Leading the Charge for Better D.C. Schools

Education Forward DC organizes and sponsors new school development and improvement in the nation’s capital.

Maura Marino developed the concept as a partner at NewSchools Venture Fund, a national leader in education entrepreneurship (see feature). She borrowed ideas from three dozen other EdReform quarterback organizations (also called harbormasters) many of which members of Education Cities.

Education Forward DC seeks to advance quality and equity in public schools. The big goal is to double the number of underserved students in Washington, DC who are college and career ready, with a particular focus on at-risk and special education students.

Maura views talent development and community engagement are the big levers to ensuring every family in DC has access to a great school.

Quarterback CV

Marino graduated from a small rural high school in New Jersey. Students at Bernards High were expected to attend college–especially the daughter of the school board president.

A free trip to Stanford convinced Maura to apply. After graduating from Stanford, Marino taught on the other side of Route 101 in East Palo Alto in a charter school launched by Stanford and Aspire. (I visited Maura’s history class in the fall of 2002)

Looking for the next innovation in urban education Mario enrolled at Columbia but didn’t think the classes were making her a better teacher. She enrolled at Harvard Business School and took a class from Stacey Childress (now CEO of NewSchools Venture Fund).

After grad school, Maura joined NewSchools Venture Fund where she lead a couple of investment portfolios and learned first hand about the state of education entrepreneurship. While a partner at NewSchools, Marino launched local conversations about local needs and assets that led to forming Education Forward DC

In 2010 Maura helped Carrie Irvine launch Charter Board Partners (where we both continue to serve on the board) to help build strong and diverse board leadership in D.C. and then nationwide.

For the last two decades, NewSchools Venture Fund supported new school development in DC. Education Forward took over that role two years ago. Maura and her team work closely with the school district as well as business and community leaders to spot opportunities.

Path Forward

DC has a 20 year old charter school law and in DC Public Charter School Board has want many regard as the best authorizers in the country. The result, according to Marino is “An incredible set of options including Montessori, world language, project based learning, and expeditionary learning.”

When DC adopted Common Core State Standards, Marino saw struggling schools benefit from the ability of a startup UnboundEd, getting folks together and look at teacher practice as it applies to personalization. The experience helped convince her that networks led by support organizations can play an important role.

Because every big city is a portfolio of educational options (intentionally or otherwise), Marino is optimistic about the coordinating role quarterback organizations can play in a city particularly under the right political conditions. “More and more cities are seeing that it’s possible to move more dramatically,” said Marino.

Maura anticipates that more philanthropic funding will flow through quarterback organizations like hers supporting innovative new schools as well as efforts to scale proven models.

Education Forward is dedicated to growing high-quality schools in DC. Marino and her team think they have a shot at being a city that guarantees every student access to an excellent education.

Key Takeaways

[:33] Tom welcomes Maura Marino to the podcast.
[:36] About Maura’s upbringing and education in New Jersey.
[1:39] How and why she ended up going to Stanford University in California.
[2:31] About Maura’s teaching career after college in East Palo Alto, CA.
[4:40] Why Maura decided to go to Harvard Business School, after getting her Masters from Columbia.
[5:50] Was going to Harvard Business School a good experience for Maura?
[7:04] The different positions Maura held at NewSchools Venture Fund (where she stayed for 8 years).
[8:19] More about NewSchools and the visionary work of the early leaders.
[10:52] About the two-year-old organization Maura helped launch called Education Forward DC, and about its mission.
[11:52] Does Maura’s work with Education Forward DC build on any cities in particular?
[13:25] Does Maura see NewSchool development remaining an important part of creating a healthy ecosystem in DC?
[16:29] How the DC Public Charter School Board are an important part of the success story.
[17:44] Is school improvement an important part of Education Forward DC’s agenda?
[18:33] NewSchools relationship with the district now.
[19:34] Does Maura have the sense that these ecosystem leaders (or “quarterback organizations”) can help bring sustainability to an urban innovation and improvement agenda? Can they be part of the bridge that keeps things together in a city when the district may be undergoing change?
[21:46] Does working with like-minded schools in a network resonate with Maura and her work with Education Forward DC?

Mentioned in This Episode

Stanford University
East Palo Alto Academy
Harvard Business School
NewSchools Venture Fund
NewSchools Summit
U.S. Department of Education
Education Forward DC
Education Cities
New Schools for New Orleans
DC Public Charter School Board

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Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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