By: Abby Ragan, Policy Fellow
My name is Abby Ragan and I am finishing up a term as a Policy Fellow here at the State Board. I graduated magna cum laude from American University last December with a bachelor’s in International Relations. Although my background has been more in the nonprofit space, I later realized I wanted to pursue a career in education policy and soon obtained a job offer joining Teach For America (TFA) here in the District of Columbia. Because of the gap between a December graduation and a summer start to my commitment with TFA and, thus, the opportunity to really explore anything I wanted, I searched long and hard for experiences where I would feel like I was making a difference and learning new things about the world around me.
In thinking about the months since, I know I will never be able to put into words the growth I have experienced here. As it comes to a close, I look forward to taking this new knowledge forward into the classroom as a English teacher this coming fall. Unlike many other internships and fellow positions, I didn’t spend my time making coffee or filing papers. At the State Board, I have had the opportunity to really engage with policy during a huge time of change for the District by writing memos and resolutions and watching DC Council hearings as well as push my research, data management, and writing skills to the next level. I have learned so much about the policy process and the educational landscape of the District while making a real impact on SBOE work, and I have never felt more a part of the DC community.
Outside of the day to day work, the SBOE Policy Fellowships allow for the opportunity to attend school visits with staff and Board members as well as access to events and webinars throughout the city. Both were opportunities to learn about perspectives outside of the office and always left me feeling reinvigorated about the work we were doing inside of it. Seeing teacher-student interactions reminded me of the great work that is happening in our schools and the resources that must be put into them to increase school quality and achievement. Visiting schools was an invaluable chance to understand the diversity of schools and challenges that exist within the District limits while events like NAEP Day created a wealth of data for policy makers to analyze and use to inform their work.
Further, in my capacity, I have had the opportunity to support the ESSA and High School Graduation Requirements Task Forces in their work. This has not only expanded my understanding of the incredible array of education advocates and leaders in the city, but created the space for a deep dive into the important issues facing our schools and students today. In particular, the conversations about levels of autonomy and rigor balanced conversations about student equity and increased post-secondary readiness to evolve into policy and recommendations. The District is known as an epicenter of school choice and best fit, but our NAEP and PARCC scores reveal stagnation and widening achievement gaps. I believe starting interventions earlier through funding transparent high school readiness initiatives and cultivating relationships on a classroom level are the ways we will achieve the well-intentioned goals of conference rooms.
My favorite thing about the State Board is its function as an autonomous arm ensuring the public voice is heard. This means that our elected Board members represent a variety of backgrounds and knowledge, and it is empowering to see them come together for public good amid personal disagreement on particular issues. Thank you a million times to the staff and Board for mentoring me this semester and hearing my voice.