20 Years of Conviction and Hope (Part Five)

In honor of our 20 year anniversary, New Leaders is celebrating our talented and committed staff—and the passion that draws each of us to our work.
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A quality K-12 education can, and should, be accessible to all children in the U.S. For more than 20 years, New Leaders has equipped equity-minded education leaders to be powerful and positive forces for change, especially in the most marginalized communities. 

Our New Leaders staff are also powerful and positive forces for change. As former classroom teachers, principals, school system and industry leaders, we bring our diverse experiences and interdisciplinary perspectives to every aspect of our work. We are determined to break down every obstacle to student success. 

Today, in honor of our 20 year anniversary, we are celebrating the passion that fueled our two decades of impact. Each of our staff members has a different “why” story that draws them to our work. Hear from six of our staff members on the passion that led them here. 

And, if you’re looking for more inspiration, check out the full series.

Denise Corbett Dennis, National Senior Executive Director, National Aspiring Principals Fellowship, 13 years 

My family and upbringing serve as the foundation for “my why.” I was born and raised in Greensboro, NC. Greensboro is home to the “Greensboro Four” and widely known for being a catalyst for the sit-in movement that spread during the fight for desegregation. My parents were both educators and advocates for civil rights. They instilled in me a strong sense of pride in myself, love for my community, commitment to education, and a responsibility to fight for social justice. Their legacy and the opportunity to improve life outcomes for students is “my why.”

Pari Pinyo, Director, Talent Acquisition, 7 years

I was first drawn to New Leaders by the mission and vision, developing transformational, equity-minded school leaders and advancing policies and practices that ensure high academic achievement for all children—especially students of color and students from communities with lower incomes. That resonated in me because my father worked in Chicago Public Schools for 20 years as an ESL teacher. I remember him always thinking of his students and living for others. Even in his retirement, he was helping to grow the church in Thailand. A lot of those beliefs passed down to me, and I’ve dedicated my career to underserved populations. 

At New Leaders, this was an opportunity to continue my father’s work in education but from a different angle. Not from the classroom but identifying talent for leadership. This is my opportunity to give back and support educators and administrators who put students first, people like my father.


Jackie Gran, Chief Officer for Policy & Strategic Initiatives, 15 years

My parents served a combined total of 80 years in underserved schools in Philadelphia—my mom as a guidance counselor and my dad as a special education/resource room teacher. Dinner table conversations ranged from the work they loved—creating spaces and supports for kids to thrive—to the systemic challenges at the district and state level. I learned early that an excellent public education is both an inherent right for every single child and critical for a just society.

Anne Thomas, Senior Executive Director, Program Implementation & Adjunct Trainer Corps, 4 years, New Leaders Alum, 2006

I started my education career teaching immigrant and refugee students in inner-city schools in Fort Worth, Texas, and over the next several years of my career, I worked in a wide array of schools spanning all socioeconomic groups and grade levels. When I started my New Leaders Residency in Memphis, I saw educational disparity firsthand on a daily basis for a targeted group of students and was appalled. It was at that point I knew that I would spend the rest of my life fighting for educational equity, access, and excellence for all kids. New Leaders made that a reality.

Danielle Goddard-Ellis, Director, Program, 6 years 

I was born to a single mother with five children who often had to make many sacrifices to provide the very basics. Despite the many challenges, she always provided the best for us and encouraged education. She always wanted to be a math teacher but didn’t have the means to make her dream a reality. From there, a sense of purpose in me was born, and with grit and resiliency, I was able to attend the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) and still the only one to graduate in my family post-high school. Although I was an honor roll student in high school, college was very difficult for me as I wasn’t properly prepared for the rigorous expectations and had to take many remedial math courses and repeat a few others. As if my familial challenges weren’t enough, I encountered a high school counselor who didn’t know much about me but determined I wasn’t “college material” from an interest survey my junior year. She failed to think enough of me to recommend any Advanced Placement courses or SAT practice classes. Due to my lack of preparation, I didn’t get accepted to UMCP at first and attended community college. After completing 49 credits, I reapplied and was accepted. I went on to graduate and now hold a B.S. in Elementary Education, and an M.S. and Ed.D. in Educational Leadership. 

This experience of being discouraged by adults who are hired to be advocates for children is all too real for our students today. I want to ensure that leaders place only the best educators and service providers before children and build their capacity to ensure all students learn at high levels, are prepared for college and/or the workforce, and have CHOICES in life. Adults should never doubt a child’s interest and ability but instead, encourage and guide. I will always be an advocate for children and help to leverage parents’ abilities to advocate for their children. It’s my mother’s legacy.

Donna Carter, Senior Manager, Operations-Finance, 7 years 

I always knew I wanted to do something with math and found my way into the accounting field, but the path was not easy. In fourth grade, I memorized the entire math textbook. My Catholic school teachers were dismayed. And I was prohibited from doing any more math homework for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, this experience took away my love for learning. I’ve now turned this experience into fuel for my daily work at New Leaders. Every child has the right to a quality education. And working with budgets is my way of contributing to our mission and fighting for racial justice.

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