Parent-Driven Reform No. 1 Goal

Katie Campos, AB ’08, is New York State’s assistant secretary for education. She was appointed to a senior-level position because of her background in education reform advocacy. (Jennifer Weisbord, BFA ’92)

One reason Katie Campos, AB ’08, attended Washington University was to play soccer. She helped the team get to the NCAA Division III playoffs in 2004 and 2006, and she led the squad in assists her freshman season.

Today Campos is performing on a much bigger field. As New York State’s assistant secretary for education, she is a major player on a powerhouse education team assembled in recent months by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

In April of this year, Cuomo created a high-profile New York Education Reform Commission headed by Richard Parsons, former Citigroup chairman.

“In early 2012 Governor Cuomo brokered a historic deal with the state legislature and education department to pass one of the strongest teacher evaluation laws in the country,” Campos says. “I’m working to ensure it’s implemented properly so that it truly improves teaching and learning in New York’s public schools.”

On a typical day, Campos arrives early at the State Capitol Building in Albany to identify her priorities. “I review bills, research education measures issued by other states and compare them with ours, and meet with stakeholders,” she says. “The governor expects us to understand the issues and make government work for the people.”

“I was able to see how beautifully crafted, well-intended educational policies fell flat if there wasn’t community buy-in.”

—Katie Campos, AB ’08

Campos was appointed to her position in June 2011. How did she get from college graduation to holding a senior post in state government within three short years?

After graduating with a political science degree in 2008, she moved to New York, her home state, to work at Democrats for Education Reform, a New York City–based nonprofit with a political action arm that aims to influence education policy.

“Democrats for Education Reform was working with the Obama administration, and I got to play a small role in that,” she says. “I was lucky to be involved with such a large project so early in my career. Also, I was able to see how beautifully crafted, well-intended educational policies fell flat if there wasn’t community buy-in.”

In 2009 Campos moved back to her hometown of Buffalo, N.Y., and co-founded an education reform advocacy organization, Buffalo ReformED, with her longtime friend, attorney James Gardner.

“Buffalo’s education system is very dysfunctional; almost half of its schools are chronically failing and the community is very poor,” Campos says. “We didn’t have any financial support, so we built the organization with sweat equity and passion. It grew rapidly because parents wanted to get involved — they were fed up with the system that was failing their kids.”

Campos and Gardner believed in parent-driven reform and grassroots action. They researched initiatives in public and private schools around the country to find best practices and gave the information to parents — so they could become more effective, and more vocal, advocates for their children.

Today Campos continues her involvement with Buffalo ReformED as an adviser, and she values the experience as an important steppingstone to her current position. “The best part of my job is meeting with parents, students and community members,” she says. “Gov. Cuomo is a great leader and a very effective governor. He has high expectations for his staff, so it’s a challenging, but rewarding, work environment.”

She credits her time at Washington University with helping her develop many of the tools and resources she uses in her career. “I had always been interested in education, especially through the lens of social justice and the economy,” she says. “The university gave me an outstanding education, and playing soccer helped me understand how to harness my passion and dedication.”

Campos still tries to find time to play soccer in various parks in Albany, and she visits Buffalo and New York City whenever possible. “Professionally, I’d eventually like to be a school leader and help turn around a failing school,” she says. “My personal goal is to make sure I’m happy, no matter where I am in life, and surrounded by great friends and family.”

Lisa Cary is a freelance writer based in St. Louis.

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