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Our new education specialist, Lindsay Wagner, weighs in on why she cares about education and what she’s working on here at Fletcher Foundation.

If there’s anyone who’s a great example of what can happen when a child has access to high quality public schools, I’m your woman.

I grew up in a home where instability was the norm. Grandparent, single mom who struggled to hold down a job, and later on, a stepfather with mental illness — each provided me with care at varying points in time and tried mightily to provide the right conditions for academic success. But too often I was left to worry about the most basic of needs—so much so that school often became an afterthought.

The bright spot for me throughout, however, was the fact that I had access to some of the best public schools in the nation.

Montgomery County, Maryland was my home. It was also home to some of the country’s highest ranking public schools. While I struggled outside of the classroom, every day I came to school surrounded by highly motivated students, excellent teachers and the opportunity to take challenging classes that included gems like music theory and Latin. Great guidance counselors helped me navigate a tumultuous home life and I leaned on the generosity of friends and their families to get me through.

My mentors at school instilled in me the importance of going to college, and I came to see that avenue as the best pathway out of an abusive home. And thanks to a stellar high school education, the federal student loan program and some small grants, the University of Maryland was within reach.

All of this is to say I’m a staunch supporter of public schools. I believe if we strategically invest in this great resource, it has the power to transform lives and bring at-risk children into a new realm where they can become active, engaged citizens. Feeling enormously thankful for all that public schools has had to offer to me, I have dedicated my professional life to examining ways to make high quality education more accessible for all.

This fall I’m very excited to join Fletcher as an education specialist, where I believe I can share my experiences, knowledge and skills with our grantees in ways that will help them better understand the education landscape here in North Carolina and beyond.

As popular education reform initiatives have gained considerable momentum over the past few years with the end goal of helping at-risk students access high quality education, the unfortunate reality is that in many cases, an absence of good policy has accompanied these efforts.  The result is that that there is no guarantee of accountability and transparency for these initiatives that children, parents and taxpayers deserve.

In order to fill knowledge gaps about our state’s rapidly changing education environment, I’ll be first looking into how charter schools spend public dollars, how charter school students’ academic outcomes compare with those of local public schools, and how for-profit education management companies operate behind the scenes with your tax dollars.

And as I devote myself to fact-finding and partnering with our grantees, I will also share information, trends, stories and more with a wider audience. It’s important for all to know how public funds are spent in ways that do not work toward the goal of providing a high quality education for all of North Carolina’s children.

While I dig into working on these issues, follow me on Twitter @LindsayWagnerNC for updates and news related to education policy. And if you have any tips or interest in collaboration, please do be in touch – send me a note at lindsay@ajf.org

Photo by Ricky Leung/N.C. Policy Watch

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