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Julie Jackson

Managing Director, Uncommon Newark

New York, NY

No other options existed but to push forward and succeed – too many children’s futures depended on it.

I move forward with the inspiration to dream big, think big picture, stay focused on the goal of student achievement and keep the expectation simple: No child should be in a school I would not want my own son or daughter to attend.

Twenty years ago I answered the call: Urban education was in a crisis, and I needed to join this very important movement to close the achievement gap. Twenty years later, I still answer the call.  However, the question I now ask myself is, “What should be my level of impact?” For so long, I had pushed myself to continually grow, first from a teacher to a dean, then to a high school principal, and finally to a founding elementary principal. I was given stretch assignments, such as coaching four principal fellows who led their own schools in the North Star network.

Newark was in urgent need of more rigorous, high-achieving schools, and I saw North Star as the catalyst for providing more of the city’s children an excellent education. At this point in my career, I felt fulfilled, but I constantly wondered whether I was doing enough. Was I truly making my maximum impact?

Then in March 2012, the answer came. An opportunity arose to become the first Managing Director of all the Uncommon Elementary Schools in Brooklyn and Newark.  Managing Director of nine schools?  Was I really ready to take that on? This would mean overseeing those schools between New York and New Jersey, and coaching nine principals with different skill sets and personalities! I immediately questioned my capacity to handle this immense responsibility.  Would I spread myself too thin?

Fortuitously, a conversation with a close mentor and founder of Uncommon Schools, Norman Atkins, helped seal the deal for me. “You have nine principals and four fellows, so you have a class size of 13,” he said. “You used to teach a class of 30, so you can teach and lead a class of 13!”

His words made me realize I was more than ready to handle the demands of this position.  This was a new calling.  If I didn’t answer it now, then when? No other options existed but to push forward and succeed – too many children’s futures depended on it. With this in mind, I accepted the new role as Managing Director.

As our Brooklyn and Newark teachers opened their doors to over three thousand young scholars in August, I knew I made the right decision. I saw the faces of all the students I was now able to reach. My impact had widened tenfold. Had I just decided to stay comfortably in my previous position, away from uncertainty, I would have only made smaller ripples of change. I now know I am truly capable of making waves.

With an additional school set to open and necessary education reform on our national agenda, it is exciting to be in a key position to help shape the future of our schools and ensure more of our children succeed in college. I move forward with the inspiration to dream big, think big picture, stay focused on the goal of student achievement and keep the expectation simple: No child should be in a school I would not want my own son or daughter to attend.

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