Today is a day of big change within the proverbial four walls of 50CAN (at this point, with campaign offices in five states, as well as headquarters in New York and Washington, D.C., I think that makes for 28 walls).
Teach For America has asked our very own Ellen Winn to launch and manage a brand new initiative – the School System Leadership Institute – whose goal is to prepare TFA alumni for district leadership positions. It’s the kind of in-the-thick-of-it work making real change for kids that Ellen has always been drawn to. So, it is with sadness for us but excitement for her that I must announce that Ellen has accepted the post and will wind down her work with 50CAN over the next two weeks.
When Ellen joined me and a small band of others who were working on 50CAN in December 2010, she was taking a leap of faith in the power of an idea: If we could bring top-notch, national-caliber advocacy campaigns to statehouses across the country in support of smart education reform, we could make real progress for our children and our nation.
It is a testament to Ellen that she left her perch as director of the Education Equality Project to join us at such a tender stage in the organization because she believed in that idea. She began working 90 miles an hour in service of that idea in the role of executive vice president and never let up. When I was recruiting Ellen, we were putting the finishing touches on our first prospectus, in which we envisioned a network of seven state campaigns by 2012. We called it 50CAN’s “Phase 1,” in which we would “take the organization from one pilot program in Rhode Island to an education reform powerhouse operating in seven states across the country,” with the goal of securing “at least 12 significant state policy victories in the areas of greater choice, greater flexibility and greater accountability over two years.”
Two years later, 50CAN’s Phase 1 has been brought forth through a team of 31 staff, soon-to-be seven state campaigns, a top-notch board and—most importantly—12 campaign wins to our name, in no small part because of Ellen’s tireless work. We will be honoring Ellen’s contribution by retiring her 50CAN nickname, “The Trailblazer.”
In that same initial prospectus two years ago we also envisioned a “Phase 2” of 50CAN, in which we would take everything we built in our first two years and use it as a platform to drive major policy changes across the country.
Instead of recruiting someone to try and fill Ellen’s shoes as my partner in this effort, I am taking this opportunity to introduce a new leadership structure: a seasoned executive team that will drive us forward into this new phase.
This five person executive team will consist of myself, Adena Silberstein, Ingrid Reynoso, Karen Silverman, and Vallay Varro and will usher in a new organizational structure consisting of five teams: President, Growth, Ops, Campaigns and States.
Meet the new teams
Team 1: Growth
Adena Silberstein is now the senior vice president of organizational growth, responsible for both development and 50CAN University. Previously 50CAN’s chief of staff, and before that ConnCAN’s original development director, as SVP of organizational growth Adena will ensure that 50CAN has both the financial and intellectual resources to continue our rapid growth in a smart manner.
Team 2: States
Under Vallay Varro’s leadership as senior vice president of states, starting today the States team expands to take on the full continuum: exploring new states, building support for expansion, developing political understanding, recruiting and growing advisory boards, hiring and managing executive directors and playing a stronger role in fundraising within states. Julie Marlette will move from her post as vice president of government relations to vice president of political strategy, reporting to Vallay and working on the expansion front.
Team 3: Campaigns
Karen Silverman as senior vice president of campaigns will lead the national campaigns team to become the premiere shop for innovative projects, systems and tools in the organization.
Team 4: Operations
As senior vice president of operations, Ingrid Reynoso will continue to strengthen the bones of our organization, heading up our legal compliance, recruitment, human resources, finance, operations and technology work.
We have come a long way in the past two years and I am very proud of what we have built so far with your help. Now that we have successfully built out the needed organizational infrastructure, we are in a position to innovate. This year is the year where we will take full advantage of a large network of states and start to realize the true power of the 50CAN idea.
I hope that everyone out there will join me in wishing Ellen and everyone else in the 50CAN family best of luck with their new roles and challenges—I couldn’t be more excited about what’s to come.