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Scaling Up: Ed.L.D. Candidate Kelly Kovacic

Kelly KovacicMeet Brittany: a tough kid from a rough neighborhood, not a single member in her family has attended college. Living below the poverty line, Brittany is six times more likely to drop out of high school than her counterparts in suburban and wealthy districts. Growing up in the face of considerable misfortune, Brittany often doubts her academic potential and wants to give up. But for her 11th-grade social studies teacher, Ed.L.D. candidate Kelly Anne Kovacic, this was not an option.

As a educator and leader at The Preuss School UCSD — a public charter school serving low-income students in San Diego — Kovacic was no stranger to the challenges of an inequitable learning environment. Not only were 100 percent of the students within the school living below the poverty line, but many would be the first in their families to graduate high school or attend college. In the midst of this environment, Kovacic made it her goal to create equitable learning conditions that successfully supported a culture of academic risk taking, intellectual curiosity, and development of both scholars and citizens — all in an effort to change the lives of students like Brittany.

“Helping to transform the lives of students living in poverty transcends any title or trophy,” Kovacic says. “Some of my greatest accomplishments include students like Brittany, who, after taking my class, thanked me for always having faith in her potential and never letting her give up.”

Brittany serves as just one snapshot of the impact Kovacic has had. Whether she was helping students overcome personal challenges or teaching them how to embrace the lessons and opportunities before them, Kovacic recalls how meaningful it was to help students at Preuss achieve goals they never thought possible.

Named the California Teacher of the Year in 2010 — an honor that set her apart from the 300,000 other educators in the state — Kovacic was also one of four finalists for National Teacher of the Year. However, after 10 years on the front line of urban education, Kovacic says that she was still left with many more questions than answers about how to ensure all children have access to high quality educational experiences. This is what ultimately brought her to HGSE. “Systemic change to address our nation’s educational inequities is difficult to achieve from one classroom or school,” she says. “The Ed.L.D. Program at Harvard provided a singular opportunity to study cross-discipline strategies for transformative and systemic change beyond a single campus.”

This idea of scaling-up a strong educational infrastructure is ultimately where Kovacic’s ambitions lie. “I know what a working model can do on a limited scale, but there are too many children getting lost in our current education system,” Kovacic says. “I want to see our urban school districts and large charter networks play an even greater role in effectively narrowing the achievement gap by reimagining schools in order to create and support equitable learning environments.”

Whether or not this work will take her back to California, Kovacic says, is still an open question, and ultimately she sees her work taking her where the need is greatest.

“An ideal situation in five years may be in a leadership role at a large urban school district, charter school network, or nonprofit organization that serves underrepresented students, especially those living in poverty,” she says. “However, any set plan I once had is being constantly redrawn as I navigate many new and exciting ideas and paths here at HGSE, where the options and opportunities to help transform education seem almost endless.”


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