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Name: Misha Simmonds, National Fellowship, Cohort 2

State and City of Residence: Teaneck, NJ

Job Description (grade level taught, position, title, etc.): Consultant

What brought you to work in education?

During my undergraduate orientation we read Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities, and I was shocked by the deficient educational experiences for underserved communities, especially in a country of such wealth. That book led to an internship the following summer teaching in New York City, and ultimately changed my career direction from medicine to education and teacher certification.

Tell us about something that you have done in education (either alone or working with a group) that you feel has made or will make a big difference for your community?

In 2008 a fellow New Leader and I became Executive Director and Principal of a struggling charter school in Newark. The state department of education gave the school 6 months to turnaround or face closure. We discovered great students, and some great staff, but lack of resources, professional development, and direction. Working together with our team, we changed that, eventually earning state charter renewal and national recognition for our state test gains. Whenever I feel daunted by the persistent challenges of education reform, this experience keeps me hopeful.

What’s your favorite part about being an America Achieves Fellow?

The best part of America Achieves was connecting with great people passionate about education, especially in setting different than the Northeast urban K-8 setting in which I work. Whether it was a lone fellow in a midwestern state pioneering Common Core, or a fellow working to bring quality education to incarcerated youth, or a fellow integrating technology into a rural school, it was so inspiring!

If you could change just one thing about our current education system, what would it be?

The late philosopher John Rawls, in his treatise "A Theory of Justice," proposed that to develop a fair and just system, society should imagine it with a "veil of ignorance" before they know the position and location into which they will be born. No one in this process would design an education, health, justice, or other system that would have such disparities based on where you were born, the color of your skin, or the wealth of your family. To change that about education, we would have to change society's living patterns. No school should be 80%+ in poverty, or 80%+ one particular subgroup, especially when diversity surrounds them.

If a song played every time you walked into a room, what would that song be?

Growing up in 80's NJ, almost any song by Bon Jovi!

What is your other favorite thing to do (besides education, or course!)?

I love to travel: 35 countries so far, 161 more to go!

Anything else you’d like to share?

This past summer I transitioned out of charter school leadership to consult. My most exciting project is working with a social service organization to launch a charter school for over-aged, under-credited students, which I have learned to refer to as "Opportunity Youth." It's been great to apply my experiences and skills to an area of education which I knew little about, and I am learning a lot!

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