Vallay Varro, President:
In 2011, I launched an education advocacy organization in my home state of Minnesota modeled after the vision of ConnCAN. Leading MinnCAN was one of the great professional experiences of my career, and until my transition to the national 50CAN office, I had a mentor and a friend in their CEO, Jen Alexander. This week, Jen announced that she will be leaving her role after more than eight years at the organization.
The work of education advocacy is challenging; tied to political climates and the ability to build lasting relationships. It’s also fulfilling in ways that are hard to describe. To know that your work can directly benefit every child in your community—regardless of their address—is an inspiration that drives us all. Jen’s work has resulted in historic gains for Connecticut’s children, from developing a more diverse pipeline of teachers across the state to increasing access and funding to public charter schools so that all families can find the school that works best for their child.
Jen’s path forward helped me grow as an advocate and a leader, and I will miss her pioneering vision at the helm of one of the nation’s foremost advocacy organizations. I’m proud to work alongside citizen advocates in Connecticut and beyond who can help us maintain the ethos of Jen’s work: a relentless passion to bring opportunity and equity to all children in her state.
Thank you for all that you have done, Jen. The advocacy community can’t wait to support your next endeavor.
Marc Porter Magee, CEO & Founder:
Earlier this week ConnCAN CEO Jen Alexander announced that she would be stepping down from her role this year, closing out a remarkable track record of driving change in the Nutmeg State.
I had the pleasure of working alongside Jen at ConnCAN. Her deep commitment to policy-centered advocacy became a key part of the CAN model that we have strived to bring to new states. Jen came to ConnCAN with a unique perspective on the role that research can play in shaping reform in American schools that was forged through her time at the American Federation of Teachers and the American Institutes for Research.
At AFT, Jen worked on developing new ideas for school turnarounds in the Redesigning Low-Performing Schools Initiative and on a 50-state review of academic standards for the Making Standards Matter report. At AIR she worked with local initiatives across the country to make the most of the new No Child Left Behind landscape, helping support new approaches to Supplemental Educational Services and marshaling the facts for the What Works Clearinghouse.
At ConnCAN she moved with remarkable speed in bringing this national-level commitment to policy rigor to a state-level campaign. Jen showed how powerful a commitment to policy could be when connected into a politically savvy campaign. She used data to both illuminate the many shortfalls in the state and also to forge a consensus on a path forward. Her state-level reports gained national recognition but also paved the way for important policy wins.
The reach and impact of Jen’s eight years at ConnCAN are found in nearly every corner of Connecticut, but they don’t end there. The path she blazed has served as a roadmap for advocates across the country who seek to put policy and research at the center of their commitment to changing our education systems for the better.
Derrell Bradford, Executive Vice President:
This week, my friend and colleague Jennifer Alexander announced that she is stepping down from her role as CEO of ConnCAN. Like many of us who found ourselves in the commander’s chair, Jen started out in another role: working on the research & policy team. From there, she grew to take over the stewardship of one of the oldest and most successful state-based advocacy groups our movement has known.
ConnCAN—hatched in the days of education reform’s wild optimism—was a bright light in the Northeast when the glow of reform was dim. Connecticut was intractable in a way that only the privilege of the region can create; riding on the coattails of affluence and location in a way that let the state deny its horrific achievement gaps and irrational school funding formulas. Jen’s predecessors had taken on the same challenges, but Jen had the unique privilege and burden of presiding over the rubber band of Obama-era progress and the opt-out movement. She saw the best and the worst of times in the education reform agenda during her tenure.
Normally you lead in glory because you’ve won or in fury because you’ve lost or are trying not to. It’s extremely difficult to do both, and Jen has done just that with a grace that reform leaders could surely learn from. I always watched and cheered her ability to walk through the political fires, sometimes getting scorched but never totally burned. I have admired her sensible and pragmatic approach. And I have striven to emulate her focus on what matters most: that children not only need us to be great leaders, but need us to lead, greatly. I have worked in education reform for well over a decade, and in Jen I have seen both axioms on wondrous display.
I am sad that Jen is moving on—she has accomplished so much and Connecticut is a better state for all children because of her. Connecticut’s advocacy community, the policymakers and elected officials will miss Jen. But we, her colleagues in states near and far, will miss her the most.
Good luck, Jennifer. I understand you’re going, but please don’t go too far.