Earlier this month, I shared the news that after ten years of incredible leadership, Vallay Varro would be stepping down from her role as 50CAN’s president. Today, I am pleased to announce 50CAN’s new president: Derrell Bradford.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with and learn from Derrell for nearly 20 years, when we were both working on our first education advocacy campaign; his in New Jersey and mine one state over in Connecticut. For the past seven years I’ve been fortunate to be able to call Derrell my colleague as we worked together under the same roof at 50CAN to chart a path forward toward the future of education.
As we seek to recover, rebuild and renew our commitment to education, we will need leaders who understand what hasn’t worked about our current education system and who have the vision, skills and conviction to help us create powerful movements for change grounded in a belief in better. Derrell Bradford is the leader we need to turn this extraordinary moment into further progress for kids.
Derrell grew up on the west side of Baltimore and credits a scholarship to the St. Paul’s School for Boys for setting him on a path that led to the University of Pennsylvania and then into a life of advocacy. Throughout his journey, Derrell has focused on ensuring that all children receive the same opportunities he had.
When Derrell speaks about education, he keeps the focus on the needs of students and the accomplishments of our allies and partners across the country. He doesn’t often speak of his own accomplishments. They are significant.
He got his start in education advocacy in 2002 when he joined Excellent Education for Everyone (E3) in New Jersey, eventually rising to executive director where he led the organization in a series of campaigns that fundamentally changed the education conversation in the state to one focused on expanding opportunities for low-income students. Derrell’s tenure also laid the groundwork for the Urban Hope Act that helped bring Renaissance Schools to the city of Camden. He also served on the state’s educator effectiveness task-force which overhauled New Jersey’s teacher evaluation and accountability framework.
In 2011, he co-founded Better Education for Kids (B4K), where as executive director he helped reform what was, at the time, the country’s oldest tenure law into one that tied student performance to teacher effectiveness and tenure decisions.
In 2014, Derrell joined the 50CAN network as the executive director of NYCAN, where he established himself as a central voice for education policy throughout New York City and the state at large. As he has often done, Derrell worked with a diverse range of partners across numerous policy areas, from school choice to school finance, while always keeping the needs of kids front and center.
In 2016, I asked Derrell to help bring his experience and leadership to the rest of the 50CAN network as our executive vice president. In this role, he has served as our network’s primary national messenger, with hundreds of media hits, op-eds and keynotes. He has also guided the 50CAN network’s approach to policy and training, co-authoring briefs such as Fund Everything and training thousands of advocates across the country, from parents to educators.
Also in this role, he founded the National Voices Fellowship, our unique effort to bring together people of different political views in a bipartisan and collaborative fashion to tackle the challenges and promise of education policy in America.
In addition to his work within 50CAN, Derrell has also been an energetic and prolific supporter of a wide array of leading education organizations. He is a board member of Success Academy Charter Schools, the PIE Network, yes. every kid. and was board chair of the education finance organization EdBuild. He is a Pahara Fellow, member of the AEI Leadership Network, Senior Visiting Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and member of the practitioner council of the Hoover Education Success Initiative.
Over the past two decades, I’ve come to know Derrell as someone who cares deeply about the people he works with, always seeking to help them grow in their perspectives, skills and contributions to the work. His unique combination of relationship-building paired with strategic thinking, optimism and creativity has strengthened not only 50CAN but the education sector as a whole.
Over the coming weeks, you will be hearing a lot more from Derrell on our plans, but today, I hope you’ll take a moment to join me in congratulating him on this new role.