On Wednesday September 9, 2015, Matt Kramer announced his resignation as one of Teach For America’s two CEOs, a move that he made under the rationale that, “co-leadership comes with real costs… we spend a lot of time maintaining alignment and we often speak in a voice that reflects our daily compromises.” It’s a heartfelt piece, written with an integrity that is unsurprising for anyone who knows Matt.
I first met Matt in 2005; the same year I joined Teach For America’s New York City corps and Matt left McKinsey and Company to serve as TFA’s Chief Program Officer. I was with a group of corps members one evening at the regional office, working on collaborative lesson planning, when he stopped by. I remember him asking two questions: “How are your students doing?” and “What are you doing to make them learn even more?”
In the subsequent years that I’ve known Matt, those two questions are emblematic of how he—and Elisa Villanueva Beard, who will continue in her role as sole CEO—have led the organization. A constant obsession with the state of classrooms, communities and corps members and a profound drive to do better as an organization for teachers and kids. They both have a deep sense of justice and knowledge of the inequities of our country’s systems which are always coupled with an unwavering belief that the challenges that face our children and our education system are ones than can and must be solved.
Their commitment and values have led Teach For America to its most diverse corps in history (and from my own research, what appears to be the most diverse teacher preparation pipeline in the country), a strong focus on regional collaboration and partnership with communities, and a bold team of leaders who are innovating in everything from preparation to pedagogy to alumni support.
For Matt, his dedication to equity is most apparent in his writing. Over the past few years, Matt wrote on the need for deep engagement with students and families by educators at all levels, from the teacher to the district. He also reflected on the inherent privilege that comes from being a white male in this country on numerous occasions, alongside the need to speak openly on race with his family, friends and co-workers.
He’s rallied for Ferguson, written on the need to blame inequitable systems over the individuals these systems have the responsibility to serve, and has supported TFA alums DeRay McKesson and Brittany Packnett as they’ve been core organizers with #BlackLives Matter. He's also supported the creation of the Native Alliance Initiative at Teach For America and written how the nature of Native mascots in our nation’s sports team are metonyms for many of the graver injustices that are less perceptible to many Americans.
Matt has also been a staunch defender of students with disabilities, reflecting on his own learning disorder, calling out the need for reform and greater resources dedicated to special education and reflecting on the ways in which the now-25 year old Americans with Disabilities Act has and has not lived up to its promise.
Teach For America is in great hands with Elisa Villanueva Beard who in addition to being a 1998 Phoenix corps member also led the Houston region and spent eight years managing regional operations for the organization before taking on the co-CEO position along with Matt. Elisa is brilliant, fearless, and uncompromising in vision when it comes to supporting low-income students of color. All of us at Corps Knowledge wish her the best and are here to support her efforts.
“How are the students?” “What are you doing to make them learn even more?” Those are questions I’ll always attribute to Matt Kramer’s powerful voice, but they’re ones I have great confidence Elisa will answer with her own vision for Teach For America today and for the next 25 years.
Tune in tomorrow at Corps Knowledge with further thoughts from Kevin Huffman, who has known both Matt and Elisa for nearly two decades.
This post was written by NYCAN Deputy Director, Ned Stanley. He writes from San Francisco.