LEE member Samantha Ellison works as a Public Policy Fellow for the Boston Public Schools Office of Equity.
Thank you for taking the time to share a bit of your leadership journey! Please share a bit of your LEE member journey.
Since 2015, I have been an avid supporter of Leadership for Educational Equity and its vision to make sure every child in every community has the opportunity to attain an excellent education. The first workshop that I attended was the National Organizing Workshop in Colorado, where I learned how to build power within a community and leverage every moment as a potential opportunity for organizing and creating impact. These skills assisted me in leading as a union delegate during my teaching experience in Chicago and allowed for me to advocate for teachers, students and their families.
2016 was a year that I will not forget. The impact of the national election served as an awakening for some and for others a continuation of current reality. It was during this time that I felt I had to do more and get involved politically, because I realized that politics were involved in every aspect of my students and families’ lives and that the power of my voice could help to ensure leadership was focused on furthering equity during these challenging times.
I attended the When Women Run Summit and started my plan to exit the classroom by participating in LEE’s Policy & Advocacy Fellowship with Equality Illinois. I also became more locally involved, attending my neighborhood’s local school council meetings, and filled a vacancy for a community representative. LEE’s Policy & Advocacy Fellowship inspired me to intern for the U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth and to work for Ballotready, where I learned more about local, state, and federal politics and was able to help make voting and running for office easier for the public.
During this time, I also took the advice provided by the When Women Run Summit and started helping on various state and local campaigns. Participating in campaigns allowed me to access the political process, gave me further insight into the importance of community stakeholders and access to voting, and allowed for me to see women run and win.
My next professional steps took me back to the U.S. Senate, where I served U.S. Senator Dick Durbin. During this experience, I managed the educational programming for the office and oversaw the internship program, where I worked to create access for undocumented, low-income, and students with disabilities, increase diversity in representation and voice, and equip students with the tools and supports to be able to take their next professional steps. This opportunity made me realize I wanted to be back in the local public school system, being a leader focused on improving equity and promoting policies that would create better access for students and their families.
Since accepting the Public Policy Fellowship at Boston Public Schools Office of Equity, I have taken advantage of LEE’s virtual programming and have completed LEE’s Project Management course and the Policy & Advocacy Writing Program, where I learned how to write an Op-ed.
The Project Management course, developed my understanding of what it means to be a project manager, the different phases of project management, and how as a leader focused on equity work, I can make sure I am engaging stakeholders, implementing continuous feedback, and using data to ensure the actions within the project are benefiting students and their families.
I was able to apply what I learned during the Project Management course to the 24/7 Respect program during my Public Policy Fellowship.
LEE’s writing course has allowed for me to develop my voice further and understand different types and ways of writing that can impact change. During my Public Policy Fellowship I set a goal that I would write an op-ed by the end of the fellowship. Participating in LEE’s writing program gave me the structure, examples, and feedback needed to develop my thoughts, conduct thorough research, and to present my opinion in an understandable and impactful way.
I decided to focus on how school districts could support LGBTQ students during COVID-19. As a LGBTQ leader, I felt it was extremely important for school districts to be thinking about how they can continue to best serve our LGBTQ students during these challenging times.
Why did you decide to seek out these opportunities?
I believe LEE takes the time to really think strategically about the opportunities they provide their members. LEE understands how impactful the actions taken by educators can be to further advance educational equity. LEE also actively seeks feedback and grounds both content and fellowship opportunities in working on behalf of children in communities nationwide. LEE continues to help me be a strategic visionary leader who is rooted in my values and community.
What has been the impact of doing LEE’s virtual content on your leadership journey?
LEE’s Project Management course allowed me to excel at my current Public Policy Fellowship placement. At Boston Public Schools Office of Equity, I was tasked with leading an advocacy project to help address bias-based conduct between students in-person and online.
Having no formal experience with managing larger projects, I quickly took advantage of LEE’s Project Management course.
The course allowed me to understand the basics of project management starting with simple definitions and examples of exemplar projects. In addition, LEE’s course sets the foundation for leaders to ground their project in equity by explicitly showing how leaders can engage with the Equity Impact Assessment, which helps to anticipate, assess and prevent potential adverse consequences of proposed actions on different groups.
For the 24/7 Respect program, I used the Equity Impact Assessment guide to identify, build and engage a coalition of stakeholders. This tool allowed me to see who was missing from the table, and where more engagement needed to occur. For example, as we were developing support for the program, we realized parent voice and input was missing. We reached out to the Citywide Parent Council of Boston to hold a meeting. Having engaged voices of our students’ families allowed for us to further our project goals and allowed for us to have thought-partners and advocates at the school and district level.
I also used the Equity Impact Assessment to help guide the development of the educational content and the execution of the program. When looking at school-based data, we were able to determine which scenarios would be most impactful and where we saw opportunities to address some of the inequities we were seeing at a systems level.
The course also helps LEE members learn how to execute and monitor a project. Leaders quickly learn how to manage-up and have access to very helpful check-lists to help them navigate the different phases of overseeing a project. There is also emphasis on self-reflection, which is crucial to the development of leaders and the dismantling of systems of oppression.
Lastly, the course provides the opportunity for LEE members to get feedback on their project plan. This is valuable to LEE fellows who may want additional feedback from leaders who are grounded in LEE’s mission, vision, and values.
Why do you feel that it is important for members to have access to resources like these virtual content opportunities?
Having access to courses, like the Project Management course, allows for LEE members to develop their skills and leadership capabilities with a focus on serving students and families. LEE’s virtual content library also helps to level the playing field and allows for all LEE members to have access to content that will allow for them to implement tangible steps right away within their work and communities.
What do you want LEE members to know about resources like 1:1’s, coaching, virtual content, etc.?
Working with Leadership for Educational Equity has afforded me the opportunity to be a transformative force for students and families. As a first-generation student myself, access to structure, content, and networks is extremely valuable and allows for me to see myself as a leader. I have always struggled with finding a career that allows for me to use my effectiveness as a leader to work on behalf of children. LEE helps me get closer to obtaining that goal.
*The above interview has been transcribed and is in subjects' own words, with minor edits for clarity or brevity.
Read Samantha's full op-ed "School Equity Plans Leave Out LGBTQ Youth During Pandemic" here.
Op-eds are a vehicle by which individual people can take a stance on an issue & call for action. The Developing a Compelling Op-ed course is designed for members to gain a background on what an op-ed is & have an opportunity to develop an op-ed of their own.