Jon was born in South Jersey just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia, the city he’s called home ever since his undergraduate days at the University of Pennsylvania. It’s also the city where his interest in public schools first began: as a college student he co-founded an after-school group for students in West Philadelphia with arguably the worst acronym of all time: REal Community Exchange Starts with Students or RECESS.
After graduation, Jon made his way to Morrison Elementary School to teach reading and social studies as a Teach for America corps member. His proudest moment was coaching his girl’s basketball team to its first victory in four years with a resounding 18-12 win over its rival. While teaching, he was struck by how profoundly policy decisions impacted his classroom. So much so that he left the classroom to be a community organizer with Good Schools Pennsylvania, a statewide advocacy organization. A few years of working with community groups and legislators on education issues turned Jon into a certified policy wonk. He then joined KIPP Philadelphia Schools as their director of strategic initiatives to help manage their external relations as they entered into an aggressive growth phase. At KIPP, Jon learned how to embody its motto to Work Hard and Be Nice. He holds a master’s in education and a bachelor’s in history from the University of Pennsylvania.
The teacher who inspired Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg to start KIPP, Harriet Ball reminds me that nothing in education reform matters more than great teaching. She's an extraordinary teacher who's accomplished great things with her students, but she isn't the only one out there. Every school has teachers who are either as talented and committed as she is or who have the potential to become so with the right support. The point of education policy is to create the conditions to allow for more Harriet Balls. To see footage of her in action, check out this video.
Why I love my job:
As a teacher, you can have an impact on 30 students (or 300 if you work in an overcrowded high school!). As an advocate pushing for statewide reforms, I am making a difference for nearly 2 million students in 500 schools districts and 3,000 schools.
My connection to public schools:
I am a proud product of public schools and started my career as a middle school public teacher. More importantly, everyone in my family is an educator. My mom is a retired pre-school teacher. My sister is an opera singer and vocal instructor. My wife is a former public school teacher and current education consultant. Her two sisters are both public school teachers. My father-in-law is a professor.
What I'm bad at:
Basic handyman work. Assembling IKEA furniture is about as sophisticated as I get, and even that doesn’t come easy, as evidenced by my sloping TV stand. I also have trouble shaving without hurting myself, which is why I always have a beard. I never connected the two things until now, but maybe I just have lousy fine motor skills.
The image that represents why I work at 50CAN:
I find this picture of Barack Obama sitting in Rosa Parks’ bus incredibly moving. Clearly, a lot has changed since 1955. But at the same time, the challenges confronting low-income and minority families across the country remain inexcusable and antithetical to American values. Until all children have the ability to attend a high-quality school, there will be a profound need for organizations like 50CAN.
Photo source: Pete Souza / The White House via Getty Images