Teach for America CEO suggests ways to start change

Molly Moore

Potlucks may be the key to ending the cycle of poverty in the education system, Teach For America CEO and founder Wendy Kopp said Wednesday.

Kopp, who is best known for founding the organization that recruits college graduates to teach in K-12 schools across the country, spoke about her recent book, “A Chance to Make History,” and what she sees as the most important factors in successfully and systematically improving schools.

“I’ve been going around from city to city, telling everyone, ‘dinner parties,’” she said. “Gather people around and decide as a community what we want to do about education in our area. We know the change is possible, now how can we make it happen?”

Out of the 15 million impoverished people in America, approximately half will never graduate high school, and of those that do, half will do so with the skill set of an eighth-grader, Kopp said. Changing this requires commitment.

“There’s nothing elusive about the change,” she said. “Successful principals and educators believe so deeply in their kids. They take it as a given that the goal is attainable and are willing to do whatever is necessary along the way to achieve it.

Sarah Sanchez, UT’s recruitment director for Teach for America, said she saw the effectiveness of strong leadership firsthand while teaching through the program in Washington D.C.

“You hear all sorts of things about the change you can make, but it has a much stronger impact when you are the one actually leading it,” Sanchez said.

A teacher’s observation of dramatic improvement gives them the necessary confidence and trust that it will work in the next underprivileged school, she said. Students are given this opportunity at UT through programs like KIPP, K-12 charter schools in Austin aimed at getting underserved students into college.

“The girl I mentor, Claudia, said all she liked about KIPP was the food when I first met her,” said Plan II and advertising junior Katherine Kloc. “Now she’s all about science. She was so excited to take the Science TAKS. I think they send a really good message to the kids that they can and will get into university. It empowers them.”