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Fulfilling the Promise of Education Equity and Access

December 30, 2019
All students deserve an education that can lift them toward opportunity. It's my job to help that happen.

I believe all people have dignity and potential, yet one of the most significant barriers in identifying and achieving their unique purpose is a lack of access to a rigorous education that promotes values and community.

Today, far too many children from economically disadvantaged families are not receiving even a moderately adequate education. They deserve better – and their parents deserve the chance to ensure their kids have equitable access to a good education.

In my job, I encounter countless passionate, determined leaders who want to better serve the children in their community.

Senior program officer Lori Armistead visits with students at Resurgence Hall Public Charter School in Atlanta.

I consider myself fortunate to be able to help these innovative educators turn their transformational ideas into reality, by connecting them to the financial resources and professional networks necessary to provide students with the opportunity for a better education.

I work with a staggeringly wide array of people: Talented school leaders, brilliant evaluators, parent activists, government leaders, inspiring students and philanthropists. They all have dramatically different personal experiences, yet are all, without exception, dedicated to the promise of education equity and access for all students.

At its best, a thriving education system can shape a new generation of morally responsible, civically minded adults, which are precursors for a prosperous and loving society.

When I started my first job squarely focused on education, one of my mentors, John Kirtley, invited me to attend a rally in Florida thanking Gov. Jeb Bush and state lawmakers for the state’s tax credit program that helps low-income students attend private schools.

I was seated behind John and the governor when a young woman took the stage in front of more than a thousand people to share her experience. She said that when she was 14, her mom asked her what she wanted to do by the time she turned 15. “I want to be a mom,” she said, like her own mom had been at that age. “It just seemed like the thing I was supposed to do by then.”

Instead, this young woman’s mother made a proactive decision – to enroll her in a tax-credit school that changed the course of her life. At the time I saw this woman speak, she was a junior in college and was studying to be a registered nurse.

I remember Jeb Bush turning to me and saying, ‘She’s why we do this work.’ Her story showed me the power of public policy to lift people toward opportunity.

Three words that describe my work are: Opportunity, Access and Innovation.

While our grant-making at the foundation has evolved over time, our fundamental principles – that all parents should have great options and that great teachers and school leaders should have the space to innovate and serve their communities in unique ways – are unwavering.

There are so many proven yet diverse approaches to education. But most traditional schools offer just one approach, too often based on antiquated delivery models rather than centering on students’ personal interests and talents.

If we truly diversify school design models and increase options for our kids, we can transform student potential.

This year, I sent my first-born son to Kindergarten. My husband and I chose a very small, Pre-K through 12th grade Catholic International Baccalaureate school for him because of its small school atmosphere, rigorous and global curriculum and its adherence to our religion.

I’m passionate that all parents – not just those with financial means – have the opportunity to make such a choice on behalf of their children.

In the Field is a series featuring Walton Family Foundation staff whose commitment and passion for their work is helping create access to opportunity for people and communities.
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