are challenged and empowered with foundational knowledge in tech literacy and coding, engineering, robotics, art and drama.
These are just a few of the women leaders we get to work with and learn from every day. They are constantly aspiring to empower the next generation of leaders, while expanding their impact on the larger wave of innovation in education. We look forward to meeting even more great leaders—both women and men—as we bring on our newest cohort of school planners this year.