WASHINGTON, D.C. – Bellwether Education Partners is pleased to announce that David Esselman is joining our team as an entrepreneur-in-residence. He will incubate a new independent nonprofit organization to advance the vision of The Urban School System of the Future and, upon its formal launch, lead the organization as founding executive director.
Esselman has nearly two decades of experience in multiple capacities within the education sector. Most recently, Esselman was co-founder and partner at Great Gains, an independent K-12 education consulting practice. While at Great Gains, Esselman worked closely with policymakers, education leaders, and foundations to create attractive and equitable school options for families in cities across the country, both within traditional school systems and through alternative public schools.
In each such city, Esselman brought an unwavering commitment to serving children of all backgrounds who were otherwise at risk of being lost in the system:
“I have dedicated my career to education because I was one of those kids,” Esselman said. “I essentially raised myself from the age of 13. Because of this, and like a lot of children, I wanted to find things to do other than learn in the ways I was being asked. I was fortunate to find a path out due to one great teacher’s efforts to reach me when I was 18.” Esselman started high school in Wisconsin, and ultimately earned his diploma at another high school in Santa Monica, Calif., as well as a bachelor’s degree in public policy and political science at UCLA.
“Every child deserves to be reached and deserves a great public education. There is still an enormous need to create systems that speak to and respect families, re-inspire teachers, and engage entire communities.”
Esselman previously served as the director of education programs at The Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation, where he oversaw the venture philanthropy portfolio for large urban districts and collaborated closely with superintendents and community leaders to guide district strategic plans. He started his career serving low-income and immigrant families at public charter schools in Los Angeles and New York City, where he was an assistant principal and managed day-to-day school operations.
“It is an honor to still be connected to some of those children today.”
As an entrepreneur-in-residence at Bellwether, Esselman will work to launch an organization that will take a markedly different approach from traditional reform efforts, details around which will be made available when the organization launches later this spring.
“David brings heartfelt passion to this work in addition to great experience and knowledge of education reform’s successes and failures. He’ll excel at developing and launching this new organization and actualizing a bold vision for urban school-system reform,” said Bellwether partner Andy Smarick.
While many reforms have sought to improve the performance of the urban school district or change what the urban district does, this new organization will take a different approach: it will aim to support city and state leaders as they replace the district-centered system with a set of options designed with families at the center. The organization will be based on the idea that if all families are given an equal choice, if schools are held equally accountable, and if the right policies and civil-society activities are in place, thriving K-12 schools will result.
Biography of David Esselman
David Esselman has supported large urban districts and charter management organizations from coast to coast primarily focused on governance, portfolio management, and human capital. He has broad education reform knowledge having worked with nearly forty of the country's largest urban districts over the past several years. While serving as Partner at Great Gains, he co-led the design of the Michigan Education Achievement Authority (EAA), Michigan's version of the Recovery School District, designed the Tennessee Achievement School District (ASD) portfolio office and accountability system, and supported the development of portfolio school districts in twenty four cities as part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation District Charter Compact Initiative. He has also provided strategic advice to several superintendents and charter leaders on a broad array of topics. Previous education experience includes management positions at the Eli & Edythe Broad Foundation; Harbor Science and Arts Charter School in East Harlem, New York; and Camino Nuevo Charter Academy in Los Angeles, California. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science with a minor in urban planning from UCLA, where he also earned an M.B.A.
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Andrew J. Rotherham
Co-Founder and Partner, Bellwether Education Partners