Jun 24, 2011

Meet The Staff: Leah Crusey Talks About Her Commitment To Education (As If It Matters)

Lea Crusey's interest and support for education includes time in the classroom, teaching middle school students in both East Palo Alto, CA and Singapore, and leading an advisory board of young professionals for KIPP Chicago. Most recently she served as Director of Finance for LAZ Parking/Chicago Parking Meters, a first-in-kind public private partnership that is challenging the primacy of the vehicle in Chicago's downtown neighborhoods. Past stints include the President's Office at the Chicago Transit Authority, the Kazyna Sovereign Wealth Fund in Kazakhstan, and IMI Indoor Climate in Shanghai, China. Lea is a 2008 graduate of the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy and 2003 graduate of Claremont McKenna College.

I joined StudentsFirst in April and am now part of the "Engagement Team," which leads the political and legislative efforts for education reform across states. In six short months, this remarkable team has already achieved dramatic change -- setting a momentum and model that is attracting attention and excitement across the political and geographic spectrum. Currently, I am working closely with our members and partners in Pennsylvania to ensure that the best teachers keep their jobs in the face of looming budget cuts. While this role is a natural fit, and one I am thrilled and honored to take on, the path to where I am now resulted from a purposeful journey that has not necessarily been direct.

In 2003, after graduating from college with a degree in Government and History, I joined Teach for America. As a Corps Member in East Palo Alto, California, I taught social studies, math, language arts, and study skills, writing my own curriculum and instructing more than 350 4th, 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students each day over my two years. My students represented a broad swath of California: those of Latino and Pacific Islander descent, as well as African American students. Nearly 95 percent of our kids were eligible for free or reduced lunch and all were required to partake in English Language Development coursework each day. It was the hardest job I think I'll ever have. Ensuring that my students were on progress to proficiency across subject areas throughout the year was a humbling challenge. To see the results, though, after the school year ended and know that my instruction contributed to their significant achievement and gains was incredibly satisfying. What was clear to me then, and what drives me every day since then, was the unwavering belief that all kids can learn and that it is possible for life-altering changes to happen at the classroom and school level.

In the years since teaching, I have spent time working in Singapore, China and Kazakhstan, pursuing graduate studies in public policy and focusing my professional efforts on urban planning and transportation in both the public and private sectors. Outside of work, in an effort to stay connected to education reform, I served as President of Chicago’s KIPP Ascend Charter School’s Associate Board for two years. As an advisory board of area young professionals dedicated to education reform, we dedicated hundreds of hours of volunteer work and raised more than $80,000 in new funds. KIPP DC and KIPP NYC are now creating their own Associate Boards off of our model in Chicago.

Along with 11,000 other alumni, I headed to D.C. in February to Teach for America's 20th Anniversary Summit, ready to reconnect and be re-inspired. TFA's repeated challenge to us that weekend of "what will YOU do" resonated and I left convinced that a "one day" professional return to education reform wasn't enough. Over the course of the next 8 weeks, I interviewed with Michelle Rhee and the StudentsFirst team and, in April, left my private sector job and moved to D.C. where StudentsFirst was initially launched.

Since then, I have relocated my household (well, just my husband, myself and our things!) to Sacramento, California, where StudentsFirst's national headquarters now sit. After a few months on the team, I can honestly assert that the change was worth it. What StudentsFirst is doing is revolutionary: all adults must be held accountable for decisions that impact education. The status quo doesn't work anymore; our individual and collective futures depend on a sound, rigorous and results-oriented public education system for all kids. I'm grateful to be part of a team working to create that.