Podcast: Elisa Villanueva-Beard on Teacher Leadership

Imagine following one of the most recognizable CEOs in the world and taking on an organization that was shrinking and facing political and financial pressure. Elisa Villanueva-Beard (@VillanuevaBeard) did just that in 2013 following Wendy Kopp as CEO of Teach for America. She cut 40% from the central budget and rejuvenated the organization ensuring that all 51 TFA programs are connected to their local community. 

Today, more than 7,000 corps members reach more than 400,000 students in 2,500 schools across America. Of the 53,000 alumni, 85% work in education or in careers serving low-income communities. That includes 1,260 school leaders, 471 school system leaders, 500 policy and advocacy leaders and 200 social entrepreneurs. It’s an amazing legacy of leadership. 

Elisa responding to the opportunity to teach in Phoenix in 1998. She went on to lead TFA in the Rio Grande Valley. After four years leading a region, she became the Chief Operating Officer for the network. After a dozen years, she became co-CEO, then CEO. 

On the mission of TFA, Villanueva-Beard sees it as a combination of delivering top talent to needy classrooms, reinventing teacher preparation and building talent in the education sector. It’s about “bringing remarkable diverse talent into the fight for education equity, it starts in the classroom, it’s a promise to the kids.”

The TFA bargain remains strong. “Many young people are justice-oriented,” said  Villanueva-Beard. “They appreciate getting proximate to the issue.”

Last year TFA received 47,000 applications for 3,700 spots. They remain rigorous about selection based on studying the best teachers. 

On taking over for a legendary leader, Villanueva-Beard said: “It’s important to understand issues and how hard it is to change; it’s important to stick with something over time and walk through all the seasons, test your own leadership and build self-awareness.”

She believes in supporting regional leaders that are unapologetically values aligned, think boldly thinking about TFA’s contribution, believe in possibility, and seek to influence a community conversation. 

Villanueva-Beard is leading a strategy reconsideration looking at assets and liabilities, seeking to understand this new generation and how to utilize 53,000 alumni, how to expand their impact on educational equity.

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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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