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Adrienne Simmons: “A purpose-filled life”

Usually it’s the instructor who teaches the student, but as Adrienne Simmons (Metro Atlanta ’02) found, the learning goes both ways.

While tutoring a young student with special needs, she learned just how rewarding education can be. Now, as an assessment specialist at the Georgia Department of Education, she has found purpose in a career serving students.

Check out our interview with Adrienne to learn how she is now impacting the lives of nearly two million students in her day-to-day work.

Explain what led you to care deeply about educational equity. What personal values, experiences or beliefs inform this?

My first three years of college were spent crunching numbers. I was an accounting major with a promising career ahead of me — but I was not happy.

I knew my life was missing purpose.

In my junior year, I began tutoring a five-year-old autistic boy to offset the cost of attending school. Who knew I would fall in love with the act of socially, emotionally and academically shaping a life? But that's exactly what happened. When I noticed a Teach For America poster plastered across one of the columns on campus, I immediately applied.

My teaching experience began in 2002 as a first-grade educator in Atlanta, where I now serve the state as an assessment specialist with the Department of Education. My time in the classroom instilled in me the belief that any and all students can achieve greatness within a nurturing and academically challenging environment.

I now live a purpose-filled life, largely due to that very first student with special needs who ironically taught me — his instructor — just how rewarding education can really be.

How has LEE helped you in your mission to end educational inequity?

LEE has without a doubt helped me leverage my skills and experience to end educational inequity.

After being a stay-at-home mom for a year, LEE paired me with an career coach to facilitate transitioning back into the important work full time. My coach proved to be invaluable: She provided me with much-needed support in articulating my strengths as a leader and change agent. She connected me to a network of individuals that afforded targeted professional learning opportunities. And she helped me define my role as it relates to a career in policy and overall civic engagement in combating educational barriers.

Tell us about your current role. What’s a typical day like? What is the impact you’re having on educational equity?

I am an assessment specialist at the Georgia Department of Education, where I develop test content in support of the Georgia Student Assessment Program. I also ensure diverse stakeholders are represented on the statewide committees selected to review and approve test content and supporting resources.

I have been in this role for just three months and can assert that I am positively impacting the lives of nearly two million students, along with numerous educators, parents and community members.

By creating valid and reliable assessment items that are free of bias and appropriately aligned to content standards, I dismantle systemic barriers that have historically limited the opportunities and resources of disadvantaged students. For example, a larger number of students from disadvantaged communities can take Advanced Placement courses if they have demonstrated proficient levels of achievement on a test that accurately and fairly measures their academic ability. Leveling the playing field drives my efforts on a daily basis.

In addition to my work as an assessment specialist, I’m involved with ONE Atlanta, a coalition of LEE and community members in Metro Atlanta who advocate for educational equity.

What is your vision for ending educational inequity in the U.S.?

I imagine a world where opportunities abound for students regardless of their zip code, socioeconomic status, race, gender, nationality or sexuality. While this is a monumental task, it is certainly not impossible.

Reflecting on history reassures me that the unforeseeable can indeed be actualized. All it takes is a movement. Leaders are needed to strategically shift the conversation and actions taken at the national, state and local levels. Those directly impacted by educational inequity must leverage power — whether through community organizing, elected leadership or other avenues — to influence decision making. Impacted communities and invested stakeholders must be relentless in making their voices heard in order to arrive at satisfactory solutions.

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

To eradicate educational inequity requires both skill and tenacity. In the long-run, I plan to serve as an elected official, representing those who are often voiceless or not present at the table when and where critical decisions are made.

My education, experience and, most important, my passion for leveraging the trajectory of underprivileged students, propels me toward immediate milestones in achieving this long-term goal. In my career, I plan to continue supporting statewide teaching and learning practices.

LEE will play a fundamental part in helping me achieve my professional goals. I look to them to provide both the knowledge base and relationships needed to effectively lead and advocate for change.

I will never forget being a first-year doctoral student and hearing the Dean of Education proclaim that "leadership is lonely." I will count on the ever-encouraging network I’ve found in LEE to walk with me during the lonely times as I press forward in fulfilling my life's purpose to achieve educational equity.