2019 Network MVP: Celebrating Advocates Who Go Above and Beyond
September 6, 2019

Some of Many Most Valuable Players Across the Network

The Eddies!—annual, advocate-nominated awards—celebrate excellent policymaking and advocacy campaigns across the country.

THE NOMINATIONS HELP TELL THE STORY OF HOW EDUCATION POLICY WAS ADVANCED THIS YEAR.

Below are the nominations for Most Valuable Player—a team member of a PIE Network state-based member organization who has gone above and beyond to support advocates across state lines, or a team member of a PIE Network national partner who has been exceptionally helpful to state-based advocates to move an issue forward, above and beyond that of their job description. Nominations were submitted by Network members and partners earlier this summer. (Any Network member or partner was eligible to make a nomination.)

As with other Eddies! categories, nominations are narrowed down to five top finalists through conversations with the Eddies! Selection Committee —and narrowing down this category always presents an incredibly tough challenge. Because peer recognition is so invaluable, we are honored to celebrate the entire deep and robust roster of nominees today. And, we are honored to support a Network where leaders lift each other up. The contributions of these nominees to the Network reinforce a spirit of collaboration, prime their peers to work smarter, and most importantly, help make progress on the behalf of students.

Participants at the 2019 PIE Network Summit in Austin, TX can cast their vote on top finalists via the event app on Sept. 25 & 26. Check out the nominations for five additional Eddies! award categories here.

MVP Top Finalists

Additional Nominees

Jamie Woodson

Former SCORE President & CEO

Jamie Woodson of Tennessee SCORE is a committed and active advocate for student-centered policies in her home state and across the nation. Grounded in the values of collaboration, optimism, and courage, Jamie lends her time, advice, and insight to education partners inside and outside Tennessee as she champions excellence and innovation to better serve students. She has been a key figure in the Tennessee Learning Circle, which assists 12 in-state philanthropy partners in developing a deep understanding of student-centered policy priorities. Jamie devotes large amounts of her time traveling to build lasting relationships with the leaders of advocacy groups that range from the largest in the nation to the smallest in Tennessee. As a former legislator, Jamie has been a trusted counselor for policymakers in the Tennessee General Assembly and Congress. For more than seven years, she has worked closely with the national philanthropic community in helping determine the priorities of education reform. As a longtime member and former chair of the PIE Network Board, Jamie has helped support every PIE Network member organization to better serve our country’s students.

Jessica Stewart

Oakland Executive Director, GO Public Schools

Jessica Stewart has been an Oakland resident for more than a decade and is the lucky mom of one current and one future Oakland student. While teaching in the Oakland Unified School District (OUSD), Jessica was involved in the founding of GO Public Schools; she joined the GO team full-time in June 2011, stepping into the role of Oakland Executive Director in 2018 after serving as Senior Managing Director on the statewide team. Her leadership was instrumental in OUSD’s adoption of the Community of Schools policy last year.  A natural connector and convener, Jessica’s activity within the PIE Network has benefited many members—both current and past. Whether she’s asked to share insight into GO Oakland’s campaign strategy, speak on a Network panel, or name her favorite podcast, Jessica is eager to provide PIE Network members and partners with the resources they need to thrive. She is also a proud alumna of the PIE Network Leadership Institute.

Kenya Bradshaw

Vice President, Community Engagement & Policy, TNTP

Kenya Bradshaw leads TNTP’s work to advocate for lasting policy change that reflects the priorities of students, families, and their communities. Since the launch of The Opportunity Myth—which has reached more than 100,000 people—Kenya has helped stakeholders across the country act on the report’s findings. In Connecticut, she helped members of seven community organizations develop a vision for a statewide education system that supports students’ and parents’ educational goals. In Washington, D.C., she influenced the State Board of Education’s decision to assess student access to grade-appropriate content and instruction. When she’s not working to expand community input and advance policies around critical issues like teacher diversity, she stays busy in her own community. She’s served on numerous community boards, including the Girl Scouts of the Mid-South, Tennessee Pre-K State Advisory Council, and Common Ground, a local racial reconciliation effort. She is also an Aspen Fellow and member of Education Leaders of Color’s (EdLoc) Leadership Committee.

Robin Lake

Director, Center on Reinventing Public Education

From envisioning the future of education to weighing in on the details of charter/district funding confusion, Robin Lake brings a spirit of innovation and bold urgency to her work. In addition to setting strategy as director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), Robin pushes the broader reform movement to think beyond the current limitations of school systems, borrowing inspiration from multiple educational environments to consider what’s possible. Robin and the CRPE team support the PIE Network by investigating systems across the country and elevating the best practices for others to emulate. From personalized learning to portfolio management, CRPE’s evidence-based recommendations are trusted by advocates and policymakers alike. Robin’s commitment to evidence drives her integrity; she tells the truth and will argue with a friend as fast as a foe if they’re misrepresenting the data. Eschewing labels (don’t call her a reformer), Robin drives for the “so what?” in every policy, ensuring that all of us consider how to serve the needs of individual students instead of supplying “one-size-fits-all” solutions. Robin’s service to education extends beyond her own organization, as she lends her leadership skills to multiple boards including the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, National Association of Charter School Authorizers, National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (advisory board), Education Next (policy advisory board), Educate 78 (editorial advisory board), and the Untapped Potential Project (founding chair).

Scott Laband

President, Colorado Succeeds

Scott’s reflective candor and relentless optimism bring lessons to everyone in the Network. In his leadership role on the PIE Network Board and his commitment to state systems change, Scott exemplifies what it means to be a servant leader, consistently reaching beyond his organization to strengthen the larger work. Scott’s visionary leadership, infectious drive, and commitment to building a more innovative and agile education system make him a true MVP. He’s always seeking new learnings, connections, and opportunities to make a larger impact in Colorado and across the country. Scott embodies his own organization’s core values in everything he does, finds time to support emerging Network leaders – all while showing up first and foremost as a loving husband and father of three.

Additional Nominees

Brennan McMahon Parton

Director, Policy & Advocacy, Data Quality Campaign (DQC)

Brennan Parton, DQC’s director of policy and advocacy, is a shining example of what PIE Network national partners should be—an invaluable resource to state members, moving their policy priorities forward. Embodying the “Let states lead!” and “No top-down agendas!” principles, she has worked relentlessly to serve PIE Network members where they are. State members with diverse priorities—MBAE (indicators and school funding legislation), A+ Colorado (transparency), and DelawareCAN (report cards)—have sought her expertise. From engaging Advance Illinois on overly restrictive privacy legislation to advising GPEE on troublesome school safety legislation, Brennan connects dots by informing Network members of under-the-radar state issues that, unaddressed, could undermine state advocacy agendas. Always guided by members’ priorities, Brennan partners with states to elevate teacher voice (Teach Plus Texas) and highlight teacher opinion research. All while leading national conversations on using data, Brennan remains the go-to data expert for Network members making policy change in their states.

Cari Miller

Policy Director of Early Literacy, Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd)

In 2018-19, the education field scrambled to respond to reports that too many schools were ignoring the science of reading and failing to teach kids to read. In response, Cari and ExcelinEd stepped forward with effective policy solutions and crucial implementation support that states needed. Leveraging her vast expertise and tireless commitment to reading policy, Cari educated policymakers and advocacy partners across the nation. As a result, during the 2019 session, seven states (AL, CO, FL, GA, NC, NV, TX) provided additional program funds, supports for schools and teachers or improvements to programs that help struggling students. Cari also educated partners in AK, GA, KY, MO, laying the groundwork for important future K-3 reading policy advancements. Implementing an effective K-3 reading policy is tough, technical work. In 2016, Cari created the Early Literacy Network, which has grown to include 16 states, to support and provide ongoing implementation help. This includes key resources, recommendations related to communications support, individualized technical support and opportunities for collaboration around common implementation challenges to states that are in various stages of implementing comprehensive K-3 reading policies. Early Literacy Network members include: AL, AZ, CO, FL, ID, IN, NE, NM, NV, NC, MI, MS, SC, OK, OH and TN. To help advance comprehensive K-3 reading policies across states over the last year, Cari collaborated with the following PIE Network members:  National Council on Teacher Quality, Foundation for Florida’s Future, CO Stand for Children, CO Succeeds, Best NC, Tennessee SCORE, and the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

Eric Lerum

Chief Operating Officer, America Succeeds

Outside of his role as Chief Operating Officer at America Succeeds, Eric keeps a constant eye on dynamic advocacy improving outcomes and post-graduation opportunities for students. His work on the Age of Agility report, campaign, and event series helped intensify national and local conversations focused on confronting the skills gap and reshaping education-to-employment pathways. Eric’s work extends well beyond America Succeeds affiliates, collaborating regularly with other PIE Network members and key regional and community stakeholders to both strengthen and adapt the education system to meet the needs of the future. Eric has a track record of service from his early work in the Mayor’s office in D.C. partnering closely with Michelle Rhee to leading national policy support for StudentsFirst. He is a passionate and committed advocate for equity and is dedicated to ensuring all students have an opportunity to succeed and contribute to their community. Eric has long been a leader and friend to fellow PIE Network members who have relied on his expertise and thoughtfulness to help strengthen their work.

Jen Walmer

State Director, Democrats for Education Reform Colorado

Jen Walmer is a warrior. She’s a force to be reckoned with. She’s a passionate advocate for the underserved. And she’s the best person in ed reform to get a drink with. During her tenure at DFER, Jen Walmer has solidified her role as one of the most influential and savvy education reformers in the country. She dominates Democratic politics in Colorado with her unique combination of policy expertise, deep relationships, and political acumen. She has translated her political success into numerous game-changing policy victories, including charter equalization and full-day Kindergarten, among many others. Jen’s success has not come without sacrifice. Powerful status quo forces have levied personal and professional attacks on Jen and DFER Colorado.  But in the face of this incredible pressure, Jen has been steadfast in her commitment to kids and kept her organization running on all cylinders. She is a Network MVP.


Ashley Schmidt

Ashley is PIE Network's Senior Director of Member Engagement & Communications


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