2021 Breakthrough Advocate of the Year Nominees & Winner

The Eddies!—annual, advocate-nominated and voted awards—feature outstanding policy and advocacy wins from the past year.

Nominations tell the story of how advocates improved policy and advanced opportunity, equity, and excellence for students, one community and campaign at a time.

This Eddies! category features state or local leaders who took bold actions–and succeeded–in advancing innovative policies and solutions that support their states’ and communities’ needs. Breakthroughs don’t happen overnight–being an advocacy leader is about being prepared for opportunity, and this category honors leaders who drew from deep experience and hard-fought wisdom to act fast and nimbly seize a window of opportunity to advance longstanding priorities. These leaders continue to bring fresh perspectives to complex challenges. This is the first time work has been recognized in this category.

See a complete list of 2021 nominees in all Eddies! categories.

2021 Winner

Breakthrough Advocate of the Year Nominees

Breakthrough Advocate of the Year Nominees

Daniel Anello, Kids First Chicago

At the outset of the pandemic, Daniel Anello and Kids First Chicago (K1C) did what they do best: ask parents what they need. A common theme emerged: many families lacked access to in-home internet to participate in remote learning. K1C dug into census data to understand the scale of the problem, releasing an issue brief, Digital Equity in Education in the Coronavirus Era, highlighting the startling fact that 1 in 5 children (roughly 110,000 kids) in Chicago didn’t have access to in-home internet. Gaps were worst in the city’s Black and Latinx neighborhoods.

Armed with firsthand accounts from hundreds of Chicago families and data, K1C partnered with the City of Chicago, Chicago Public Schools, philanthropic partners, internet service providers, and others to co-create a new program – Chicago Connected – to provide a long-term solution to the digital divide. Launched in June 2020, Chicago Connected has already connected 65,000 students (and 42,000 households) in its first year. It has become a national model to bridge the divide, inspiring programs in Miami, Philadelphia, and Toronto, and providing a proof point for state and federal action.

Emily Anne Gullickson, A for Arizona

Emily Anne Gullickson disrupted the status quo by putting Arizona students first and driving innovative policy solutions. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Ducey collaborated with Emily Anne and A for Arizona to leverage federal funding to fuel Innovation Microgrants and Small Learning Communities through A for Arizona’s Expansion & Innovation Fund, which ultimately seeded $1.75 million this year in local solutions to ensure Arizona’s highest-need students hit hardest by COVID-19 had access to high-quality learning environments. This work greatly informed their new robust seat time flexibility and innovation law which protected pandemic regulatory flexibilities. Emily Anne’s team led a diverse coalition to achieve the most robust open enrollment reforms since 1995, eliminating bureaucratic barriers and ensuring the public school enrollment process is simple, easy, and transparent. Arizona students can no longer be forced to attend a school solely because of where they live. Her team also brought fresh perspectives to K-12 transportation, successfully taking on the one-size-fits-all yellow school bus approach to transporting students. Direct grants to parents thru In Lieu of Transportation stipends are finally allowed and entities, local governments, and public schools can apply for funding to improve transportation systems to drive down costs, enhance safety, and provide public school students with access to more options. A for Arizona was selected to administer the $40 million Transportation Modernization Grant Program through its Fund, beginning with $20 million in the 2021-2022 school year – thus ensuring best practices to achieve true K-12 Driving Equity will be captured to scale to other states and regions. 

Joshua Kaufmann, Teach Plus Illinois

Josh Kaufmann empowered teachers to lead a campaign to author and secure passage of field-leading Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Standards in Illinois. The standards were adopted, despite well-organized opposition from local and national figures, including George Will. Kaufmann’s leadership included:

  • Sitting on the committee that authored the standards
  • Securing eight educator-written op-eds, a radio placement, and a podcast interview
  • Helping to create, promote, and publicize a sign-on letter to the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules, signed by over 50 organizations and over 600 individuals 

Following the standards’ passage, State Superintendent Dr. Carmen Ayala credited the efforts of Teach Plus teachers, writing, “The standards succeeded thanks to the voices of educators.” In addition, an Illinois State Board of Education fact sheet quotes Kaufmann, saying: “Illinois’ new standards will better prepare teachers to support and educate all of their students, regardless of background.”

Keri Rodrigues, National Parents Union

In 2020, Keri Rodrigues, mother of five and founder of Massachusetts Parent United, united like-minded leaders across the country to form the National Parents Union – an organization dedicated to placing parents and families at the center of the national education narrative, so that they can have the lives they deserve. By March of that year, the Keri pivoted NPU to virtual organizing to meet families’ pandemic needs. Daily broadcasts shared resources around remote learning, self-care, and Covid relief that reached over 15 million viewers. With a team of parent warriors from across the nation, Keri collaboratively co-created 20 national polls to quantify the perspective of parents informed by parent organizers on the ground that changed the national conversation about education during COVID-19. Throughout 2021, Keri Rodrigues and the National Parents Union have now taken a critical advisory role informing the work of the Biden Administration, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services on informing policy created around school climate and discipline while also informing their policy around improving social-emotional support and the recovery of lost learning due to the pandemic.

Lakisha Young, The Oakland REACH

Lakisha Young, co-founder and CEO of The Oakland REACH, has created a truly innovative and deeply impactful model for community-based education. The Oakland REACH has been a successful advocacy organization, but during the pandemic, Lakisha led the most powerful advocacy play yet by bringing solutions directly to families she called the City-wide Virtual Hub. The Hub provided high-quality virtual instruction that helped students grow academically and a thriving online community of parents that supported their ability to lead.  Learn more about how the Hub has changed our thinking around parent power. The Oakland REACH’s success has spread across the country.

Lakisha has been featured in countless news pieces and has been in conversation with leaders across the country to replicate the Hub. Lakisha has shown that families do not need to wait for Superman. Our families are their children’s own superheroes.

Rachel Canter, Mississippi First

Since 2008, Rachel has been championing state-funded pre-K in Mississippi. Initially, her research (Leaving Last in Line) led to the writing of the Early Learning Collaborative Act of 2013, which passed because of her dedication, advocacy skills, and ability to nurture legislative champions in the house and senate. 

When she helped pass the original law in 2013, Mississippi First hoped that within 10 years 25% of Mississippi’s four-year-olds would have access to high-quality, low- or no-cost pre-K. In 2021, because of Rachel’s ongoing dedication to pre-K, the Mississippi State Legislature doubled its most recent investment in state-funded pre-K to $16M. During the 2021-2022 school year, 16% of Mississippi four-year-olds (roughly 6,080 children) will have access to a state-funded seat. This is a historic step that ensures educational excellence for Mississippi kids. This has been a long game with a major payoff!

Not only has Rachel successfully worked to expand the state’s collaborative pre-K program during a pandemic, but she has also worked to increase the pre-K per-pupil funding rate from $4,300 to $5,000 in the last two years. She is continuing to make sure this change is made permanent in the 2022 session. Rachel is Mississippi’s expert on pre-K policy and it is because of her work that over 6,000 four-year-olds each year will have access to high-quality pre-K in Mississippi. 

Sarah Carpenter, The Memphis Lift

Sarah Carpenter has been advocating for educational equity in her community for decades, as a mother, grandmother, and now Executive Director of The Memphis Lift, a movement to demand a quality education for Black and Brown students in Memphis. Last year, Sarah helped organize a national bus tour for hundreds of parents, from coast to coast, to engage directly with Democratic Presidential Primary candidates when it felt like leaders weren’t listening to the stakeholders most impacted by their decisions. Sarah helped lead fundraising efforts to support four trips to engage at high-profile moments: the November 2019 Elizabeth Warren Rally in Atlanta; the December 2019 National Education Association Education Forum; the January 2020 Black and Brown Caucus in Iowa; and the February 2020 Freedom Bus Tour to meet all major Democratic Presidential Candidates. Each of these four experiences built upon each other, growing in power, so by the time parents reached South Carolina on the Freedom Bus Tour in February 2020, the Presidential candidates and their teams were paying attention. Sarah courageously and consistently shows up on behalf of students and families and has garnered national attention to ensure parents and families are part of the policymaking process.

In 2020 as schools were shuttering and classes were held on Zoom, Sarah led her team at Memphis Lift to support parents and families as they got a new window into their students’ classroom and learning. She and her team coached families around how to navigate virtual school and how to use this as an opportunity to see a new perspective on their student’s classroom. Sarah consistently centers families and encourages and supports them to advocate for themselves. In the past year, she has frequently been tapped by national media to tell the story of family impact.

See a complete list of 2021 nominees in all Eddies! categories.

PIE Network

PIE Network

The PIE Network connects, strengthens, and catalyzes the work of education advocates across communities, states, and ideological lines to transform education so that every student, in every community can achieve a future with no limits.