20 Years of Conviction and Hope: Why we do the work we do

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. (Part One)
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Twenty years of conviction and hope. That is the spirit of New Leaders and everyone who makes our work possible. New Leaders staff—57% of whom identify as people of color—are former classroom instructors, principals, system and industry leaders. We bring our diverse experiences and interdisciplinary perspectives to every aspect of our work.

We are passionate, driven, and credible. We are equity-focused and student-centered. We are innovative and adaptive. Today, in the face of the pandemic and ongoing call for racial justice, we are working tirelessly to build schools that create a more just world, especially for underestimated and underserved students of color. The need for equity-focused leaders has never been greater—and our work is more important than ever.

Each of our staff members has a different “why” story that draws them to our work and ultimately connects us all. In honor of our 20 year anniversary, we are celebrating the conviction and hope that fuels our impact.

Want to learn more about WHY we do what we do? Hear from five of our staff members:

LaWanda Hill, Executive Director, Program Implementation, 7+ years, New Leaders Alum, 2005

“Growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandmother who had no formal education. Though she was instrumental in teaching me to count, it did not take long for me to realize that school offered it differently. I learned to code switch before I could define it, but I also learned early lessons of equity and access. Quality education is crucial; particularly to those marginalized due to race and poverty. This personal intersectionality keeps me grounded and connected to opportunities to alleviate such inhumane practices in public education.”

Sarah Meacham, Senior Manager, Program Learning, 2+ years

“Due to a cognitive disability, my little sister was never truly included or celebrated in the same public schools where I did well. I have always wanted to help figure out how to make schools work for everyone. I am inspired by principals and teachers who have the vision and skill to create equitable and transformative school cultures. When a K-12 school is engaging all its students and encouraging them to bring their unique perspectives without bias or barrier, it can be the most exciting place in the world.”

Wendy Perdomo, Executive Director, Professional Development & Training, 7+ years

“I grew up in low income housing in Harlem in the late 70s /early 80s in a household of five with two non-English speaking parents who both had less than a high school education. My parents made huge sacrifices to put my sisters and I through parochial schools, however, growing up I was keen on the “haves” and “have nots” and knew that education was my ticket to a different life. That remains true today—a quality education is a ticket out for many students and that’s why I am committed to this work. Your demography should never define your destiny.”

Noah Wepman, Chief Financial & Strategy Officer, 3+ years

“My why is Mrs. Early and Mr. Bryant. Those teachers, at different times in my life when I had things happening outside of school that affected me in school, provided me with the social and emotional supports I needed, while continuing to push me academically. I’ve been fortunate in my life and even with that, the importance of teachers that believed in me and supported me has had a huge impact. I do this work so that every child in every classroom in every school has teachers like Mrs. Early and Mr. Bryant that can help unleash their potential.”

Krista Lewis-Johnson, Senior Executive Director, Program Design & Leadership Academy, 8+ years

“I was born and raised in a small rural area in South Carolina. Although resources were scarce, my parents instilled a love for education in my siblings and me. Their decision to go back to college in their thirties, with four children, changed the trajectory of my life and shaped my perspective on how education and the opportunities that spring from it, changes everything. Witnessing how education changed our household, coupled with my desire to be a teacher, I became fascinated and passionate about the art of teaching and learning (at all levels) and creating opportunities for people.

Over the years and through the privileges that I have had to work in both rural and urban school districts, I’ve seen students in the most troubling, underserved environments outperform other students because conditions were created for them to thrive and there was a belief that they could learn and excel. They rose to the expectations.

And, that’s my why! I do this work because I believe that when conditions are created for learning and there are beliefs in the capabilities of leaders, teachers, and students, we’ll consistently see “all students learning.” I want nothing more than for every black and brown student, like my own children, to have opportunities galore.”

Learn more about our two decades of transformational impact. Visit: 20years.newleaders.org

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