74 Interview: New KIPP CEO Shavar Jeffries on Students’ Post-Pandemic Needs

ByBeth Hawkins

A civil rights lawyer by trade and an education activist by avocation, Shavar Jeffries was thrust into the spotlight in early 2010 when he was elected to a school board seat in Newark. It was an era when odd political bedfellows Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic Sen. Cory Booker showed up in Newark bearing a $100 million check from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to be spent on both charter and district-run schools.

On Jeffries’s watch, Newark’s schools posted historic gains — inviting gale-force political blowback that’s still reverberating.

He then embarked on an eight-year run as the head of Democrats for Education Reform and its nonprofit sister, Education Reform Now. He took the helm at a time when many Democrats were abandoning the centrist school-improvement policies of the Obama era, yet Jeffries — who is a distant cousin of U.S. House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries — coordinated dozens of winning political strategies.

Now, Jeffries is heading up the KIPP Foundation, which coordinates a coast-to-coast network of highly regarded public charter schools. His new job is to lead 280 schools — and affiliated groups tackling everything from increasing alumni college persistence rates to recruiting and training the next generation of education leaders — out of an unprecedented pandemic crisis.

The 74 caught up with Jeffries recently to hear what prompted him to move to KIPP, his advice about the Democrats’ education agenda and what he believes will meet young people’s needs at a critical juncture. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

The 74: How many people have hit you up in the last two months for a pipeline to your cousin?

Shavar Jeffries: A lot. It reminds me a little bit of when I was school board president in Newark. Every time I go into my LinkedIn, there’s somebody. So yeah, we’re getting a lot.

What advice do you have for Democrats who want to shepherd an education agenda?

We need more political infrastructure to support Democrats. There’s a heavily funded infrastructure to oppose charters within the Democratic Party. A lot of that is funded by our colleagues in the teacher unions, who we work with on many different issues.

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