2022 Eddies Awards: Suzanne Kubach PIE Network Weaver of the Year

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

This Eddies category honors local, state, or national leaders who consistently go above and beyond their job description to connect and support peers advancing state and local advocacy and policy. This category recognizes advocates who thoughtfully and intentionally support the leadership and work of others, strengthening the Network and the sector. This category was previously called Network MVP.

See a complete list of 2022 nominees in all Eddies categories. Staff at PIE Network members and partner organizations, check your inbox for a link to vote in each category. Don’t see it? Email [email protected].

Suzanne Kubach Network Weaver of the Year Winner

Amanda Aragon, New MexicoKidsCAN

Suzanne Kubach Network Weaver of the Year Nominees

Suzanne Kubach Network Weaver of the Year Nominees

Amanda Aragon, NewMexicoKidsCAN

Although typically we think of the Network Weaver as someone from a national org, Amanda Aragon, Executive Director of NewMexicoKidsCAN, shows how to lead nationally from a local state position (and a small state at that). Amanda is everywhere – she’s all in on the national coalition to protect assessment and accountability, she’s recognized and upping her game through leadership cohorts, and she’s frequently speaking as a panelist on various policy panels. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t count Amanda as a valued partner and friend. She’s often one of the first people we think of when brainstorming whom to invite or partner with because she’s smart, savvy, and easy to work with, mixed with funny, authentic, and serious about the work. And Amanda engages – she’s a vocal and thoughtful participant, she cheerleads and amplifies the wins of her peers, and when at in-person gatherings, she’s always up for building relationships outside of the meeting room. Importantly for a leader, she’s also not afraid to ask questions, admit when she doesn’t know something and bond over a shared challenge. That makes her peers respect her even more. If newer leaders to the PIE Network are looking for a role model – someone who’s built an organization from nothing, struggled with the ups and downs of fundraising and advocacy and risen to not only lead a thriving organization but also her peer network, I would point them to Amanda Aragon. Top of the list.

Nominated by: Eric Lerum, America Succeeds

Emily Anne Gullickson, A for Arizona

Although A for Arizona is a state-based organization, founder and CEO Emily Anne Gullickson has taken to the road helping over a dozen states troubleshoot, design, and navigate bold new policies by sharing lessons learned from their model innovative policy playbook on cutting edge policies like transportation modernization efforts, teacher and principal talent pipelines reforms, and strategic methods for expanding choice options as well as methods for seeding innovative models, scaling micro schools and new learning models, and Arizona’s approach to developing a best-in-class school level financial transparency portal. From hosting delegation fly-in’s for out-of-state legislators, state board members, and local advocates from other states to jet setting for one-on-one meetings, providing expert testimony, educating policymakers on lessons learned (and what to avoid), joining coalition strategy whiteboard sessions, and executive thought partnership with fellow PIE members, Emily Anne has embodied the spirit of this award well beyond her day-to-day work in the Grand Canyon State. She has gone above and beyond to help others see what’s possible and how to develop bold policies focused on students in their state while maintaining humility and a strong commitment to community-driven approaches. 

Nominated by: Derrell Bradford, 50CAN

Eric Lerum, America Succeeds

I truly cannot say enough about the support I have felt personally from Eric over the years. I met him before I began the 50CAN education advocacy fellowship, and he has supported me every step of my journey to create NewMexicoKidsCAN. He has lent his advice as a strategic partner, helped challenge me in diving deeper into policy analysis, and has constantly asked “how can I help” through our successes and stumbles. 

I’ve seen Eric do the same for members of the America Succeeds staff and for other partners in the network. To me, Eric’s actions and efforts are based on what is best for students and families and not what is best for him or his organization. The work always comes first for Eric, and I think we are all better off for his insight and thoughtful pushes in Network conversations. 

Eric’s experience and perspective are critical at a time when our “movement” is struggling to find ourselves. He is always willing to acknowledge mistakes of the past but remains grounded in the core mission of the work while pushing us to evolve and do better. He is a critical part of our Network, and we are better for it.

Nominated by: Amanda Aragon, NewMexicoKidsCAN

Gini Pupo-Walker, The Education Trust in Tennessee

Gini Pupo-Walker serves as the state director for The Education Trust in Tennessee. Dominating the Tennessee Legislature this year was Gov. Bill Lee’s new funding formula bill, the Tennessee Investment in Student Achievement (TISA). To prepare Tennessee advocates to fully engage in the school funding formula conversation, Ed Trust in Tennessee created a TISA evaluation tool, hosted a half-day school funding bootcamp, provided a sign-on opportunity for alliance partners, and released a series of reports, toolkits, and resources. During these frantic months to make sweeping changes to school funding, Gini also hit the media press circuit to explain WHY the system wasn’t working– the formula focused on staff salaries and classroom materials, rather than the needs of students. After many meetings and reviewing of reform proposals, Gini worked with her partners to weigh the pros and cons of supporting TISA — which requires weights for specific students’ needs, in addition to the base funding for each individual student. Gini’s team led the Tennessee Alliance for Equity in Education in responding to the final funding proposal, which included releasing a public statement of support for TISA, signed by over 40 partners.

Gini was also fighting on another battlefront for students, teachers, and overall Tennessee’s public education system– a battle to limit the harm of the anti-truth and censorship bills that flooded the state legislature. Ed Trust in Tennessee collaborated with partners and advocates to engage on the issue by launching the TN Coalition for Truth in Our Classrooms; releasing a statement regarding “Prohibited Concepts in Instruction,” and hosting a series of webinars, including one with Chalkbeat on “How the CRT Debate and the Culture Wars Impact Students in Tennessee” and another with the ACLU of Tennessee titled, “Know Your Rights: What You Need to Know About Tennessee’s Latest Censorship Bills.

Nominated by: Lynn Jennings, The Education Trust

Jim O’Connor, Advance Illinois

Jim O’Connor has earned a reputation with local and statewide partners, and peers nationwide, as a super connector who engages others to amplify policy and advocacy work, especially around educator pipeline efforts. Jim believes in the positive impact of the Network, and places a high priority on attending PIE Network events and conferences to share ideas and strategies. Jim easily makes connections and supports everyone’s efforts to advance equity and excellence in education. He is a respected leader who always encourages team members and partners to use the Network as a resource.

A former teacher and principal, Jim is passionate about the educator pipeline, recruitment, and retention. He leads Advance Illinois’ Educator Pipeline Group and uses PIE Network to learn about pipeline efforts in other states to inform Illinois work. At Jim’s request, PIE Network convened members from other states to gather feedback on our work. He partners closely with PIE Network members Educators for Excellence, Teach Plus, and Stand for Children. For example, Jim leveraged our Legislator Forum platform this year to partner with the Hunt Institute (and speakers from TNTP) to gather 88 policymakers and leaders (including fellow PIE Network members) to discuss Illinois’ educator shortage.

Nominated by: Robin Steans, Advance Illinois

Kymyona Burk, ExcelinEd

Dr. Kymyona Burk works alongside ExcelinEd’s Advocacy team to advance early literacy policy across the country. In collaboration with colleagues, policymakers, other advocacy organizations, and state stakeholders, she consistently plays a key role in supporting the development of new and comprehensive early literacy bills; delivering expert testimony to legislative education committees; and analyzing new or existing bills to align them with ExcelinEd’s Fundamental Principles of an Early Literacy Policy. Dr. Burk has also developed model policies for early literacy and aligning educator preparation programs to the science of reading. She has significantly strengthened the impact of ExcelinEd’s Early Literacy Network and collaborated with members to develop key resources, including the Comprehensive Early Literacy Policy State-by-State Analysis of Fundamental Principles and The Comprehensive How-To Guide: Approaches to Implementing Early Literacy Policy, providing guidance to policymakers and state education leaders for early literacy policy implementation. 

In 2022, Dr. Burk visited Delaware, a blue state, to present to key stakeholders the importance of a comprehensive early literacy policy. She also delivered virtual expert testimony on two early literacy bills, which provided for teacher professional development in the science of reading and screening/progress monitoring for struggling readers. Both bills passed with unanimous support from both caucuses in both chambers. Her work in Wisconsin advanced a bipartisan early literacy bill that passed in the House and Senate but was vetoed by the Governor. Dr. Burk’s extensive efforts to advance early literacy policies have led to the passage of early literacy bills in Alaska, Louisiana, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Arizona.  An expert in her field, Dr. Burk engages in thought leadership across a broad range of topics focused on improving literacy outcomes for all students nationwide. Beyond her work with ExcelinEd, Dr. Burk has served as a Board member of the National Reading League, a member of the National Advisory Group for the Path Forward for Teacher Preparation and Licensure, a member of the Science of Reading Defining Movement Coalition, and an early literacy resource expert for The Hunt Institute. She has also lent her expertise and voice to national reporting on the early literacy movement, being quoted in TIME, EdWeek, EdSource, The Economist, and The 74 million. She has also authored a blog for EdNext and is featured in the upcoming The Right to Read film.

Nominated by: Meghan Presnell, ExcelinEd

Lindsay Sobel, Teach Plus

If anyone embodies the spirit of the PIE Network and Suzanne, it is Lindsay Sobel. Lindsay is unwavering in her willingness to raise her hand, show up, lend an ear, a word of wisdom or encouragement to anyone interested in advancing the needs of our students. She is a connector and a supporter of so many across the PIE Network, and of our vision for a more equitable education system. She has been tireless in her efforts to ensure that whenever important decisions are made regarding teaching and learning, outstanding, solutions-oriented teachers are at the table. Lindsay has been instrumental in the work of coalitions around key issues such as educator pipeline, distribution of ESSER funds, financial equity, recruitment and retention of teachers of color, teacher preparation, and more — including the One Million Teachers of Color Coalition (with PIE members TNTP, the Hunt Institute, the Education Trust, the Center for Black Educator Development, and others); the Coalition to Reimagine the Teaching Role (with PIE member ERS and others); and the Rapid Response Desk Coalition (co-led by Ed Trust).

Nominated by: Sarah Lillis, Teach Plus California

Mary Cypress Metz, Tennesee SCORE

Over the last 10 years, Mary Cypress Metz, Vice President of Strategy at SCORE, has been a passionate and skilled advocate for Tennessee students. In the past year, her expertise as a connector and student-centered leader was integral to Tennessee passing a new funding formula for the first time in 30 years and adding an additional $1 billion recurring investment in public education. To inform Tennessee’s approach to education finance, Mary Cypress sought advisement from PIE Network members and experts from across the country with whom she has built relationships over the years. She coordinated across a coalition of Tennessee advocacy organizations to ensure an early commitment to a core set of principles for a new funding formula. She organized and supported a multi-pronged strategy ahead of the legislative debate so that the coalition had clear policy priorities and the supports needed to advocate for the new funding formula. Throughout the legislative process, her optimism about the potential win for students reenergized the coalition. Mary Cypress did not seek the limelight in the media or the legislature. Her commitment to students and collaboration and her skills as a strategic thinker made it possible for a coalition of Tennessee organizations, all PIE Network members, to realize the passage of a student-centered K-12 education funding formula.

Nominated by: Diane Huges, SCORE

Anna McDaniel-Wyatt

Anna McDaniel-Wyatt

Analyst, Communications & Member Engagement