March 27, 2019

What’s next for me and E4E-Los Angeles? Gratitude and Commitment.

Ama Nyamekye Executive Director, E4E-Los Angeles

It was 2011 and I was a poet turned teacher turned activist who was flirting with a career in academia. I was working on a graduate thesis about this inherent contradiction in public education: If all the researchers and reformers agree that teachers are the most influential in-school variable affecting student achievement, why do we feel so voiceless and powerless; why do we feel like the subjects—not the agents—of education reform?

This nagging question was the focus of my desk and field research. Then, I discovered an organization that was being hatched by classroom teachers (named Evan Stone and Sydney Morris) in the South Bronx. They wanted to build a movement of teachers who could challenge and reverse a top-down approach to reform by placing students at the center and teachers at the helm. I contacted them to learn more and eventually joined their movement, by launching the LA chapter for Educators for Excellence.

In a sense, my graduate thesis evolved into a job description. I had the vision, but none of the experience to spearhead this mission. I had never launched a nonprofit organization, hired and managed a team, or raised and managed a budget. I had never built out an office, managed large events with elected leaders, published teacher-written policy papers, I could go on…. Without a talented team and founding teachers, E4E-Los Angeles could not have grown from one staffer in my kitchen (that’s me) to a staff of 12; a handful of teachers to a movement of nearly 6,000 educators; and a hunger for change into nine published policy papers with ideas incorporated into concrete policy.

After nearly eight beautiful years (and giving birth to three mighty and mischievous girls), I have decided that it’s time for new leadership to take the E4E-Los Angeles movement to the next level (and new career and family adventures for me). I’ll be stepping down as your Founding Executive Director early this summer, and have been reflecting on the strong foundation we have built together. As I reflect, the words that continue to come to mind are gratitude and commitment.

I feel gratitude and commitment to our founding teachers (you know who you are) that helped define our early issues, expand our vision and membership across dozens of schools, advocate for meaningful reforms, and talked me out of terrible ideas (like housing our first office in a one-bedroom/bathroom apartment).

I feel gratitude and commitment to the teachers who grew this movement with their voice, policy ideas, and courageous advocacy. This includes the Teacher Leaders who never imagined they would be writing policy papers and op-eds, testifying before elected leaders, fielding interview questions from reporters, and running for and securing seats as elected leaders in their schools, district, and union.

I feel gratitude and commitment to my staff who each year propose and lead innovations to improve how we engage and support our teachers. They have pioneered focus groups, policy curriculum, trainings, summits, and creative communication channels to reach the busiest people on earth—teachers! And they inject teacher love and student focus into all they do.

And because teachers are only one critical piece of a complex education puzzle, I feel gratitude and commitment to our partners and stakeholders—those working with students, parents, teachers, as well as the philanthropic, faith, and civil rights community. As a transplant to the city, I have seen E4E-Los Angeles be fully embraced and mentored by a groundswell of support as well as tough and nurturing love. Linking arms with our community in the pursuit of causes like equitable funding, school climate improvements and support, and instructional innovations is exactly what makes education a truly public institution.

So what’s next for E4E-Los Angeles? Continued gratitude and commitment. Our partners, team, and teachers are pushing E4E-Los Angeles to be ever-courageous in placing racial equity at the center of education equity. This is coming to life through staff development, member communication, and leader trainings. Our growth and service leadership has enabled us our reach into 50 percent of LAUSD schools and 20 percent of the teacher workforce in LAUSD. And amidst a national groundswell of teachers demanding to be heard, our members are pushing for E4E-Los Angeles to be ever-courageous in supporting teachers who seek to make their union more responsive by being more diverse, more democratic, and more student-focused. This is coming to life in a host of trainings and supports driven by our amazing Teacher Leaders.

And what’s next for me? Continued gratitude and commitment. I see my transition as a true evolution of my leadership. I look forward to serving as an advisor and coach for E4E. I look forward to reflecting and writing about what I have learned as a student, teacher, and advocate in America’s public education system. But, I am also excited to support other critical organizations in building a broad and mighty tent for education equity in Los Angeles. I come from a very progressive and democratic family, and I often remind them that there is no issue more progressive than completing the education equity work that my people risked their bodies to start. I am reminded of this every day by an iconic civil rights poster, which hangs in my office. It features a young black girl named Ruby Bridges walking to a newly integrated school, wearing a white dress and ponytails, and flanked by National Guardsmen. This image has reminded me every day that despite how tough my job has been, I get a paycheck and an office to do what my ancestors were jailed, beaten, and killed trying to achieve. And that sobering, indelible truth is why I am ever-grateful and ever-committed to this work.

Ama Nyamekye

Ama Nyamekye is the founding executive director of E4E-Los Angeles.