Douglas Wallack ’16, Magnet Schools of America

Doug-WallackI arrived at the Magnet Schools of America in Washington, D.C. on a Thursday morning.  To be clear, I wasn’t actually at a school for the duration of my Princeternship, but at the office of MSA’s governing body.  From the moment I got there, my alum-host Crystal Moore ’96 was busy at work, tirelessly juggling a huge variety of tasks ranging from data systems improvement to fundraising to organizing MSA’s annual conference in Tulsa.  When I wasn’t shadowing Ms. Moore on the job, much of my work dealt with the conference; I helped collect the information of school district superintendents and other guests who would be invited.

When there was a free minute, Ms. Moore explained to me some of MSA’s governing principles.  I was already familiar with the idea that magnet schools, by definition, have specially focused curricula – think performing arts high schools, or STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) schools.  It seems to me like an interesting and promising solution for American public education, which – if you believe the reports – has stagnated to only middling status internationally.  What I didn’t know about before was MSA’s commitment to diversity and desegregation.  As I understood it, desegregation in schools was pretty much a bridge that the American public had crossed quite some time ago now (I’d figured that it was included as an important magnet school principle as a nod to the organization’s own history or something).  In fact, there is still a lot of de facto segregation in public school systems today, and MSA is trying to fight that.  Everything I read these days contends that education is one of the nation’s most pressing issues, so it was very cool to hear one take on it in person from the field.

For the morning of the second day, I went with Ms. Moore to a talk on “Mayoral Governance and Student Achievement” (basically, the effects of having a city’s mayor head its own school districts) Wallack 1at the Center for American Progress, which is a think tank in Washington.  The talk was something between a debate and a lecture, and apart from serving as a forum for an interesting topic, it was also a meeting place for many of the D.C. leaders, lobbyists, and experts in education.  One thing that Ms. Moore and I talked about afterward was a point brought up by one of the speakers – Neerav Kingsland, CEO of New Schools for New Orleans.  He mentioned several times the importance of having educators run schools.  I could see the wisdom in this, to a certain extent: ownership in the process means that in their roles as educators, the teachers will be held accountable to a higher standard.  But what I didn’t understand was whether Mr. Kingsland actually meant that teachers themselves should be administrators.  While I get the spirit of self-sufficiency and self-regulation, I don’t think this makes sense.  I’ve had plenty of brilliant teachers who could tell me all about analyzing poetry, the French Revolution, or partial derivatives, but wouldn’t make great administrators.  So Ms. Moore and I talked about that for a while and how it is important for education policy to have the big picture ideas, but also pay meticulous attention to the finer details like this.

I’d like to thank Ms. Moore and the rest of the staff at MSA for letting me stick around with them for a couple days.  It was a very cool way for me to see the day-to-day workings of a field of such crucial importance.

Alyssa Lipshultz ’16, Magnet Schools of America

Alyssa-LipshultzI interned for two days at Magnet Schools of America in Washington, D.C. under the mentorship of Crystal Moore ’96, the nonprofit organization’s Director of Organizational Leadership & Development.

During my Princeternship, Magnet Schools of America was preparing for their National Conference that will occur in the beginning of May. To help with preparations, I provided input on the electronic invitation and updated contact information for school districts that will be invited to the event. This latter task required most of my time at MSA, as I worked state by state consulting each district’s website and compiling information. This task gave me a better understanding of the structure of various school districts. My own public school district only had 3 schools: one elementary school for the north half of our tiny town, one for the south half, and a combined middle school for all students. In contrast, as I researched various school districts, I came across districts like the Wichita Public Schools, whose elementary school students have the choice to attend several different schools, some traditional and many with focuses which include aerospace and engineering, communications, computer technology, dual language, environmental, health and wellness, International Baccalaureate, international studies and communication, leadership, literacy, multimedia, performing arts, science and technology and more. Other districts across the country offer a similar array of choices to their students. While I was familiar with the idea of school choice in theory, it was not until I looked through districts’ websites from across the country that I fully grasped what this concept means in practice. Also, spending time at MSA, I learned how these innovative programs regularly bring together diverse students who share a similar interest and then proceed to promote academic excellence. Thus, even the simple task of consulting school districts’ websites in order to compile contact information was a significant learning experience for me, as I was not fully cognizant of the diversity of school options or the success of innovative educational models in the U.S.   

While at MSA, I also had the opportunity to learn more about fundraising. I drafted a grant application and accompanied my mentor to a class on corporate giving at the nearby Foundation Center. This helped me to better understand what non-profit work and grant seeking entails.

I was able to attend MSA’s staff meeting, as well. Everyone at MSA was extremely welcoming, and attending the staff meeting provided me with insight into how each of Crystal’s colleagues contribute to MSA’s work, which is truly a team effort. MSA is a very small office, and, having never worked in a small office setting before, it was great for me to see this team dynamic at play. The staff meeting also gave me a better idea of what MSA’s daily work entails and what kinds of events they hold, as the team was discussing conferences that will occur in the upcoming spring, summer, fall and beyond. MSA’s new blog, Twitter and Facebook pages were also discussed at the meeting, and this really emphasized for me the expanding role that social media has in all sectors. It seems that familiarity with social media is really becoming an essential tool to have in the workplace.

Lunch was another valuable experience at MSA, as I was able to ask my mentor a variety of questions. We talked about her summer experiences during her time at Princeton, her career’s progression, her Princeton thesis topic and more. This helped me to get a better sense of what higher education and jobs I might pursue if I decided to work in education policy. I also was able to ask her more general questions about school choice and school types (charter, traditional, magnet, etc.). Specifically, I brought up some of the controversial issues related to magnet schools that I was familiar with and asked for her perspective. These conversations helped me to gain a fuller understanding of school choice.

Working at MSA was therefore a wonderful experience for several reasons. It gave me the opportunity to experience a small nonprofit Lipshultz 1working environment, which was one of my goals for the internship. It helped me to understand the work and complexity inherent to seeking grants. Speaking with Crystal gave me a better idea of what it might mean to pursue a career in education policy. I also gained an additional perspective on various issues related to school choice and education reform, and I was able to learn more about what public education looks like across the United States. My experience at MSA will certainly contribute to my understanding and viewpoints as I continue to discuss education issues with my peers on campus. It will also affect the kinds of classes and internships I pursue, as I am now more confident in continuing to explore my interest in work related to education policy. I would definitely recommend this Princeternship to anyone interested in education policy or considering a career in nonprofit work.

Thank you very much to my mentor, Crystal Moore, and to everyone else at Magnet Schools of America for giving me this amazing opportunity and for going above and beyond by being so welcoming, friendly and helpful during my Princeternship. I truly appreciate it.