Teach to Lead Summit Inspires Literacy Reform

Improvements are under way at the Louisa Boren K–8 STEM School in Seattle, and the most recent Teach to Lead summit played an important role in facilitating some big changes.

A month ago, 100 teacher leaders gathered near Tacoma, Washington, for the fifth regional Teach to Lead Summit with hopes of learning how to address challenges in their schools.

These summits are part of the Teach to Lead initiative, created by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) to expand opportunities for teachers to lead, particularly those allowing teachers to stay in the classroom.

Two of us came to the summit from the Louisa Boren K-8 STEM School in Seattle, where we focus on low student literacy skills. We left this two-day meeting filled with energy and ideas to address our concerns, many of which our school has immediately begun to implement. Our rapid progress is amazing!

Since Louisa Boren opened in 2011, teachers have watched their students master subjects that today’s global job market rewards — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Our students’ language arts skills, however, often don’t keep pace. Too many haven’t grasped phonics, don’t know how to break down words into syllables and lack skills that eventually will be needed to analyze complex literature.

We hoped the Teach to Lead Summit could set us on the right path, and we weren’t disappointed. During the summit we developed a concrete reform plan to take back to our school, “Literacy is the Backbone of STEM.” With support from one of the 70 educators present at the summit (our “critical friend”), we learned to:

  • Develop a “logic model,” which is a framework for evaluating a program and finding ways to improve it. We first clarified exactly what our problem is, then created goals to move us beyond the problem and finally developed steps and activities to reach the goals. Our biggest challenge is that Seattle hasn’t adopted an elementary school literacy curriculum in 14 years, so teachers in our project-based school have no common way to teach literacy. Consequently, students don’t have aligned literacy instruction and no consistent literacy assessments, nor is a structure in place to discuss student data and use it to inform instructional practice. Our aim is to provide instruction that is aligned within all classrooms at a particular grade, as well as from one grade to the next
  • Create an “elevator speech,” which provides us and other school educators with a short, clear, and consistent message about literacy expectations, which we can now share and communicate to and between the staff and the community
  • Use our critical friend, who was assigned to us at the summit, to guide us in developing our school’s logic model and helping us and our school find appropriate instructional resources

Since the summit ended, our work to implement literacy reforms has accelerated. In just one month, teacher leaders at our school (1) gave an elevator speech to the principal and presented the logic model; (2) developed and distributed a staff survey to learn how the STEM staff can align literacy instruction and assessment within the context of the school’s project-based learning environment; (3) developed literacy professional development plans; (4) gathered information to guide the improvement of classroom libraries; (5) made a presentation to the PTA president to gain support for literacy reforms, as well as more money for books; and (6) took steps to involve parents in the conversations and reforms.

And the work continues! We hope our logic model eventually can grow to address literacy issues not just within Louisa Boren, but throughout all Seattle Public Schools.

Mary Bannister is a teacher-librarian and Jodi Williamson is a second-grade teacher at the Louisa Boren K-8 STEM School in Seattle. Both teachers are certified by NBPTS.  

ParentCamp Brings Families to the Education Table

Last week the U.S. Department of Education (ED) hosted its first ParentCamp USA with over 200 participants from across the country.

The ParentCamp participants joined ED staff to build relationships, network, and talk about the issues parents face every day. ParentCamp, like the EDCamp “unconference” model for educator engagement and professional growth, provides an opportunity for families to engage in facilitated conversations that are of interest to them. Conversation topics were generated by registered participants with other topics added to the conversation board as people gathered for the day’s activities. Through discussions and sharing, parents and educators came away from sessions with effective ideas used in other parts of the country. It was a wonderfully, positive experience with many participants planning on hosting ParentCamps in their own communities.

While we know that families are children’s first and most important teacher, advocate, and nurturer, they are not necessarily seen as the experts when it comes to educating their children. Families may be the most important resource educators have for supporting positive outcomes for all children, and yet, they are often the most underutilized asset a district or school could have. It is our hope that ParentCamp USA will start conversations and build the relationships needed to create purposeful family, school, and community partnerships to improve schools and student outcomes.

Over the coming months, ED is committed to hosting and participating in ParentCamps across the country and to gathering and disseminating the tools and resources states, districts, schools and families need to build meaningful partnerships. We understand that great work is happening all across the country and want to hear your stories of successful family, school and community engagement. It is our hope that every educator will have the knowledge, tools and support they need to meet the hopes and dreams that every parent has for his or her child. After all, it doesn’t just take a village to raise a child; it takes a village to educate a child.

You can find more information about the Department’s October 26th ParentCamp USA on our Facebook page.

Please check back for more information coming soon on how you can share your stories and be a part of a movement to support family, school and community partnerships in your community.

Tell Us Your Story

One of the best ways to start the conversation is through the exchange of best practices. In the form below, tell us about a successful family engagement program in your community and we’ll share it with our readers.

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Note: Stories submitted through this web form along with your first name may be featured on ED.gov and may be posted on ED's social media channels.

Vicki Myers is a Special Assistant in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.

Reflections from a Roundtable Discussion with the National Principal of the Year Finalists: Different Contexts, Similar Leadership

Every year the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) selects a national Principal of the Year. During this year’s selection process they brought their three finalists to Washington DC to connect with local legislators, policy makers, and officials in the United States Department of Education. These are reflections from a conversation with these three principal finalists led by some of the Department’s Teaching and Principal Ambassadors Fellows.

I had the wonderful opportunity a few Fridays ago to moderate a roundtable discussion with the three finalists for the National Secondary School Principal of the Year. As I heard their responses during the discussion, I couldn’t help but notice that while each of the three finalists came from vastly different contexts, there were common threads that ran among their responses.

The conversation around teacher development, for example, led all three candidates to discuss the importance of teachers and acknowledge that teachers are critical for high-functioning schools. I was particularly taken by a quote from Patty Fry, the principal of Plymouth South High School in Plymouth, Massachusetts, who said, “If we don’t have good principals, we can’t keep good teachers; if we don’t have good teachers, we have nothing.” This statement explains why leadership is critical to schools and the important role both principals and teachers play in student success.

The other thing that struck me during the conversation was the relentlessness demonstrated by each of these three individuals. On several occasions there was mention about not taking no for an answer and finding ways to overcome obstacles that stand in the way of what is best for kids. Principal Kyle Hoehner of Lexington High School in Lexington, Nebraska, explained, “If we are told we can’t do it, we still find a way … if it is best for kids you always find a way.”

Principal Alan Tenreiro of Cumberland High School in Cumberland, Rhode Island, who was ultimately selected as the NASSP National Principal of the Year, summed it up by saying, “We create a culture of trust, where teachers are not the objects of change, but the agents of change.” That is, a good principal doesn’t try to control how teachers teach; rather she empowers teachers to make the changes needed to meet the best interest of students.

This statement resonated the most with me because I realized that any of the finalists would identify, but so would a lot of principals across America. Principals everywhere are transforming life outcomes for our children and are committed to working hand in hand with teachers to be agents of change. It is truly a position where context matters, but at the heart, there are far more similarities you find among great leaders than differences.

Joseph Manko is the Principal of Liberty Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland, and a Principal Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

ParentCamp USA: Through My (Mom of 2 Military-Connected Kids) Lens

Cross-posted from the Families on the Home Front blog.


When I received an email about ParentCampUSA from my Managing Partner with the subject line “GO TO THIS,” I RSVP’d immediately. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to go to a camp for parents at the Department of Education? As I read more about the objective for ParentCampUSA, I realized I could not pass up the opportunity to go to a conference dedicated to helping me become more engaged in my children’s education. Really? Someone out there besides me thinks I should be engaged with the system that is responsible for my children’s road to success? Count me in!!

Truth be told I know schools want parents to be engaged in their children’s learning as well as active at their children’s school. As a school psychologist and a parent of school-aged kids, I feel I have a solid understanding of what parent engagement should be and why it is important. What I sometimes struggle with are the When, Where, and Hows of parent engagement in schools. This may be because as a military family we have moved eight times in 16 years, and when my oldest child started 7th grade, he was starting his 9th school. Transitioning between schools so frequently makes it difficult to get involved – to engage – because it isn’t always clear how a school promotes parent engagement beyond typical volunteering roles. I have found that if I take the initiative and approach educators with ideas for helping at the school they are receptive. It could be suggested if schools took the initiative to engage parents on multiple levels and invite them to schools, parents would dive in and get involved!


I went to ParentCampUSA to learn more about this initiative and determine how I can play a role in encouraging other military families to engage with their schools and learn ways to increase Parent Engagement in my school community. I left ParentCampUSA with a sense of empowerment and have already started reaching out to the school community. Keep these following takeaways from ParentCampUSA in mind if you want to join, or start, the conversation on When, Where and How you can improve Parent Engagement at your school.

  • Parent Engagement is about building a relationship between educators and families by connecting parents to the school in ways that have nothing to do with volunteering and everything to do with empowering families to play a major role in their child’s education.
  • Parents are stakeholders in the education system their children are in and entitled to a seat at the table, a voice in the discussion, and a vote in decision-making.
  • Parent Engagement efforts should be based on the needs of the families at the school. Many schools have subgroups of students with specific needs, and their parents have specific needs as well. For example, a school with military connected students should be engaging those parents at the school level, learning about their unique needs, and collaborating with these families to better meet those needs. (Note: These steps may be taken for any subgroup including ESL, immigrant populations, homeless families, families with special needs children, etc.)
  • Schools would benefit from providing the framework for parent groups. Let the schools act as the center of the community and bring parents and teachers together to discuss hot topics they are facing raising and teaching children in today’s world. Schools can bring in experts from the field from whom parents and educators alike can learn from.

I went to ParentCampUSA and put on my military family lens to determine how I can better connect the military community with the school community. I strongly believe the way to do this is to encourage parents and educators to partner together and determine When, Where and How improving Parent Engagement in a school takes place. If you are interested in bringing a ParentCampUSA to Northern VA, contact us, and we will work together to do so. If you are interested in exploring the unique needs of military families and want to include this in an upcoming ParentCamp, contact Families on the Home Front, we will help, we’re in this together!

Becky Harris is managing director of Families on the Home Front.

Love At First Sight: Rethinking School Discipline

The Dignity In Schools Week of Action Panel.

The Dignity In Schools Week of Action Panel.

In the context of school discipline, in my experience, students have regularly shared their pain and frustration of not being able to connect the discipline received to the infraction or explanation provided by adults who say they care about them.

This is just one of the many reasons why the Department of Education is committed to rethinking school discipline.

During the 2015 Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Legislative Conference in September, I participated in a panel discussing disparities in school discipline, specifically strategies to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline. Anita Sewell shared her story of being suspended for correcting her teacher about the history of civil rights activists. Sewell was frustrated with what she deemed a flawed lesson, and knew her tone of voice likely became inappropriate, but she also thought her voice was neither valued nor heard. I frequently hear versions of this story throughout the country in my role as Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

In October, I joined a panel with Miajia Jawara, a youth advocate and member of the Dignity in Schools Campaign. Miajia began by highlighting what felt like a positive experience, noting she was given an alternative to suspension by an educator who felt she was gifted and special – only to realize all of her classmates weren’t getting that same second chance. While appreciative, Miajia and other advocates struggled with feeling some students were placed on a pathway to juvenile justice and ultimately long-term confinement. This was amplified with the release of a fact sheet during the event showing the huge gap in investments between funding for schools and funding for jails in some states.

Anita Sewell passionately shares her experience.

Anita Sewell passionately shares her experience.

These examples, and many others like them, highlight the need for caring and concerned adults to consider how and why students face consequences in schools and communities. Rethinking school discipline should mean using data to inform us about where there may be harsh and unfair practices, as well as considering what it looks like to hold students accountable for their behavior in ways that support positive development and accelerate learning and achievement. Using tools like the story maps created by the U.S. Department of Education to view a district’s discipline story can move stakeholders from being unclear how they can help to action, and ensure all students’ rights are protected.

Recently the National Black Child Development Institute celebrated its 45th annual conference. I participated in a panel discussion where we were charged with analyzing connections between education and the criminal justice system. Jeremiah, an eight year-old, asked the crowded room of adults how he can be sure his teachers will keep him safe and secure at school. The fact that he felt the need to ask this question was not only heart-wrenching, but also showed that even our youngest scholars grapple with the messages we send them when we exclude them from schools. Jeremiah’s reality is also a reason why we are being proactive about taking steps to eliminate exclusion from schools for our youngest students.

Jeremiah and his brother Joshua addressing the audience. (Courtesy: William Lee, NBCDI)

Children, like adults, sometimes make mistakes. Students understand the power of their voice and also acknowledge they don’t always act appropriately. However, they expect adults to see them as valuable from the moment they arrive at school, and to support their path into adulthood especially when they make mistakes. Please join the Administration as we continue to Rethink Discipline, making sure every student not only has a high quality school to attend, but feel welcomed the moment they enter our doors, receiving our love at first sight.

Khalilah M. Harris is Deputy Director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.

Open Educational Resources – Opening Up a World of Difference

Teaching children about the world requires access to a vast and varied resource bank. Prior to the digital age, teachers like me relied on limited primary source and dated secondary source materials. By the time a social science textbook arrived at the classroom, it was outdated. Open Educational Resources (OER), however, changes the landscape of the classroom as teachers can access rich current materials of varied genres for students of all ages and abilities. For students like mine, it’s a sea change.

As a teacher in a rural school in northern California, my students now have access to digital technology, as funding streams finally shift away from materials that expire soon after they are placed into my students’ hands. By using OER, I can collect, review, and strategically select resources that best meet the needs of my students and the task. OERs also address the distinct challenge of geographic isolation. Teachers can provide learning opportunities that were once impossible through these resources without ever having to leave the campus.

A great example of the power of OERs can be seen in the Williamsfield Community Unit School District (Number 210) in Williamsfield, Illinois. This small, rural district exemplifies the promise of OER by providing cost-effective and up-to-date resources and learning opportunities for students. As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow on the Department’s Back to School Bus Tour, I had the pleasure of seeing the progressive and innovative approach this district—serving 310 pre-kindergarten through 12th grade students—is taking. Williamsfield is one the country’s leading Future Ready School Districts. A tour of the school highlighted how all students are learning about the world and developing skills they need for life as they access these high-quality, openly licensed digital resources. I had the pleasure of listening in as three high school students presented their micro-grid alternate energy solution to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. These students used readily available technology to access OER as they engaged in a meaningful learning experience. Williamsfield shows us what is possible. Just because you are a student in a rural school district, you are no longer limited by your geographic locale thanks to OER.

The Department also recently highlighted OER at a White House Symposium. Secretary Duncan discussed the use of OER to support all students, no matter their zip code.

I encourage educators to take some time to explore OER and expand their resources banks. The students of our nation need to listen to, see, read and make meaning of a vast collection of resources to build their capacity toward becoming literate citizens who continually build their knowledge of content topics and the world.

Nancy Veatch is the 5th and 6th grade teacher at Bend Elementary School in Cottonwood, California, and a 2015 Teaching Ambassador Fellow with the U.S. Department of Education.

Bringing the Oxygen Back into the Classroom

My life-long passion is teaching. While I’ve taught a number of grades in a wide variety of settings over the past 23 years, fourth grade is the grade I adore. And, as passionate as I am about teaching, I have been equally passionate in sharing my concern that our youngest learners are spending too much time on low-quality, developmentally inappropriate, and redundant assessments.

This is why I cheered when I saw the video the President posted on Facebook and the testing action plan the Department released this past week. I’ve been concerned for many years about the impact of over-testing on the fourth graders in my class, but the impact really hit home for me two years ago when I witnessed one of my students suffer severe side effects of both physical and mental anxiety about testing.

After this, I resolved to advocate for improving the assessment situation. I decided that I had to look at the things that I could control. I took inventory of every test prep I was required to use and cut test review to the bare minimum of what was required. Taking the He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named approach, I quit saying the name of the test. Each time a student said that they were learning something because it would be on the test, I challenged my students to connect learning to real life instead. When I was required to use material that had the name of the test, I had the students brainstorm ways this material would help us outside of the classroom. I promised my students and their parents that they would be prepared for the test, but told them that we would not be talking about it on a daily basis.

All of this helped, and testing results weren’t impacted. I still worried, however, about my students losing their childhoods to tests that required students to be silent for most of the school day several times a year and disliked the rules that limited me in what I could say to comfort nine-year-old students with tears streaming down their faces.

As a Teaching Ambassador Fellow, I have had the opportunity to share my concerns several times. I’ve also heard from teachers, principals, parents and students around the country. So last year, when Secretary Duncan said that issues with testing were, “sucking the oxygen out of the room in too many schools,” I cried.

It is time we pumped that oxygen back into education for all students and gain back instructional time for learning things that bring our students joy and skills for their future. It is time that we all reflect on how to improve the ways we assess students. The President’s Testing Action Plan outlines principles to move assessment and learning into balance. It also gives everyone involved a chance to take inventory of what we can do to ensure that all tests are worth taking, that they are high quality, that they don’t take up too much time, and that they are fair and fully transparent to students and parents. It is time we use teacher’s expertise to rethink assessments.
I have a quote in my fourth grade classroom from a favorite book, Hooray for Diffendoofer Day:

We’ve taught you that the earth is round,

That red and white make pink,

And something else that matters more –

We’ve taught you how to think.

Let’s free up the time students spend on redundant testing and teach them how to think!

 JoLisa Hoover is a 4th grade teacher at River Ridge Elementary School in Leander Independent School District near Austin, Texas and a 2015 Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Pay for Success Catching on as Early Childhood Education Funding Option

A new poll shows that early childhood education is a national priority for Americans, regardless of party. Now more than ever, voters see quality early learning as a necessity for today’s families. But the question raised is how to pay for these programs. The Administration is working in multiple ways to find funding for early learning.

Pay for Success (PFS) is an innovative financing model that states and communities are studying, and beginning to use, to fund early learning and other programs. PFS leverages philanthropic and other private dollars to fund services for a target population that measurably improve the outcomes for the individuals and communities. Because it focuses on outcomes, PFS appeals to taxpayers who want their dollars spent wisely.

In a PFS project, clearly defined and measurable goals for the services are determined upfront. Private funders pay for the cost of the services, and government pays back the private funders, with a reasonable return, only if the goals are achieved. This allows the government to partner with philanthropies and other investors to help drive evidence-based innovation and invest in what works.

In order to deepen expertise and capacity in this area, ED recently announced that Janis Dubno has joined the Department as a PFS Fellow. Janis comes to ED from the Policy Innovation Lab at the University of Utah where she is a Senior Fellow. She has extensive experience in PFS and played a critical role in developing and implementing the first early education PFS project, located in Utah.

Initial and newly released results of the Utah project indicate the intervention and the financing mechanism have been successful. Fewer children required special education services in kindergarten as a result of having attended high quality preschool, triggering the first investor payment in a PFS project in the United States. In addition, the Utah Preschool PFS project helped gain bi-partisan political support for the first state appropriations for high quality preschool in Utah in 2014.

Janis’ efforts will directly build upon the significant work that ED has already undertaken to explore and advance uses of PFS models to improve student outcomes. She will also help ED develop new ways to use PFS to expand effective educational programs.

PFS supports ED’s interests in supporting initiatives that are based on evidence; focused on outcomes; and ultimately designed to improve early, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary education while generating savings for taxpayers.

Libby Doggett is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education.

Supporting College Access, Affordability and Completion Through a Financial Aid Experiment for Students in Dual Enrollment Programs

Postsecondary education is one of the most important investments students can make in their future. Yet the cost of this investment is higher than ever, creating a barrier to access for some students, particularly those from low-income families. Furthermore, students graduating from high school are not always sufficiently prepared for success in postsecondary education. They may not have had access to rigorous coursework that prepares them for college, or to the support structures that allow them to thrive in a college environment.

One model that is expanding opportunities for students to access and succeed in postsecondary education is dual enrollment, in which high school students enroll in academic programs offered by postsecondary institutions. Students who have attended a dual enrollment program are more likely to apply to, enroll in, and succeed at college. These students not only benefit from the academic experience of learning at a college level, but also often are more able to picture themselves in college, pursuing a postsecondary degree.

Today, we are announcing an experiment focused on dual enrollment. The experiment will enable high school students enrolled in dual enrollment programs that are offered by participating institutions to access federal Pell Grants. We hope that this experiment will help us understand the impact of Pell Grants on opportunities for students from low-income backgrounds to participate and succeed in dual enrollment programs. We also hope that the students we reach will be able to earn enough college credit to help them complete college more quickly, and with less debt. To help students succeed in these programs, we are seeking institutions offering structured programs that support students throughout the program.

This experiment builds on the Administration’s efforts to make college more affordable while strengthening community colleges—the institutions that offer the majority of dual enrollment programs. It also expands the Administration’s work to increase access for low-income students through the help of Pell Grants.

In the coming weeks, we will be publishing a notice in the Federal Register inviting postsecondary institutions that partner with secondary schools and LEAs to offer dual enrollment programs to submit letters of interest to participate in this experiment. We hope that this program will help make college more accessible and affordable for many students, and will better prepare students for college.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.

New Resource Guide Helps Undocumented Students Achieve Their Dreams

On Tuesday, October 20, 2015, the U.S. Department of Education released a resource guide to support undocumented students in high school and college. The guide aims, “to ensure that all students have access to a world-class education that prepares them for college and careers.”

The effort will help individuals and organizations invested in education better support undocumented youth, including Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients. The guide’s objectives include: helping educators and school staff support undocumented students academically, debunking misconceptions and clarifying undocumented students’ legal rights, sharing information about financial aid options, and supporting youth to apply for DACA consideration or renewal.

Resources like those listed in the guide were critical for me. As an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland and the first intern at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics who was a DACA recipient, I have been directly impacted by the resources and tools provided by the Obama administration which help improve the educational trajectory of undocumented students.

When my family moved from Colombia to the United States, I was six years old. I would have never imagined having the opportunities that DACA afforded me. DACA allowed me to continue pursuing my dreams of a obtaining a quality higher education. As a DACA recipient, I was able to apply for and obtain a Hispanic Scholarship Fund scholarship and become a Frank Karel Fellow in Public Interest Communications. And, I was able to get a driver’s license, which allowed me to drive to and from campus, making my education more accessible.

For undocumented youth in the U.S., the future can feel uncertain. Yet it is deeply significant and helpful that schools continue to welcome all students regardless of status, educators and counselors remain trustworthy and understanding of the sensitivity around this critical issue, and students have access to resources that support their attainment of a higher education, including financial aid options. Absent of true immigration reform, and as I work towards helping ensure a brighter future for more Latinos, including undocumented youth and DACA recipients, I will continue to share my story with the hope that more students will come out of the shadows and apply for DACA.

Since 2012, more than 680,000 young people who were brought to the United States as children have received DACA. The majority of these applicants are of Hispanic origin. Research indicates that about 1.5 million undocumented youth in the U.S. are currently eligible for DACA and that 400,000 more young people will be eligible in coming years. The new Resource Guide is an invaluable tool for educators who are dedicated to supporting the educational attainment and success of all their students, including those who are undocumented. For me, receiving DACA was a life-changer, allowing me to reach my full potential.

Access the resource guide here.

Karen Vanegas is an intern at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics.

The Power of Principals: Why They are so Important to Building Great Schools

Everyone remembers a teacher that inspired them. How many of us remember our principals? Principals are responsible for ensuring our schools are open, that the teachers who inspired us are receiving the support he or she needs, and that our classrooms are environments that will help us learn.

I was inspired by a principal. But, it wasn’t when I was a child; it was when I was a teacher. And that inspiration has guided me to become a principal who continues to adapt and learn based on what I saw worked and didn’t work.

My principal, Jill Myers, inspired me to lead. She helped me become a strong teacher. She opened doors for me in education, challenged me, and supported me. She showed me that strong leadership builds strong schools. What I learned from my principal was that leadership matters.

When I was a first-year teacher in the South Bronx, I almost left the teaching profession. Like many, I was new; I was hopeful and wanted to make a difference. But, I still didn’t know how yet. Great teachers aren’t born – they are nurtured and developed. Great teachers have a mentor that helps them grow.

The strongest model for schools is one in which principals are creative, innovative instructional leaders. They find opportunities for their teachers to lead. They support teachers in their growth and create a safe space for adults to take risks in their learning. As we look at what builds a great school, we need to look at the principal. Who is at the helm? What vision have they set for their communities? How have they developed an environment that fosters learning and creativity?

Our kids need great teachers. And our teachers need great leaders. One can’t exist without the other. Principals bring in opportunities for their communities – they find resources where there weren’t any before. They connect families. They find places for children to thrive both in and outside of the classroom.

As a Principal Ambassador Fellow, I am proud to be able to represent principals in education. With this fellowship, ED recognizes that principals can make a huge difference in a school. This October, for National Principals Month, I urge you to get to know your principal. My hope is that the next generation of students will say that their principal inspired them to lead, and as a result, more great schools will emerge and continue to thrive.

Alicia Pérez-Katz is a 2015 Principal Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education

Critical New Protections for Students, Borrowers, and Taxpayers

This blog originally appeared on Medium.

Protecting students and borrowers has been central to President Obama’s higher education agenda and initiatives since day one. From holding career training programs accountable, ensuring they provide valuable education without drowning students in debt, to ending huge subsidies to banks and reinvesting that money for students, especially the neediest students who rely on Pell Grants — this Administration has made student, borrower, and taxpayer protection a top priority. Today we are announcing the publication of two sets of final regulations that build on these efforts to provide important new protections for students and taxpayers’ investment in higher education.


Over the past several years, partnerships between banks and colleges have led schools to market debit and prepaid cards to students, often giving students the impression that their school is endorsing that financial product. Students are likely to trust this endorsement, making them a particularly vulnerable population. These cards are marketed as a way for students to receive their Federal student aid meant to pay for books, rent, and other necessities. Government reports and investigations by consumer groups found that in some cases, students were either strongly urged or given no choice but to sign up for these accounts as a way to receive their financial aid.

The problem with some of these school-bank partnerships is that students who want to use the bank accounts they had before arriving on campus may be forced to take extra steps and experience delays to have the aid disbursed. In some cases, students were required to mail or fax in paper forms or to wait weeks for their refunds. But the bigger problem is that many of these school-endorsed accounts include fees that aren’t clearly disclosed to the student — like overdraft fees or fees for every debit purchase using a PIN — or schools only make funds accessible through a single fee-free ATM meant to serve thousands of students. These fees can add up and be burdensome, especially for college students trying to make ends meet.


It is critically important to ensure that students can choose freely how to receive their federal student aid refunds. Students need objective, neutral information about their account options; and they should be able to choose to receive deposits to their own bank accounts, rather than being forced to sign up for campus cards with unreasonable fees and obscure account terms. The new regulations ensure that these goals will be met, and students will have the protections they are entitled to.

The final regulations we’re announcing today will protect students against onerous fees, require schools to provide students with the ability to easily access their aid for free, and require schools to disclose the terms of their partnerships with financial institutions.

Today also marks another important milestone in an effort called for by the President in June 2014 to allow five million more student borrowers in the Direct Loan program to cap their student loan payments at 10 percent of their monthly income without regard to when they borrowed their loans. The final rule establishes a new income-driven repayment plan — called the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) Repayment Plan. In addition to the monthly payment cap, REPAYE will forgive remaining debt after twenty years for those who only borrowed for undergraduate study and twenty-five years for those who borrowed for graduate study. The REPAYE plan will also provide a new interest subsidy benefit to prevent ballooning loan balances for those whose income-driven payments cannot keep up with accruing interest.

The new repayment plan will be available to borrowers starting in December of this year.

Ted Mitchell is U.S. Under Secretary of Education.