Closing the Achievement Gap

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There is no “typical” day in the life of California Alpha Tiffany Alvarez Smith. Every day is different, exciting and hard. On the day we spoke, Tiffany had spent the majority of her day on a school site working with school leaders, going through teachers’ lesson plans and talking about educational trends. She then went into classrooms to observe the students and teachers and ensure strategic plans were being executed. Finally, Tiffany met with teammates to receive feedback on trainings she had done in order to craft next steps and strategies and revise professional development for the staff. The remainder of the afternoon was spent for more internal thought with her colleagues as they debriefed their own visits. Tomorrow is a different school. And after all this, Tiffany was able to join the Syracuse, New York, Alumnae Club for a Ring Ching Roadshow event.

After graduating from Stanford University in 2007, Tiffany joined Teach for America (TFA), an organization with the mission to enlist, develop and mobilize our nation’s most promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence. She spent two years teaching third grade in New York City as a TFA Corps member.

Tiffany then spent a few more years teaching in different classrooms, during which she had a unique window into the students and her school. Tiffany grew her interest in the achievement gap, specifically in urban schools, which are often under-resourced. In 2013, she took a position as Director of School Support with Achievement Network (ANet), an organization that works alongside school leadership teams to strengthen their school-wide practice and culture of using learning standards and achievement data to get breakthrough results for students in underserved communities, and is now focused primarily supporting the Syracuse City School District.

Syracuse has the largest proportion of African Americans living below the poverty line in the United States, more than even Detroit, Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio. It’s known as a hub for refugee families. These are issues that affect the city’s students, so it’s part of Tiffany’s job to find what resources the school district has for these students. “Syracuse is a small district with urban challenges,” says Tiffany, “In fact, its challenges are not that different than schools in New York City.”

From what I learned of Tiffany, her goal is clear: everyone has the same opportunity for success and to obtain a high level of education so they can make educated choices for themselves. Tiffany coaches school leaders like principals, instructional coaches and more to increase student performance in under-resourced schools. She utilizes Instructional Change Management theory providing appropriate strategies and training so these leaders can then provide these strategies and trainings to teachers in the Syracuse elementary and middle schools.

Tiffany finds it exciting to think about “How do we make change?” Tiffany’s passion for student equity within public education is evident. I am proud to have a Pi Phi sister working so hard to improve the lives of students.

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