Vallay Varro was a founding state executive director. She now serves as the president of 50CAN.

A year ago, 50CAN welcomed the first class of five Education Advocacy Fellows to the team from more than 80 applicants. Our fellows hailed from across the country and from all walks of life, but what they had in common was a desire to do more on behalf of the kids in their communities.

The fellowship was designed to serve as an on-ramp to leadership roles in education advocacy. Over the course of the inaugural fellowship year, our fellows met with leaders in their community to understand the education landscape and share their vision for bringing a high-quality education to all kids, regardless of their address. They immersed themselves in the 50CAN system of education advocacy, taking advocacy and campaign-building classes from world-renowned professors and lecturers and worked with members of our network to learn best practices from advocates on the ground.

This training helped them grow their knowledge in significant ways and prepared them for leadership roles. We found that the fellows increased their knowledge across all categories with particularly strong growth in areas that are often overlooked in advocacy like board building and fundraising:

  • Nonprofit board development: +45%
  • Fundraising: +41%
  • Partner relations: +26%
  • Education advocacy strategies: +26%
  • Nonprofit board engagement: +20%
  • Education advocacy tactics: +15%
  • Education policy in their home state: +12%
  • National education policy: +5%

At the end of August, the first three of our five fellows in cohort 1 graduated from the program and accepted leadership positions with organizations that are driven to make a difference in their communities.

Raymond Allmon, Louisiana

Raymond joined the 50CAN fellowship after pioneering Stand for Children’s Louisiana parent organizing efforts. Throughout the fellowship, he worked with leaders across the state and built up his understanding of the broader set of advocacy tactics that could be used to move Louisiana forward. After completing the fellowship, Raymond assumed the leadership role in a new statewide Political Action Committee (PAC) supported by leading philanthropists in the state. In this role, he works to address the urgent need of electing bold leaders to serve in the Louisiana Legislature and on the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE). His belief that this critical gap had to be filled grew out of his statewide listening tour and key conversations over the last year and will benefit from the strategic plan he developed during his fellowship.

Elliot Haspel, San Francisco

Elliot joined the 50CAN fellowship after serving at Leadership for Educational Equity because he believed that there was more that needed to be done in the Bay Area to move education reform forward. Throughout the fellowship, Elliot explored the barriers to greater progress and concluded that one of the greatest needs was more electoral efforts in key communities to support change agents determined to do better than the status quo. In September 2015, Elliot took on the new role of Director of Advocacy & Engagement for Education Matters, a 501c4 associated with the Chamberlin Family Foundation (CFF). In this position, he works toward transforming student outcomes in the West Contra Costa Unified School District in the East Bay. This opportunity grew out of the relationships he formed during his fellowship year. 

Brent Kent, Indiana

Brent joined the 50CAN fellowship after serving as executive director of Students First-Indiana. During this past year, Brent used his fellowship training to examine how advocacy can improve policy across the state and focused his listening tour on identifying the biggest gaps. After completing the fellowship, Brent began working with America Succeeds to help support business-led efforts to improve education in Indiana and with Butler University on a pilot program focused on bridging the gap between cost, access and competition in higher education. 

We’re so excited to see the work these inspiring advocates will achieve in their communities. You can stay up to date on Raymond, Elliot and Brent’s work by following them on Twitter.

We’re also thrilled with the progress of fellows Nina Gilbert (Georgia) and Adam Schmidt (Wisconsin), who started the program a few months later and will be completing their fellowships later this year. We look forward to sharing their progress with you in the coming months.

In a few weeks, we’ll also share some very exciting news about the second class of Education Advocacy Fellows, so stay tuned!


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