By Sonja Brookins Santelises, Vice President of K-12 Policy & Practice, The Education Trust, and Former Chief Academic Officer, Baltimore City Public Schools
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have quickly moved from an educator-focused initiative to a political flashpoint. Many state and local education leaders are embroiled in charged assaults or defense of the Common Core, well beyond the walls of local school houses and communities. In the midst of such exchanges, it is easy to forget that long before debates about federal overreach and testing, Common Core represented an important move to create high-level learning targets for all students. The Common Core generated fervency and focus among many engaged in the frontlines of advancing educational equity and excellence.
Approached with intentionality and strategic purpose, “Common Core implementation” could actually serve as a relevant organizing force if leaders moved beyond technical implementation concerns toward addressing deeper issues around expectations, learning and instruction to engage educators and stakeholders in the work of improving learning. It was this potential that springboarded Baltimore City Public Schools’ work with the Common Core, which began shortly after the standards were introduced in 2010.
Alone, the adoption of challenging academic standards will never bring all students to high levels of achievement. However, CCSS does represent a chance for schools and districts to reinvigorate and re-align their work around greater expectations for student learning. Approached with intentionality and strategic purpose, “Common Core implementation” could actually serve as a relevant organizing force if leaders moved beyond technical implementation concerns toward addressing deeper issues around expectations, learning and instruction to engage educators and stakeholders in the work of improving learning. It was this potential that springboarded Baltimore City Public Schools’ work with the Common Core, which began shortly after the standards were introduced in 2010.
By 2010, Baltimore City Public Schools was well into implementing reforms to realign the system’s structures and processes to the needs of students and schools. The shift to schools as the focal point for decision-making redirected both human and financial resources away from longstanding central office bureaucracies. City Schools CEO Andres Alonso garnered national attention for the district’s work on a student-driven, fair student funding model and groundbreaking success in overhauling student discipline, with significant reductions in student suspensions and dropouts, and increased graduation rates. The theory of action promoted schools as the center of decision-making with significant autonomy for school leaders around high accountability for student performance. Coupled with a system of support, the autonomy in exchange for accountability quickly led many high-capacity school leaders and schools to experience new levels of success for students.
Despite the many successes from these early efforts, the city’s schools still needed to move from the structural reforms that underpinned the district’s early gains to those that would get to the core of teaching and learning for all the city’s young people. Increased accountability drew attention to schools with longer histories of underperformance, and many school and teacher leaders still wanted more effective support and direction in increasing student achievement. Even with overall increases in student test scores, too few schools were engaging their predominantly African American and low-income students with the kind of learning that supports long-term student success and promotes greater access. The system needed a way to communicate and actualize a school culture that supported deep learning for its low-income youth and students of color.
Maximizing the Moment
Common Core did not revolutionize the ways in which City Schools approached and considered the work of educating its young people. However, its emergence provided a common focal point for questions about whether our targets for student achievement were truly readying all students for college, career and life success. The Common Core further provided an opportune, large scale, national lever to justify, prod and mobilize urgency around the change work some already recognized needed to happen. The focus shifted from merely educating Baltimore’s young people to “get by,” stay clear of incarceration and acquire a set of minimal skills toward developing a community of schools focused on educating future leaders.
This shift required an approach by school and district educators that would connect with their daily work. Teachers and school leaders needed to see the connection between the Common Core and ways to more effectively work as a team, maximize their own expertise and strengthen their own practice in service of young people. District educators needed to grasp the facilitating relationship between their coordinated, responsive and quality support of schools, and the success of the shift the Common Core furthered. Communication, leadership and guidance were essential.
Often, school districts approach efforts like changes in standards as a new frontier of previously uncharted territory. In order to ensure Common Core pushed the most important elements of instructional improvement, it was essential schools saw connections between their core work and the fundamental shifts the standards represented. From the beginning, Common Core in Baltimore City Schools was tied to the need to increase the cognitive demand of what we asked young people to do, enrich teachers’ instruction and strengthen the instructional leadership of school leaders.
The challenge was communicating this essential purpose in a way that moved beyond the expected structural responses. “Implementation” and “adoption” do not sufficiently convey the full extent of the change required. At an early principal meeting to introduce key elements of the CCSS, one school leader asked whether it was wise to invest so heavily in a new initiative that would likely end up like many rotating projects and shifting priorities in education. The school leader verbally expressed the thoughts of many colleagues. The response from a trusted colleague who facilitated the session adjusted this framing. He replied almost prophetically, “You have to ask yourself, if all of this went away today, would these standards still be the right targets for our kids? Even with political agendas and shifting leadership, do we believe young people from low-income communities deserve the kind of instruction that enables them to demonstrate these skills and competencies? If the answer is yes, then we have our answer to the question.” To reinforce this, key messages emerged and leadership attempted to reinforce them, albeit imperfectly, throughout the organization. CCSS messaging: 1) built on existing successes and 2) reinforced that there were no pre-set, cookbook answers.
Building on Success
The district was experiencing some pockets of success in moving high-quality instruction. Under the leadership of a former Maryland teacher of the year, mathematics achievement at the elementary and middle school levels had already begun rising from dismally low levels. Handfuls of exemplary school leaders incubated fresh work in deep teaching and learning at the school level. Likewise, Special Education and Student Support divisions partnered with schools to settle a decades-old lawsuit, representing a chance to move from a compliance focus toward ensuring that students with disabilities experience high-quality teaching and learning. As in many districts, these isolated pockets signaled areas from which to build. Schools’ reception of the Common Core certainly benefited from connections to these successes, primarily because whenever possible, the standards represented the next phase of deepening and expanding our collective “wins.”
With the early mathematics success, credibility grew among a critical majority of both school leaders and teachers, and, by following district direction, principals had experienced the rise in student achievement scores. Because it was led by a widely respected teacher leader, and the central office math work was staffed by teachers who had experienced success from her leadership in their own classrooms, a majority of teachers viewed the move as authentic. Given this context, when the head of mathematics repeatedly validated the Common Core as the “work we need to take us to the next level,” her professional credibility spoke as powerfully as her words. Further, the district’s math success grew from a grassroots movement by classroom teachers who gathered on their own after school, on weekends and in each other’s homes to rewrite curriculum and adjust their instruction. The way this network continued to evolve benefited the shift to CCSS. The teacher leaders, informal collaboration teams and instructional conversations — all outgrowths of that earlier teacher-led math improvement — had already started to become institutionalized. The district was able to capitalize on the processes but shift the focus to the math standards.
In areas that lacked similar processes, such as in meeting the learning needs of students with disabilities, messages tended to be aspirational. They built on procedural and technical wins from resolving the 26-year-old lawsuit to set up deeper adaptive change. Messaging focused more on “retooling,” “finally getting beyond compliance” and “doing more to help students with disabilities achieve at high levels.” The standards represented by the Common Core also increased pressure on both educators and the system itself to shift practice to enable significantly more students to access grade-level content and learning. One Year Plus was a groundbreaking district policy that called for students with disabilities, but without severe cognitive disabilities, to achieve state standards. While the policy officially shifted the focus of special education to academic outcomes, the prevailing classroom culture had not kept pace. Too many young people who were performing at two-to-five years below grade level were still languishing in classes where the classwork would never give them the opportunity to come close to a postsecondary academic standard. The Common Core helped shine a light on the need to transform One Year Plus from policy to actual practice that improved the lives of young people.
In both cases, building on success and potential helped to connect key bodies of work. Communicating Common Core efforts as the “deeper” or “next” work, rather than “new” work, enabled teachers and school leaders to validate some of their own successes without the misguided comfort of believing no change was required. These messages inspired confidence in some educators to connect new learning to authentic success without justifying the “I already know/I already do all that” mentality in others.
No Cookbooks Here
Given the nature of Common Core and the deeper learning it can promote, it is important to message early and often that achieving this type of learning requires the ongoing examination and reimagining of processes and content.
Given the nature of Common Core and the deeper learning it can promote, it is important to message early and often that achieving this type of learning requires the ongoing examination and reimagining of processes and content. The consequence of framing any major learning initiative as an implementation exercise is that it triggers an automatic search for a new manual or answer key. The Common Core had no user’s manual and therefore summoned educators to make sense of the expected student outcomes in their particular contexts, while identifying the implications for the adults who serve them. In Baltimore, the newness of the standards presented an opportunity to provide space early on for people to deconstruct the standards and communicate this need for constant re-examination of practice and understanding. From the outset, it was important that everyone internalized the idea that the standards meant higher expectations for what our young people could accomplish. It also meant higher expectations for adult learning. At district principal meetings in that first year of the Common Core, the message was clear that there would be support and resources, but no simple or pre-packaged answers. Principals did spend some time receiving an overview of the standards, however, they spent far more time engaged in interactive and focused examination of the standards with colleagues.
One benefit to the lack of Common Core-aligned instructional materials was that, out of necessity, central and school leaders had to spend far more time considering the actual teaching changes that needed to occur to help students reach new levels of achievement. Teachers and school and district leaders had to first examine instructional shifts as magnifying glasses of our current, insufficient practice. For example, no ready-made “aligned reading series” meant that, as a district, we had to consider why so many of our low-income students of color were rarely asked to write anything beyond a paragraph in middle school or one to two sentences in elementary school. Even without official Common Core standards, we needed these questions answered. Constantly messaging the lack of an official “CCSS Cookbook” took away some of the traditional crutches we educators often use to shroud our own biases about which students are capable of what types of tasks and learning. Common Core became a useful vehicle to drive home what had been true for a long time: What defined quality teaching and acceptable learning targets for the many poor, black children in Baltimore City was radically less than what it was for the children of educators.
Communicating key messages of urgent learning needs, student promise, adult capacity and underlying issues of equity were important in moving beyond standards rhetoric. It created an opportunity to ground the Common Core in the larger work, rather than having the Common Core become the major work. While many still used Common Core as an expedient way to explain the deeper focus, the term now had a different function. Communication helped change the narrative of new standards as a disconnected compliance activity. It would take active leadership to build authentic and essential ownership of these ideals in ways that translated into action.
New Visions of Leadership
Most structural leadership models either directly or indirectly promote a singular, transformative individual as the essential key to turning any plan into a reality: The charismatic superintendent, crusader principal or gifted teacher are iconic. This path also tends to yield an overreliance on a linear approach to information transfer. Instead of creating broad bases of understanding among a diverse team of stakeholders, it yields a group of individuals throughout the organization who hold valuable knowledge to be passed on to others. Unfortunately, this “turnkey” approach rarely works in bringing anything to scaled excellence. At some point, an individual responsible for this transfer does not effectively translate or transfer the key learning. Predictably, proximity to learning and information reinforces the “elites vs. non-elites” paradigm.
One of the reasons the leadership of current school reform efforts are plagued with reflecting long-standing trends in racial and economic power inequities is that the access to information flow and decision-making chambers have not changed. Structural responses, whether it is policymaking in Washington or in school district offices in hamlets and urban centers, continue to resist changing the flow of access to information and decision-making. Ironically, not only do we reinforce existing strongholds, we predestine our efforts to failure or limited success because we ignore critical voices from shaping the work, the advocacy and the reform. We give priority to one kind of knowledge while dismissing another. Baltimore City Schools, like many other organizations, could have easily proceeded down the same path if left unchecked. Moving the boundaries on who shares the leadership space and breaking up privileged power silos helped begin to address these counterproductive tendencies.
Leading from Every Position
One of the earliest missteps in moving forward with Common Core in Baltimore City was relying on the transfer of knowledge through hierarchical leadership structures. One month after the first announcement of the Common Core standards, the district engaged principals in professional development. Intended to promote true learning, the sessions were deliberately structured not only to transfer the content of what the Common Core was, but to make sure that school leaders had the opportunity to decipher the standards and their implications for student learning in Baltimore City. The sessions left many principals wanting more information and support to understand the standards, so the Chief Academic Office committed to a full year of monthly, day-long learning sessions for school leaders. Teachers received a two- to three-hour introduction to the standards right before school opened and additional workshops as part of districtwide professional development days that occurred four times throughout the year.
At first glance, it appeared as if Baltimore City was ahead of the curve in preparing our district to use the standards to leverage student learning. Principals in the district knew about the Common Core’s implications for instruction, and Baltimore City teachers had seen and at least interacted with the standards before many of their colleagues throughout the state. These experiences cemented Common Core as a district priority and undergirded a growing focus on student learning and highly effective teaching. However, these efforts fell significantly short of the goal of using the standards as leverage for high-impact change in how the city’s low-income students of color experienced learning and demonstrated high achievement. At the end of a year of significant investment of time and resources, particularly in school leaders, the landscape of schools’ responsiveness matched familiar patterns. A small percentage of schools with principals who knew how to use their learning to foster solid, site-based, “job-embedded” professional development for teachers were further along the desired trajectory than schools with weaker or less experienced principals. Teachers in most schools reported they still knew very little about how the Common Core worked in operation and some reported they had heard very little aside from a few hours spent in district sessions. The bottom line was that the idea of transferring key knowledge and having school principals serve as the only point person for developing quality learning experiences for teachers followed a well-worn path of relying on hierarchical flow to grow ownership and buy-in. This trajectory changed significantly over the next two years when the district moved toward concentrating the preponderance of the learning in school leadership teams rather than in groups of principals.
Given the large body of relevant research, no one should argue the critical role that school leaders play in school improvement and high performance. However, it is also true that even in the best of school contexts, one person learning and then passing on learning is not as effective as a highly effective team of people learning together.
Given the large body of relevant research, no one should argue the critical role that school leaders play in school improvement and high performance. However, it is also true that even in the best of school contexts, one person learning and then passing on learning is not as effective as a highly effective team of people learning together. Instructional leadership teams comprised of assistant principals, instructional support staff (e.g., content coaches, specialists, key aides, etc.), and classroom teacher leaders became the new focus of district support for professional learning. It took some schools longer to find the right people to be a part of this team. As the teamwork centered on teaching and learning, suddenly the missing voice of actual classroom teachers became painfully obvious. Assistant principals relegated only to discipline management became needed instructional partners as well. As teams engaged in learning experiences and planned follow-up together, there was a greater sense of mutual accountability.
If follow-up went nowhere back at the school building, a team of colleagues were aware. Representatives from a fuller spectrum of positions not only received the same information, but participated in shared learning experience that was not dependent on one’s place in a hierarchy. Each Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) member had to own the feedback from the larger school community instead of it resting solely on the shoulders of the school principal to communicate and organize action. District professional development sessions became school team planning time interspersed with group learning from content experts. Separate principal meeting agendas became an outgrowth of ILT meetings and other issues related to the role of principals, rather than the driver of the Common Core standards. This resulted in greater ownership among all school players, deeper application to broad-based learning goals for young people and increased numbers of leaders from which to build Baltimore’s overall leadership capacity.
The principal is indeed a leader who, by virtue of the role, has a specific set of responsibilities and accountability. However, every adult working on behalf of young people is called to lead from their place in the ecosystem that is school. Everyone brings an essential element or perspective. Ironically, even in a district that experienced far greater autonomy for principals and schools, Baltimore City still suffered from a hierarchical, command and control culture. Particularly in low-income communities like Baltimore, it is essential that every opportunity to activate collective agency is maximized. Command-and-control cultures are supported and furthered by structures and processes that continue to privilege and withhold necessary information. Building strong, representative ILTs helped move schools, but without central office making similar changes, a vital roadblock to collective agency would remain in place.
Early in the Alonso administration, there was a targeted reduction in the number of central office staffing positions in a move to return more decision-making and resources back to schools. The shrinking of central support staff numbers was the first move, albeit structural, to change the long-held method of trying to dictate practice from a position far from the reality of schools. Despite the call for central based staff to provide guidance and support to schools, too often the struggle to align work between central offices revealed just how far away such a goal really was. This misalignment and competing priorities continued to send mixed messages to schools. One office would emphasize compliance around district hiring guidelines, for example, while principal supervisors would communicate the importance of making sure quality staff was hired as early as possible. Principals were left to figure out, circumvent or struggle with these often conflicting mandates.
Similarly, the lack of alignment in central office support and interaction with schools meant that expectations and prioritization of the Common Core changed with each interaction. For example, many young people throughout the city were in classrooms with paltry or low-level book selections. Through discussions of Common Core expectations for student reading and writing, the district emphasized the need for a wider range of more challenging nonfiction texts and novels for K-12 classrooms. The Academic Office messaged the priority of timely, centrally funded, new classroom library orders so that teachers and school leaders would receive them in time for end-of-summer planning and the start of the school year. The finance office did not have the necessary book codes input into the system, so they rejected the majority of school book orders. The lack of effective communication between these two divisions caused a significant portion of the ensuing confusion and disorder. However, a deeper examination also revealed a more fundamental disconnect in understanding about the ultimate goal at hand.
Structures and procedures that foster and support quality communication in large systems are indeed essential. However, by themselves, these systems are insufficient to foster the kind of broad buy-in and understanding that carries an organization forward in the midst of the iterative challenges that characterize large urban school districts. The rejected book orders would be relatively minor if the problem had been identified and easily remedied when the first principal called the finance office to complain. Nearly a quarter of schools signaled a problem and no one could quickly resolve the issue. The Common Core was not seen as a finance issue, so neither were new novels for adolescents. In large part, the finance team charged with reviewing orders had no larger understanding of why the books were being ordered, the larger student need, or how this action helped to remedy it. In systems where there is a shared goal and everyone sees their role in furthering that goal, similar structural breakdowns yield a very different adaptive response.
Alternatively, in some districts the articulation of learning goals encompasses the entire system and a focus area becomes a rallying point for every adult. A northwestern school district focused on increasing student literacy created conversations among all support staff, regardless of position or department. The ensuing staff conversations resulted in bus drivers carrying boxes of reading books on buses for students and cafeteria staff reading to students during lunch periods. One district Chief Financial Officer led the passionate fight to identify additional funding in the budget to keep literacy coaches in the schools where they were most critical. Seemingly small, these are outward manifestations of a system shifting toward integrated and reinforcing actions that support student growth.
Senior leadership’s responsibility is to require, support, reward and evaluate results based, in part, on the extent to which work is experienced as coherent at the school level. The only way this can occur is when central office staff view their work as supporting schools and when their own success is assessed in light of the progress of schools and students. Too often, district central office staff do not work together because there is a tolerance for isolated work streams. This isolation makes it easier for each office to view their work as giving a long list of edicts to schools and assuring compliance. Holding central offices responsible for their actual support of schools requires a clear definition of what comprises support, particularly when the goal represents a significant shift in the type of learning we want low-income students and students of color to experience.
Guidance and Support Essentials
Any significant change in practice will remain a conceptual exercise unless teachers and school leaders have the guidance and support to adjust their behaviors and mindsets. Accountability establishes important non-negotiables, starting points and ambitious learning targets. However, it’s the corresponding guidance and support for those closest to students that transform course content and daily interactions with young people. The challenge in most districts serving large numbers of low-income children and young people of color is the limited support for the adults who serve them. In many ways, these educators experience low-level learning activities that mirror those of their students. Often, they receive a PowerPoint listing discrete steps to follow and limited and unrelated curriculum materials. Most districts are hardwired to activate a system of “implementation” that not only leaves educators with partial understanding of the changes needed, but communities completely disconnected from what can only be described as an anesthetic process. As noted previously, Baltimore experienced many of these same challenging mindsets in early efforts to use the Common Core for transformative change in teaching and learning. However, focused attention on both the responsive nature of increasing capacity and the need to support rapid, iterative learning environments helped schools progress to a new level of learning.
Many educators have come to expect a district “roll out” rather than a mobilization. Roll outs are usually a series of short-term actions whereby a district office presents teachers and school leaders with a new textbook series or set of learning materials, with accompanying two-hour workshops. While it is necessary for classroom-, school- and district-level educators to familiarize themselves with new, updated, high-quality learning materials, they are not sufficient for reaching more effective instructional change. Mobilization certainly includes high-quality learning materials, but beyond this, it also organizes a set of learning and teaching behaviors around them. It takes into account the real need to adjust from varied starting points, given what teachers and administrators learn about students as they put materials in play. Usually, teachers must secretly make these changes out of fear or experience that the larger system does not welcome this flexibility. Mobilization makes it official that changes and adaptations will be necessary given ground-level context and new learning that can only occur when real teachers are working with real students.
Baltimore faced the same lack of “aligned” instructional materials as every other district in the country. Additionally, schools had received no clear recommended literacy materials in the most recent years prior to the release of the Common Core, which compounded these resource gaps. While the lack of instructional materials is not ideal, it did present a number of opportunities. First, the district moved to ground most of its English Language Arts curriculum in actual novels, nonfiction texts and other poetry and prose. Although there were still materials that provided phonics and word skill units for early literacy, there was a greater emphasis on urban children interacting with real texts rather than excerpts and copies. For many schools and district leaders, it had become acceptable for low-income and African American students to have photocopied picture books for first- graders, a classroom library of 10-15 discarded texts and no school library. The Common Core should not have been necessary to rectify this situation, but it certainly provided the extra rationale and shift needed to push for action.
Second, the development of units of study with Baltimore teachers and partnering content experts provided an opportunity to respond more readily to educator questions and needed changes. To be sure, not every issue could be addressed immediately, but there was an ability to adapt and respond in ways that helped make teaching more effective more quickly and also signaled to the field that their feedback and experiences mattered beyond “faithful implementation.” Finally, the early, internal development of literacy curriculum units allowed the district to lay the foundation for deeper content connections that are absent in so many urban schools serving low-income communities and families of color. A lack of instructional leadership, knowledge, and a misinterpretation of accountability guidelines has collectively contributed to content-poor learning experiences for our most vulnerable students. These are often the students who most need content-rich learning experiences. Baltimore used this opportunity to focus again on such content areas as social studies, history and the sciences to reclaim the attention of school leaders and teachers. It also gave teaching and learning support staff more momentum and accountability for the success of the learning changes espoused by the Common Core work.
Ultimately, every district and school will rely on some instructional materials to support their teaching. The key is not to develop every instructional support from ground up. In fact there are a number of places, including at the school level, where this would be misguided energy. The goal of mobilizing quality action should always be an essential element. Remaining responsive to ground-level feedback during the entire use of materials, rather than just at the outset, engenders trust and ownership not to mention more responsive instruction. Embracing the necessity of adapting to local needs seems simple, but somehow is not always easy when moving practice at scale. In fact, fostering adult learning that results in increased student achievement remains an ongoing question, particularly at scale.
Districtwide Learning Processes
One element that differentiated this process from earlier professional development and professional learning community efforts was the fact that there was a dedicated time for “safe practice” of new strategies. This finite time proved invaluable in a Baltimore context where many teachers and principals still feared retribution from supervisors if the “messy” aspects of learning were evident. While faulty practice should never be tolerated over the long run, reasonable periods of innovation before the expectation to demonstrate any serious proficiency in a new instructional move gave everyone permission to ask questions and make mistakes. It also helped school and district leaders communicate more balanced expectations for adult learning in a very “results-driven” accountability culture.
The professional learning cycles also helped to link content, Common Core instructional targets and learning processes. The Common Core-focused themes of each cycle — for example, claims-based writing, accountable student talk, etc. — helped drive a common experience that helped teachers and leaders communicate learning across schools. However, schools also expressed appreciation of the fact that because the ILTs were responsible for facilitating the process, the work felt more school-driven than centrally mandated. Principals, coaches and classroom teachers were all represented in ILT leadership, and therefore the learning cycles were a community experience that moved Common Core and adult learning.
As noted earlier, Baltimore’s shift away from an over-reliance on a “command and control culture” associated with teaching and learning began in a number of places. Ground-level, teacher-driven improvement in mathematics achievement and moving to a focus on school ILT development were a few such moves. The shift felt most by principals and teachers across the district came when central staff began supporting a cycle of professional learning for these school teams. Cycles of Professional Learning were developed in conjunction with some key outside partners, but it was the focused attention of key school and district leadership on a set of common learning processes that helped give the process its traction.
About the Author
Sonja Brookins Santelises, Vice President of Policy & Practice, The Education Trust
Dr. Sonja Santelises provides strategic direction for the organization’s K-12 research, practice and policy work, which includes developing and implementing strategies to ensure that Ed Trust’s K-12 efforts effectively focus national attention on inequities in public education and the actions necessary to close gaps in both opportunity and achievement. Before joining The Education Trust, she was the chief academic officer for Baltimore City Public Schools, where she focused on setting academic priorities for City Schools to raise achievement of students across all schools.
Dr. Santelises came to City Schools from Boston, where she was the assistant superintendent for pilot schools, a network of 23 schools with broad autonomy and a track record of successfully meeting student needs and improving the achievement of low-income students and students of color in particular. Prior to the pilot schools post, Sonja was assistant superintendent for teaching and learning/professional development in Boston. Before joining Boston Public Schools, Sonja lectured on urban education for two years at Harvard University and spent six years as a senior associate with Focus on Results Inc., where she worked with five major urban districts, coaching superintendents and training school leaders. Prior to that, Sonja served as executive director of the New York City Algebra Project, the local site of the acclaimed national math reform program, also present in City Schools. Sonja began her career in education as director of professional development and teacher placement with Teach for America, New York, followed by stint at a year-round school in Brooklyn, where she was a founder, teacher and curriculum specialist. She holds an undergraduate degree from Brown University, a master of arts in education administration from Columbia University and a doctor of education in administration, planning and social policy from Harvard.