It’s been a wild year for education, from unprecedented federal investments in our nation’s kids via the American Rescue Plan to endless conversations on critical race theory. Throughout it all there have been education leaders who have stepped to the forefront to meet the challenges head on. Here's a shoutout to the work being done on behalf of children.
Brightbeam’s Top 2021 Influencers
1-Dirk Tillotson When President Joe Biden signed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act into law last month, one key contributor to that transformative legislation for students was unable to celebrate. Digital inclusion activist Dirk Tillotson spent the pandemic shaping minds, hearts, and the policies of the FCC and internet service providers through his Citizen Ed shows, Access Denied in 2020 and Desegregate the Internet in 2021. Millions of children who had been locked out of digital learning got help because of Dirk. Most of what Dirk advocated made it into the law’s broadband expansion plans. Tragically, we lost Dirk in the fall to senseless violence during a home burglary gone wrong. We strongly urge you to read this wonderful ode to his work.
2-Alina Adams New York City mom and education advocate Alina Adams found scores of new readers on her New York School Talk blog in 2021. Check out her ongoing coverage of how New York City's changing as a new mayoral administration takes over.
3-Jason Allen It’s hard to find someone who stood up for students better in 2021 than Jason Allen. The teacher, EdLanta founder, and TDRS co-host took his child advocacy further than ever before, launching his first bid for public office. Learn more about Allen’s run for the Atlanta School Board here.
4-Shawnta Barnes Indy K12’s Shawnta Barnes kept the ball moving for Indianapolis’s kids in 2021 despite stepping outside the classroom. Barnes’ endless pursuit of better processes for teaching children can be found at her author page here.
5-Tequilla Brownie TNTP Executive Vice President Tequilla Brownie continued her relentless pursuit of better educational outcomes for students in big ways this year. Check out her excellent first-generation college student piece here. Some congrats are in order, as well: She's taking over TNTP in the new year as CEO.
7-Karin Chenoweth Education Trust writer-in-residence Karin Chenoweth had herself a big year. She and her team launched Ed Trust’s first-ever podcast, where they covered the ins and outs of education in this wacky year. Check out more here.
8-Dr. Tommy Curry Dr. Tommy Curry tells the stories of Black men across history. In August, he joined #BuildingPower to talk about how power structures are socially determined, and that we can create social movements to change those structures.
12-Paige Kowalski Researcher Paige Kowalski and the Data Quality Campaign kept up a steady stream of coverage this year on how American schools can make data work for students. Check out what she had to say about that during the October town hall we had on data privacy.
13-Robin Lake Robin Lake and her team at CRPE spent 2021 planning something big for the future of American education. They recently announced a partnership with Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Learn more about what this will mean for the teaching pipeline here.
14-Nekima Levy Armstrong Twin Cities activist Nekima Levy Armstrong stood up for Minnesota kids in every way possible this year. In addition to her work with Justice For the Cities, she hosted her own Citizen Ed Facebook Live broadcast. Following the guilty verdict for former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd, Nekima hosted juror Brandon Mitchell to discuss the deliberations. Check out all of Rise Up here.
15-Lorena Lopera New England’s executive director of Latinos For Education, Lorena Lopera, made moves all year. Boston’s kids get to benefit as a result. She has been re-appointed to the Boston School Committee by newly elected Mayor Michelle Wu.
17-Rann Miller Teacher and writer Rann Miller has been working for education equity for a long time, and 2021 was no different. In addition to his Urban Education Mixtape, Miller kept knocking it out of the park with his writing at Citizen Ed.
18-Shaka Mitchell Educator, author, and father Shaka Mitchell joined Citizen Ed CEO Chris Stewart to discuss what he and the Tennessee chapter of the American Federation for Children are doing for the Volunteer State's children.
20-Keri Rodrigues The National Parents Union’s Keri Rodrigues was all over the country in 2021, standing up for families’ rights as they fought educational inequities and gun violence. Read her powerful words, among many others’ harrowing stories, in this U.S. News piece.
21-Andrew Rotherham The EduWonk himself, Andrew Rotherham kept busy in 2021 explaining a bevy of new federal action for students. Learn more here about what he and Bellwether Education Partners are doing to break down the complexities of education policy into plain English.
22-Marguerite Roza Georgetown professor Marguerite Roza was knee-deep in the shifting forces behind education finance decisions this year. Learn more about what she and the Edunomics Lab are doing to help decision-makers make better choices with federal money.
24-Haley Taylor Schlitz The youngest host of a Citizen Ed broadcast, Zoomin’ In w/ Gen Z host Haley Taylor Schlitz kept on learning in 2021. That’s right, this burgeoning media star is herself a 19-year-old student at SMU Dedman School of Law. She also became a columnist for Citizen Ed. Don’t miss her pieces here.
26-Dan Weisberg TNTP CEO Dan Weisberg spent 2021 inspiring new teachers to join the workforce and giving them extremely useful tips for once they enter the classroom. Check out more of their work here. He’ll spend next year helping incoming New York City Mayor Eric Adams by becoming NYC Public Schools’ Deputy Chancellor.
27-Gregory Wickham The newest author and change-maker at New York School Talk and Project Forever Free is teaching himself these days after he dropped out of one of New York City’s most prestigious high schools. He knew he could serve his own needs better and he took time out of his busy learning schedule in 2021 to show others how he did it. Learn more here.
29-Zachary Wright A longtime Education Post contributor, Philadelphia-area teacher educator and activist Zachary Wright is releasing his first book soon! Learn more about Wright’s debut book, “Dismantling a Broken System,” and place a preorder if you’re so inclined, over at his author page.
30-Lakisha Young The Oakland REACH’s Lakisha Young doubled down on digital inclusion for Oakland kids in 2021. Learn more about how she and her team fought digital redlining here.