Jared Joiner is the executive director of strategy and communications for the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD), where he ensures students have the tools to fulfill the graduate profile outlined in the district’s Vision 2025 strategic plan. Joiner is also a 2011 alum of Education Pioneers (EP), a nonprofit that recruits and develops talented professionals from diverse backgrounds to work in education outside of the classroom. This year, EP partnered with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to quantify its impact on recruiting, supporting and retaining talented and diverse leaders beyond schools and classrooms to create an equitable education system across the country.
The Bay Area takes its coffee pretty seriously. Are you one of those people?
Around 30 percent of the reason I moved to the Bay Area is because of how much I love coffee. Five years ago, I decided to drink my coffee black. Now, I like a cold brew in the morning from Bicycle Coffee in Oakland, and I like to sit down with a macchiato “for here” some afternoons from Ritual Coffee in Hayes Valley.
You have a degree in cognitive neuroscience. How did education become your calling?
I got the education “bug” from my mom, who is a career teacher and administrator. Then, I started a tutoring company in D.C. after college. I was effective at getting results for my students, and I enjoyed it. So, I decided to quit my job at a sleep lab and teach full time as a bilingual math and science teacher.
While working with my students, it became clear that we had to overcome broader systemic challenges to serve our students effectively. As many as 60 percent were recent immigrants. Many others were formerly incarcerated, victims of trauma, gang-affiliated, or unserved by D.C. Public Schools. Sometimes they were all of the above. I ultimately chose to pursue my master’s in education at Harvard, with a focus on neuroscience and education, to try to have a broader impact on the sector.
Why do you do this work?
I do this work because, ostensibly, education is the great equalizer. However, there are so many barriers preventing all students from having equitable education experiences—housing segregation, documentation status, trauma, access to effective teachers, the list goes on. I view it as my duty to dig deeper on the causes of disparate learning outcomes for students and take action against the unequal power structures that create these inequities.
In my current role, I specifically use technology to improve the learning experiences of our students. We know we need to modernize the SFUSD ecosystem through the Digital District Plan, which includes building a resilient infrastructure, implementing critical tools and systems, and redefining the classroom experience.
EP is committed to providing high-quality professionals outside the classroom. Would you have joined a district office without it?
I give EP full credit for getting me into the non-teaching side of education. I had never thought seriously about working in a school district’s central office. Without EP, I wouldn’t have been able to test-drive working in a central office, and I wouldn’t have learned how other EP alums were transforming the Boston Public Schools and other districts.
Do you think that the retention of education professionals outside of the classroom gets enough attention?
As I look across the country, I definitely see a renewed interest in keeping the best teachers and school leaders, but I don’t think it’s enough. Similar—or more—attention is needed for roles outside the classroom, particular in terms of recruitment and growth opportunities that actually give people the chance to succeed.
AIR research shows that 94 percent of EP alumni working in education in 2012 were still there in 2016. How has EP supported you to persist in education?
Early in my fellowship, I learned valuable management skills that allowed me to hit the ground running during my fellowship in the Boston Public Schools. But perhaps more importantly, EP helped me persist in education by providing reliable talent for my organizations. Between my district jobs in Boston and San Francisco, I’ve supervised 12 fellows, and we hired at least five EP alums in my office alone. EP has provided a pipeline of skilled and motivated team members. With great staff, we experience small wins more regularly, which goes a long way towards sustaining me.
The AIR research found EP is successfully diversifying education leadership. Why do you think that’s important?
It’s definitely critical to diversify education leadership because representation matters. In every industry—tech, entertainment, sports, to name a few—we’ve seen what a lack of representation in corporate leadership can lead to. From racist Snapchat filters, to whitewashing film roles, to NFL owners’ silencing Colin Kaepernick through collusion. Why would education be any different?
We are responsible for giving students access to role models throughout their education experiences. Education should be the leader in advancing diversity, equity, inclusion.