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Amber Welsh: "It is going to take all of us"

Amber Welsh knows the Austin Independent School District well — she graduated from Austin public schools, she taught in Austin public schools and now sends her kids to Austin public schools. She also knows that her community can do more toward providing an outstanding and equitable education for all students. That's why she founded Austin Kids First — an organization established to advance equity and excellence in Austin schools through civic engagement — and is working to empower, inform and lead action to ensure all students can reach their potential.

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

Public education is a promise to all of our kids to provide them the preparation they need to be successful in college, work and life. 

I was born and raised in Austin, Texas, and had a great experience attending the public schools in my community. After returning from teaching with Teach For America in Los Angeles, I had the opportunity to teach in the district I grew up in. But the performance data in the district confirmed the fear I had as an educator: if things didn’t change, in my classroom of 30 6th-grade students, only two of them would go on to get a degree or certificate after high school like I did. It wasn’t enough. 

As a graduate of the Austin Independent School District (AISD), former AISD teacher and current AISD parent, I know our community can and should do better. The persistent inequity in educational outcomes for students in Austin drives me to use the energy I have to do something about it.

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

LEE has played a critical role in my leadership development and the growth of Austin Kids First, the organization I founded to advance equity and excellence in Austin schools through civic engagement. 

The Venture Fellowship provided the coaching and support I needed to make my vision of Austin Kids First an organization operating year-round a reality. Through the fellowship, LEE helped me build on the success of the Austin Kids First PAC and expand the work I was doing in Austin to launch Austin Kids First and Austin Kids First Action. 

LEE’s leadership coaching made me feel confident stepping into the role of executive director. They provided mentorship, helping me every step of the way as I piloted community organizing, and offered me technical support in fundraising and better telling the story of Austin Kids First — critical skills for the success of any new venture.

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

Starting an organization means that every day looks different. I do everything from fundraising and maintaining websites to measuring impact and managing accounting systems. 

As an entrepreneur, I am constantly learning new things. And as the executive director of Austin Kids First, I am building an organization that will empower, inform and lead action in my community to impact policy and practice to ensure all students can reach their potential.

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

I believe we must start with improving systems as the local level. Parents and community members want to be involved in a movement that is working toward equity. Currently, there are not enough voices being heard when policy decisions are being made. 

To end educational inequity, it is going to take all of us — from many different backgrounds — working together to do what is best for our kids. Currently, systems are not set up for all students to succeed. We can change that. 

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

I plan to establish and build Austin Kids First as a consistent and powerful voice for doing what is best when it comes to educating our kids. I want to play an integral role in moving my community toward providing an outstanding and equitable education for all students. 

Through building leadership and connections between people, we can improve systems so they are in service to students. Too often we get lost in adult issues and lose sight of what is best for kids. I look forward to continuing to engage with LEE and collaborating with other leaders all over the country so I can continue to learn and grow to better serve kids in my community.