Equity must be at the forefront of policy work, says Sharena Taylor | Leadership for Educational Equity Skip to main content

Equity must be at the forefront of policy work, says Sharena Taylor

Tell us about your Public Policy Fellowship placement. 

Currently, I am working as a Public Policy Fellow for the city of Jersey City in the Department of Recreation and Youth Development. As a fellow, I have been privileged to work alongside a dynamic team at Jersey City Youth Works (JCYW), where our efforts are focused on supporting positive youth development by offering multiple youth employment and enrichment programs throughout the year. I have spent my time at JCYW, with one of its premiere programs - Jersey City Youth Counsel (JCYC).  JCYC partners with Jersey City schools to provide restorative alternatives to suspensions, detentions and expulsions. This program utilizes a mock court structure, electing other Jersey City teenagers as judges and jury members to determine fair and appropriate consequences for offenses in question. JCYC youth work with their peers who have demonstrated a pattern of disruptive behavior at school, seeking to understand what led to the incident and the impact it had on the greater community through questions, reflection and fair consequences. 

The goal is to demonstrate a commitment to reducing the criminalization of youth through providing alternatives to discipline policies that push students out of the classroom and into the criminal justice system. We prioritize the development of youth by addressing behaviors without allowing our students’ education to suffer. This is achieved by empowering students to be advocates for their peers through a youth counsel.  

What has been most valuable about your Public Policy Fellowship?

Often, when working in policy spaces or doing managerial and administrative work, you begin to lose sight of the work that is occurring on the ground and ultimately become removed. However, in my placement I get to work directly with students, even if only for a couple days a week. Working with these students directly allows me to take into consideration their needs and concerns, keeping them at the forefront of all decision-making. They are full of ideas and solutions, but often feel overlooked. Yet, they are the ones directly impacted by the decisions being made on their behalf. Knowing that I advance a platform where these youths’ ideas and lived concerns can be heard and are not falling on deaf ears, gives me great joy. 

What is your biggest takeaway from the fellowship?

The biggest takeaway has been understanding the power of a new lens when tackling issues. As an outsider, I have the ability to leverage my former professional experiences and provide a fresh perspective when developing strategic plans. I have been able to bring new ideas and solutions to policy that has been formed, but not yet implemented and evaluated with fidelity.

Tell us about your vision for educational equity.

As someone who has been in environments where equity was not at the forefront of the work, it is important that the work I continue to do promotes diversity and truly subscribes to a vision of equity and inclusion for all students. It is important that people of color and educators have a seat at the decision-making tables so that the policies being created are being created by those impacted the most. 

What do you see as your role in achieving this vision?

I want to be an agent of change at the root – addressing the systems and policies that inform our decisions as educators that ultimately affect our students. We cannot let the vocal minority dictate policy. 

It is my duty to support the next generation of politically-conscious youth in developing innovative policy recommendations, solutions, social enterprise and advocacy campaigns from a lens of equity. In continuing to examine and internalize the intersectionality of law and policy through research and evaluation of community issues, it is my hope that this work will impact our youth such that they are able to do the same and become integral proponents of change within their community. Policy is the game changer. It is the most essential means of making long term impactful change, and we must not only be that change but inspire youth to be a part of that change. 

How has LEE supported you in achieving this vision?

LEE does a phenomenal job of providing a platform to educators that supports them in their pursuit of opportunities in the policy sector, while simultaneously reinforcing and affirming their diverse identities. LEE has been a beacon of support for me in this journey, providing tools, networks, coaching and resources that have helped me understand how to navigate my journey into policy while seeking to achieve my vision for change. 

Why is it important to have opportunities like the Public Policy Fellowship accessible?

This Fellowship is important because it provides a platform for educators who are passionate about the mission to achieve educational equity to work at a systems level. LEE thinks critically about who you are, your expertise, and your goals to place you in a position that best fits. Sometimes, we understand our theory of change and we have passion and conviction about our role in the work, but we don’t always know what steps to take to get there. To have access to a professional opportunity that not only provides you with the tools, strategies and support, but the chance to learn skills in an applied setting, while also being paid a livable wage, is an opportunity that is unmatched as a working adult professional. 

What would you tell those who are thinking about or are interested in applying to the Public Policy Fellowship? 

“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable” and take advantage of the opportunity to learn whatever you can, while bringing your whole self, passions, and experiences to your placement. Take initiative and have the drive and desire to be a self starter. Have clarity and conviction about your own value. Challenge yourself in this space. Eliminate the need to be a perfectionist, the need to overthink things, and recognize and overcome any self doubt. These things are the things that cripple our ability to take action. 

*The above interview has been transcribed and is in subjects' own words, with minor edits for clarity or brevity.


Accelerate your policy or advocacy career while making a real impact on the country’s education landscape. Apply for the paid, full-time Public Policy Fellowship by April 12.