Education Opinion

Ana Menezes, Partner, the New Teacher Project

By Sara Mead — May 23, 2011 7 min read
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The New Teacher Project is known for encouraging the education field to be smarter and more strategic in its use of talent. So it’s hardly surprising that TNTP was quick to spot and take full advantage of Ana Menezes’ potential as an education leader. Landing in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, Menezes, a Teach for America alum, first trained teachers in TNTP’s first New Orleans Teaching Fellows Cohort, then moved to managing the entire teachNOLA program (of which the teaching fellows program is one component). Today, as a Partner with TNTP, she manages teaching fellows programs in New Orleans and Philadelphia, a teacher certification pilot program in Denver, and is at the cutting edge of thinking about how to award teacher certification based on demonstrated teacher effectiveness, rather than the traditional coursework and seat time requirements.

Prior to joining TNTP, Menezes, 31, graduated from Boston College, taught in the Bronx through TFA, and earned her master’s degree in education policy from Stanford. Raised in South Carolina and Brazil, she has a deep affection for her current home city, New Orleans, where she lives in the French Quarter. [Click for more.]You’re a “partner” with the New Teacher Project. What does that actually mean you do on a day-to-day basis?

I do a lot of different things - mostly from my home office but often from the road as I travel quite a bit. I manage three teams across the country. One team runs a Teaching Fellows program in partnership with Philadelphia Public Schools, another runs a Teaching Fellows program with the Recovery School District and charter schools in New Orleans, and the third team runs a pilot teacher certification program in partnership with Denver Public Schools. So, I spend a lot of time ensuring that we’re on track to hit our project goals and running high-quality programs that make a difference for kids in high-need schools. For example, ensuring we are creating a high-quality pool of teachers so that districts have a pipeline to fill their most difficult to staff schools. I also work with district and state leaders to invest them in our work and help them problem-solve their most pressing teacher quality challenges. Finally, I sit on the Management Team for our line of work within TNTP so I help guide the strategy for our work nationwide. For example, it is really important that we use rigorous evaluation tools to measure the effectiveness of our program models and continually improve them- so this spring I worked with a small internal team to revise the evaluation tool we use each summer to measure the success of our new teacher training institutes across the country.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face in that work?

We’re constantly thinking about how we can ensure that we’re recruiting, selecting and training the highest quality, most committed teachers in the country. TNTP has the authority to grant certification in a number of states, and one way we’re doing this is to grant certification based on a number of factors--most importantly, a teacher’s ability to raise student achievement. It is really new work for the field. Like most universities or preparation programs, we’ve historically granted licensure primarily on the basis of “inputs” like completion of courses and products. But what we really care about is whether or not our teachers have a positive impact on student learning. So this is a big change, but it is the right thing to do. We need to align all of the policies and systems that influence the quality of the teacher workforce - including certification - towards ensuring that every student is taught by an effective teacher. This is also ambitious and tough work because it hinges on our ability to accurately assess how teachers are actually doing, and objective measures of teacher effectiveness are not always available. Many of our teachers work in non-tested subject areas, for example, and accessing data at the state and district levels is often very challenging. What’s exciting is that we are breaking new ground in assessing teachers based on student outcomes in non-tested subject areas in other ways.

What are some of your successes?

I had the immense privilege of coming into our Teaching Fellows work in New Orleans right as it was getting off the ground. It was a pretty crazy time. I remember a phone call I had with the district a few days before school started and we were still finalizing what schools were opening. Fast forward four years and the improvements we’ve seen in student achievement are so inspiringNew Orleans is significantly outpacing the state in increasing student outcomes. Our Teaching Fellows program, teachNOLA, has brought in 500+ talented new teachers and continues to get thousands of applications each year from individuals in New Orleans, across Louisiana and around the U.S. Our certification program, the Louisiana Practitioner Teacher Program, has been ranked by the state as a top teacher preparation program, producing beginning teachers who are, on average, more effective than even experienced teachers in four of five subject areas. TNTP is one of many organizations that have contributed to New Orleans’ system-wide turnaround--and it’s been amazing to be a part of that.

How did you come to work with TNTP?

I landed at TNTP after completing a graduate program in education policy. I was looking for work in a non-profit organization that was focused on teacher quality issues and TNTP certainly fit that bill. To be honest, though, I decided to join because the role was in New Orleans. I wanted to be a part of the movement to re-build that school system--so my first job at TNTP was actually training the very first cohort of Teaching Fellows in 2007. I then spent two years running the teachNOLA program before moving into the Partner role.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t say: The New Teacher Project is a great place to work. It’s such a mission-driven organization and there is a lot of opportunity for growth. Take my experience: I went from training our teachers to managing a program to now managing multiple programs in a very short amount of time. And, at every step of the way, I have worked with some of the most talented and committed individuals in the field today.

What motivates you?

I am a bottom-line kind of person; I am motivated by seeing results. I think that when you’re doing the work that we do--closing the achievement gap, making sure every kid has an excellent teacher--it can be easy (even when you are very committed to the mission) to get sidetracked or lose momentum because the work is often very hard and ambiguous. For me, setting and meeting goals is the key--so much of what motivates me is knowing that if I set this really ambitious goal and I hit it, I’ll (hopefully!) see the results I want to see.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in public education today?

One challenge I often think about is how precarious reform efforts often are. Sometimes it is because the reforms rest so squarely on one person--so when that person leaves, things fall apart. Sometimes it is because the political context changes--get one new person on that district or state board, and the decisions that board makes are now fundamentally different. We’ve seen some phenomenal leaders at the state and local levels emerge the past few years--but we’re not where we need to be yet. We need more reform-oriented individuals to run for elected office--and for them to be relentless in pushing for reforms rooted in the goal of ensuring all kids get great teachers and a great education.

What do you hope to accomplish in the next 10 years?

My personal goal is to continue to push the bar on teacher quality issues. I’m sure there will be issues that surface in 8 years that we have no idea about now. That said, I think the thing we need to start getting right pretty quickly is figuring out how to improve the performance of teachers who have the potential to be very good, but who are not currently performing at that level yet. What kind of human capital policies, resources and supports really accelerate teacher development? How can we shift the way we think about teacher supports so that we spend our time and money on the right things? I think there is so much potential here to be doing things differently and better for teachers.

What do you do when you’re not busy working to improve teacher quality?

Living in New Orleans keeps you plenty busy! It’s such a great city - Mardi Gras, JazzFest - that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I live right near the French Quarter and it is such a joyous place to be every day.

The opinions expressed in Sara Mead’s Policy Notebook are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.