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Matt Kramer named co-CEO of Teach for America

Currently president of TFA, Kramer, of Edina, and COO Elisa Villanueva Beard will take over the position now held by founder Wendy Kopp.

Matt Kramer, Wendy Kopp, and Elisa Villanueva Beard.
Courtesy of Teach for America

Teach for America (TFA) Wednesday afternoon announced that Edina resident Matt Kramer has been named its new co-CEO. Currently president of the 24-year-old organization, Kramer and Chief Operating Officer Elisa Villanueva Beard will take over the position now held by founder Wendy Kopp.

Kopp will become chair of TFA’s board of directors and will focus more time on expanding Teach for All, a 6-year-old network [PDF] of TFA-like programs in 26 countries. 

Because Kramer is both an executive with one of the country’s most prominent education initiatives and the son of MinnPost founder and CEO Joel Kramer and Chief Revenue Officer Laurie Kramer, the periodic mentions of his work in this blog are always accompanied by what Your Humble Blogger calls the Kramer Disclaimer. Neither MinnPost Kramer had any involvement in the preparation of this post; they will learn of it when it is posted to the site.

My discussion with Matt Kramer, whose new role is indisputably news, marks the first time he and I have talked about his work, which includes serving on the board of Students for Education Reform and as board chair of the education reform initiative 50CAN. Like TFA, both of those groups have Minnesota affiliates.

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And as their critics suspect, I have some bias. Despite my regard for the MinnPost Kramers, I was a TFA skeptic until I had the chance to watch some of its former members teach in an amazingly successful school in Chicago several years ago.  

Top grads teach in low-income communities

TFA’s mission is to eliminate educational iniquities by recruiting top college graduates to teach in low-income communities for a minimum of two years. More than 48,000 people applied to be part of its 2012 corps; 5,800 were accepted. Recruits get a crash course in gap-closing strategies and ongoing training during their stint.

The program is a relative newcomer to the Twin Cities, where a current corps of 76 is working in 29 schools. Many of the more than 300 TFA alums in the region are still teaching. Leaders of a number of high-performing schools would like to hire more.

Others serve in a number of education leadership roles in Minnesota, including within mainstream school districts. Most notably, Josh Reimnitz was recently elected to the Minneapolis School Board in a fiercely fought contest.

Within education circles the mention of TFA evokes strong opinions. Critics, most vocally teacher-union traditionalists, contend that it is actually a school-privatization scheme that includes the replacement of experienced, traditionally trained teachers. Meanwhile, supporters hope to replicate its success. 

Size of TFA corps doubled

During Kramer’s tenure, TFA has doubled the size of its corps from 5,000 to 10,000 and the number of regions served from 23 to 46. Some 28,000 former members are involved in some way in working for equity in education.

“We have so many more alumni who are asking themselves the right questions,” Kramer said Wednesday. “What would it take for every low-income kid in their community to succeed and what can they do to help them get there?

“I think Minneapolis is a great example of that,” he added. “I think we can see a path to a day when every child here is in a position to succeed.”

A native of the Rio Grande Valley, Villanueva Beard will oversee TFA’s regional operations and serve as its public face. Kramer, who joined TFA in 2005 as chief program officer, will manage the organization’s central structure, including recruiting, training and development.

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Deeper partnerships

In addition to a joint listening tour on which they hope to hear from stakeholders and critics alike, the two have some immediate goals. One is to teach corps members to build deeper partnerships with students and families, who often come from schools or communities where they internalized a culture of low expectations.

“One of the most important roles of teachers in schools where we operate is to help children make a decision to work harder than they ever have before and succeed and go to college,” said Kramer. “Also it helps shape the corps member’s perspective, shapes the ‘whatever it takes’ perspective that is so critically important to our work.”