Exclusive Interview with Maura Marino, CEO Education Forward DC

I had the great opportunity recently to sit down for a conversation with Maura Marino, the chief executive officer of Education Forward D.C.  Ms. Marino started our discussion by relating to me the mission of her organization.  She explained that Education Forward DC “accelerates the work of visionary education leaders to foster a city of high-quality, equitable public schools for every DC student and family..”  I asked Ms. Marino about the founding of Education Forward.

“Education Forward DC  began as the DC Schools Fund, an investment area under NewSchools Venture Fund. I joined NewSchools in 2008, and served as the DC Schools Fund’s managing partner from 2013 until we spun off to become a separate entity in 2016.  Originally, the DC Schools Fund was a three-year project that eventually extended to eight because of the incredible work happening in DC.”

Last July, after 18 months of planning, the DC Schools Fund team began this new endeavor, supported by a $1 million grant from NewSchools. The effort came out of a strong desire to uplift educational opportunity in Washington, D.C. and to strengthen the ecosystem for school quality and equity.  In many ways, Education Forward DC continues the work of the D.C. Schools Fund, including managing the remaining grants made under that fund.

As one example, Education Forward DC will continue to fund the production and analysis by local partners of school-by-school Equity Reports, a project the DC School Fund first underwrote.

As background, I asked Ms. Marino about the founding of NewSchools Venture Fund.  She detailed that NewSchools came about 19 years ago as a result of Vice-President Al Gore approaching entrepreneur Kim Smith and venture capitalists John Doerr and Brook Byers about bringing about transformative change in public education the way that Silicon Valley businessmen and women revolutionized other industries.  When I inquired about a major accomplishment of NewSchools, Ms. Marino pointed to the creation of the concept of the Charter Management Organization.  “In 1998, Aspire Public Schools was in one location and wanted to open one hundred more in California.  NewSchools Venture Fund invested in them and assisted in building its capacity to replicate, and Aspire then led the field as others created non-profit organizations designed to scale effective school models.  Other significant grantees have included Achievement First, Noble Street Network, Uncommon Schools, The Achievement Network, Urban Teachers, NewsELA and Goalbook.  In Washington, D.C., NewSchools was the first outside investor in the Fellowship for Race and Equity in Education, Charter Board Partners and many others.”

Now I have just one note about the interview.  Ms. Marino started her career as a high school teacher at Aspire Public Schools in Northern California after obtaining her undergraduate degree at Stanford University.  She then went on to earn a Master of Arts in Teaching from Columbia University’s Teachers College and a Master in Business Administration from Harvard Business School.  Her online biography from the Education Forward website states that “During graduate school, Maura worked on the Network Growth Team at the KIPP Foundation, implementing their national growth strategy.”  The point I’m attempting to make, in case you have not already noticed, is that Ms. Marino is exceedingly intelligent.  The trait came across from the moment I started talking with her.  In addition, as she mentioned to me, she thinks about public education and how to improve it one hundred percent of the time.  To give you an idea of the brain power of Ms. Marino, during our session she indicated that she doesn’t consider our public schools classified simply as being charters or traditional.  She sees them as being in one of four categories that include neighborhood, citywide, selective, and specialized, with both DCPS and charter schools playing various functions in our educational ecosystem.

NewSchools’ DC Schools Fund has supported many of the leading charters in this town, among them D.C. Prep PCS, Friendship PCS, KIPP D.C. PCS, Mundo Verde PCSIngenuity Prep PCS, Inspired Teaching PCS, Appletree PCS, DC International, and D.C. Scholars Academy PCS.  The Fund also played a major role along with the CityBridge Foundation, now CityBridge Education, in bringing Rocketship PCS here.  But Education Forward DC wants to do more.  The group’s five-year goal is aggressive:  double the number of underserved pupils who score four or above on the PARCC Assessment.  The Fund plans to accomplish this feat through three core areas of work:

  • A great school for every student in D.C.
  • Schools led by excellent principals and teachers, and
  • A school system designed for D.C. families

There was much Ms. Marino had to say under each of these goals so here are some highlights.  In reference to having a great school for every student she revealed that her organization is prepared to assist 35 new or redesigned charter or district schools in order to reach this target.  So that schools are led by excellent principals and teachers, her group is focusing on supporting high quality teacher and leader pipelines and improving talent management.  The Education Forward CEO was also quite eloquent in elaborating on the need to have a school system designed for D.C. families.  Ms. Marino wants to amplify parent voices so that there is a much better match between what parents want for their children’s education and that which is provided.  For example, she referred to a commonly expressed need for bilingual schools east of the Anacostia River.

I then explained to Ms. Marino that last summer I had the fantastic opportunity to travel to Denver and get an understanding about how school choice operates in this city.  One of the most intriguing aspects of the environment there is the presence of a District-Charter School Collaboration Compact.  I mentioned that the document spells out specific actions the district schools and charters will take to increase cooperation between the two sectors.  D.C. has taken a different but similarly collaborative approach, Ms. Marino noted. While there’s no formal compact, there’s close and collegial communication among DCPS, the DC Public Charter School Board, and the Deputy Mayor for Education. For instance, district and charter school principals are jointly pursuing a master’s degree in leadership from Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. For families, My School DC, the one-stop resource for selecting and applying to DC district and charter schools, is another outgrowth of citywide collaboration, Ms. Marino pointed out.

In closing she expressed excitement about Antwan Wilson becoming the new DCPS Chancellor.  “I don’t think he would have been selected if he hadn’t not come from cities like Oakland and Denver that have collaboration agreements between charters and traditional schools in place,” she commented.  “Having the two sectors increase their level of working together I believe is one of the primary reasons that he was picked for this role.”