Several days ago, Jen Alexander announced that after eight years of service at ConnCAN, she’ll be stepping down later this year.  As ConnCAN’s founding CEO, I was fortunate to work with Jen when she first joined the team as our Research and Policy Director, and I was excited and proud to see her pick up the leadership mantle as CEO several years later.  Like so many of ConnCAN’s supporters, I have deeply appreciated Jen’s leadership and tremendous contribution to the cause of educational equity in our state, and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank her for her service and congratulate her on all that she and ConnCAN’s staff and broader family of advocates and allies have accomplished during her tenure.

When I took a look back at this track record it was impressive indeed, and so if you’ll indulge me, I’m going to play the highlights reel.

When Jen first joined the team as ConnCAN’s research and policy director she immediately shone as a bright talent with a keen eye for both evidence and argument.  She led numerous projects that won national awards and recognition for groundbreaking work developing briefs and tools that empowered advocates and shaped critical policy advancements in Connecticut. This work has been impressive in both volume and scope, and has served as a national model for advocacy organizations across the country. Highlights of this work include:

  • Field Guide to Education in Connecticut (2012, 2015, 2018)
    A first-of-its kind compact and easy to use resource full of key facts and research needed to understand Connecticut’s education system and advocate for change. Under Jen’s leadership, ConnCAN has released three versions of the Guide, with the latest version coming out in just a few weeks. About 10,000 people have received the Guide. Advocacy organizations across the country, from Delaware to Colorado, have replicated their own Guides.

  • Teacher and Administrator Contract Databases (2012, 2013, 2014, 2016)
    For the first time ever, a state-based advocacy organization reviewed and compiled all 308 teacher and administrator contracts in the state into a user-friendly database that allows educators, families and policymakers to compare school district policies, see statewide trends, and advocate for student-centered policies. The site is used over 20,000 times each year.
  • Roadmap to Closing the Gap (2012)
    A groundbreaking report that showed how much progress–on a student-by-student basis–would need to be made in each school district in CT to close our achievement gaps by 2020.

  • Measuring Teacher Effectiveness (2012)
    This national award-winning report, done jointly with 50CAN and Public Impact, looked “under the hood” at the key components of effective educator evaluation systems in 10 states or school districts across the country.

  • Improving Turnaround Measures for Our Lowest Performing Schools (2016)
    The report reviews Connecticut’s current school turnaround efforts, profiles promising efforts in other states, and offers policy recommendations to improve the program.

  • Early Childhood Education in Connecticut (2015), Lessons From the Field: Profiles of Quality Early Childhood Education Programs and Implications for Connecticut (2017)
    In 2015, ConnCAN released Early Childhood Education in Connecticut, an analysis of the current state of young children in Connecticut and the early childhood education system that serves them. In 2017, ConnCAN expanded on this work by releasing Lessons from the Field, a set of case studies of high-performing programs that are currently operating in other states.

When Jen stepped up to become CEO in 2012, she already had a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the state’s students and she was able to hit the ground running.  When I was CEO, I spent a lot of time raising public awareness of the urgent need for educational improvement and making the case for a path forward. Jen carried on that work to help ConnCAN grow from a scrappy start-up to a Connecticut mainstay. Today, over 15,000 different people visit ConnCAN’s website each year and, in 2017 alone, Jen was quoted 700 times in print or digital press, reaching over 11 million viewers total. She has been quoted in state and national print, radio and TV news outlets including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Hechinger Report, Hartford Courant, New Haven Register, Governing Magazine, Times-Picayune (New Orleans), Yale Daily News, NBC, Fox, NPR, CTNewsJunkie, New London Day, Providence Journal, Education Week, The74, and the Huffington Post.

When Jen stepped up to become CEO in 2012, she already had a deep understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the state’s students and she was able to hit the ground running.

Jen also continued to build a movement by growing a community engagement team that visited nearly 50,000 homes across Connecticut, trained hundreds of volunteers and grew new alliances with faith leaders, education, business and civil rights organizations. Joining forces with Students Matter to help families from Bridgeport and Hartford file a groundbreaking federal lawsuit, Martinez v Malloy on behalf of their children to ensure that all kids have equal access to a quality education.

Through Jen’s leadership, ConnCAN’s major accomplishments include passing new policy and defeating proposals that would have rolled back progress for kids, including:

  • Increasing by 50 percent the number of students enrolled in public charter and securing cumulative increases of more than 60 percent in annual state funding for public charter schools.

  • Improving teacher and principal certification and creating alternate certification pathways to help make sure more students have high-quality educators. As part of this effort, ConnCAN’s work on legislation to help Connecticut recruit more teachers and leaders of color won national recognition.

  • Adopting and protecting college and career ready standards and aligned assessments at a time when states across the country were rolling back progress on this front.

Impressive as all this is, Jen herself would be the first to say that ConnCAN’s work is far from done.  So as Jen gets ready to hand the torch to a new leader later this year, I hope you will join me in deep appreciation for all that she has done to advance the cause of great schools for all—and likewise I hope you will also join me in recommitting to keep working together to achieve ConnCAN’s vital mission.  Jen would want nothing less.

Alex Johnston is the founder and President of Impact for Education and the former CEO of ConnCAN

Alex Johnston is a board member of the 50CAN Action Fund and the former CEO of ConnCAN: The Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now. He lives in New York, New York.

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