This essay is an installment of Generocity’s ongoing “leaders of color” guest post series, in which local leaders of color write about their experiences of leadership within Philly’s social impact community. Read more about our intentions here.
If you know me, you know that I care deeply about education: I not only work in education but am also heavily involved outside of my 9-to-5.
What drives this passion? I believe that my background is a big reason. I identify as an Indian American woman and am the daughter of immigrants, Dino and Jyoti Patel. I was born in Baltimore County, Maryland, and Philadelphia has been my home since 2008.
Education was always valued in my household and it was never a question that I would prioritize academics and pursue a post-secondary education. I always assumed I knew the reason why; however, I realized that I had never actually talked to my parents about it. Over this past Labor Day weekend, I posed these questions to my parents: Why did they immigrate to America and why is education important to them?
I found out through the conversation that my grandfather was the first one in his family to pursue an education and did not become a farmer as his brothers did. Thus, my grandfather encouraged my father and his siblings to obtain an education so they could live a comfortable life. My parents’ move to America was for opportunity and to provide the best options for the next generation, my brother and me.
I am grateful that I was able to have access to a quality public education from pre-K to 12th grade and could obtain both a college and graduate school degree. My passion each day is driven by wanting others to have the same access that I did.
I felt that there were not enough educators influencing policy decisions impacting our schools each day.
My introduction to the education field was as a first-grade teacher in Miami. Prior to coming to Philadelphia, I worked on education reform issues at the national level through the Alliance for Excellent Education, served as an AmeriCorps member in Maryland and did college access work in a Baltimore high school, so I saw education from many different lenses. The reason I pursued a public policy degree in graduate school was because I felt that there were not enough educators influencing policy decisions impacting our schools each day. (Psst, those italics will be explained later.)
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While in Philadelphia, I have impacted education in different ways. I worked in Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration for more than five years as a policy advisor and the deputy education officer. In this role, I was grateful to work on everything from early childhood to workforce and had the opportunity to build many initiatives that included the input from the communities they now benefit. After that, I was the VP of teaching and learning at the Philadelphia Education Fund where I worked with teachers each day to enhance teacher preparation and professional development and ensure that they were supported through opportunities such as teacher networks.
Currently, I am serving as the kindergarten transition fellow for the School District of Philadelphia (SDP) and will be in this position for the next two years. I work closely with the early childhood education team at the SDP as well as a variety of SDP partner agencies to investigate and create solutions to the infrastructure and operational challenges that hinder successful kindergarten transition. I am excited to be able to work with families, teachers, administrators and partners to inform the recommendations and solutions I propose and implement.
As I described my professional path in Philadelphia, I highlighted certain aspects (see the italics?) of each position I have held. The common theme among these aspects? Voice. The incorporation of the voice of the people I am serving is important to me in my work and in my decision making, and it is something I look for in a leader that I trust. A leader I trust and strive to be like listens to different perspectives, follows through and builds trusted relationships in order to “GSD” (get “stuff” done).
I will end with a quote from one of my favorite leaders and motivation for what I do each day:
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” — Martin Luther King, Jr.-30-
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