Former Leading Educators CEO Jonas Chartock says farewell to the board
Nearly two years ago, amid what many have called the “racial reckoning” of summer 2020, Leading Educators announced plans to diversify our board of directors. Dr. Jonas Chartock, our founding CEO and a member of the board since inception offered to make the first move: at the right time, he would voluntarily step down.
As Jonas plans to depart in March 2022, we sat down to reflect on his leadership, lessons learned, and hopes for the future.
Bethany Criss: I want to first thank you for your decade of service to this organization and our mission. You’ve not only set U.S. education on an exciting new course but also found ways to broaden who has access to leadership. What drew you to Leading Educators’ mission in the first place?
Jonas Chartock: I wish this was a more exciting story, but I was sort of recruited by a friend who was running the search for Leading Educators to find the first CEO. I ran into that person at a conference and they were like, “You’d be great for this new organization that’s getting off the ground in New Orleans. You should talk to these people.”
I talked to them, and they flew me down. As a blues musician, New Orleans spoke to me. I was living in New York, switched jobs to join and lead Leading Educators, and the rest is history.
BC: What would you say was the biggest or most impactful challenge that you faced while at the helm of LE?
JC: Leading our internal drive to become stronger on racial equity, and finding my footing as the CEO to make that happen was challenging. Underneath that umbrella, staffing was difficult, especially navigating issues of race relative to the makeup of our staff at the time. It was challenging to parse out a commitment to racial equity from performance and understand how those things affect one another. I think about that all the time in my current role and talk to other CEOs about this work.
BC: What are you most proud of from your time with Leading Educators?
JC: One thing I’m proud of is assembling a team of great people and navigating how that looked over time–pulling amazing people into Leading Educators, which made us great.
On racial equity, I tried to intentionally lead with awareness of my identity as a white, male, cisgender CEO and push the internal conversation. Prioritizing work around racial equity afforded us a voice when injustice became a more pervasive or expansive conversation. By then, we were much more aware of what we knew and didn’t know, and we were able to connect our work to a bigger vision.
Last, I’m proud of utilizing the spectrum of camps within the education landscape, be they the unions, charter schools, large philanthropy, small philanthropies, and different kinds of policymakers. I’m proud that I was able to help Leading Educators find advocates and seek out collective goals when it can feel hard to get this complex sector on the same page.
BC: I definitely see that. What advice do you have for LE staff, leadership, and for the educators that we serve?
JC: Education reform has a history of burning people out. It has a history of making things even harder than this content, which is already extremely difficult. Figuring out ways to manage that burden and manage that pressure is important. I think Leading Educators has done a better job than a lot of places in terms of keeping people going in a challenging sector.
That certainly goes even more so for the teaching force. What is being asked of educators and how one sustains change and progress over time is very difficult. Organizations must very intentionally and systematically take on that work of sustainability for our educators. It happens now, and we need more of it.
I think Leading Educators has done a really good job of not allowing teacher leadership to mean only one thing over time. And at the same time, the organization hasn’t allowed it to become amorphous either. Being able to talk about the importance of teachers leading teachers and how that looks internally [and externally] when it comes to the impact on student performance is so critical.
In the early years of Leading Educators, we stayed clear on our instructional focus. Continuing to lead in the teacher leadership space will matter for the future.
BC: I have one last question. You’ve been leading Leading Educators for years now, between being CEO and being on the board. What’s next for you?
JC: I’m very hopeful that this company that I co-founded about a year ago with my colleagues at the Southern Equity Collective will continue to grow and be high impact in its work with companies and nonprofits that are seeking to become much more intentional about their internal anti-racism work. Even though I’m a co-founder, I’m also not the head of it. And I love that! I seek to lead in a different way.
Now, I’m seeking to lead on an individual and small-group level when it comes to working with executives, their teams, and their boards. It’s been very rewarding work, and I hope that we can continue to grow it.
That’s where I’m leading forward.
Leading Educators thanks Dr. Jonas Chartock for his dedication, his service, and his leadership. We wish him the best as he continues being an advocate and ally for equity.
Take a Walk Through LE History
Earlier this year, Jonas spoke with current CEO Chong-Hao Fu, founder Jay Altman, and Sivi Domango–a fellow in our first cohort–about Leading Educators’ evolution over time.