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Cross-Boundary Leader: Moryah Jackson (SC EPFP '10-11)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Monday, March 2, 2015


Cross-Boundary Leader: Moryah Jackson
(SC EPFP '10-11)

Moryah Jackson is an independent education consultant who works with education organizations to help them address the challenges they have. Most recently, Ms. Jackson helped to launch Transform South Carolina, a grassroots initiative to advocate for improved public education in South Carolina, and ran for her local school board. After pursuing a career in the Foreign Service, she began a career in education, including serving as the director of outreach and recruitment at a technical college and working with high school students on college planning. Ms. Jackson is currently a doctoral student in the education leadership program at the University of Florida and is writing her dissertation on leadership development.

EPFP Experience

I participated in EPFP after learning about the program through my work on the improvement council at my son’s school. I was intrigued by EPFP and thought it would be a good opportunity to learn about what’s going on in South Carolina, especially from a practical perspective. Our coordinators were fantastic and really made the program personalized for each of us Fellows, and it gave us a strong theoretical foundation in education policy. We had the opportunity to hear from high-caliber and dynamic speakers and to talk to teachers and leaders of education organizations, and we even met with Sen. Lindsey Graham while we were in Washington, DC, for the Washington Policy Seminar. I loved the policy perspective of the program, visiting the South Carolina statehouse, and learning about how decisions are really made in our state. And it was because of my EPFP experience and the encouragement of my site coordinators that I ran for my local school board.

My own personal experiences have made me passionate about education and I saw EPFP as a great way to continue learning about it. I am a first-generation college graduate. I was a homeless youth, and my grandmother told me that to break the cycle of poverty you have to go to college, but I didn’t have a strong support network to help me navigate through the application process and selecting classes. I went to Columbia College in South Carolina, a small private women’s college, and was so fortunate that it was a very nurturing environment. I learned so much there and, as a low-income student, received the support I needed to ensure I did well and graduated. Because of that great experience, I went on to earn my master’s degree at the University of South Carolina in public administration, and am now a doctoral student in educational leadership at the University of Florida.

One of my favorite parts of EPFP, even now as an alum, is the network participants are welcomed into. It truly is invaluable. I was able to speak with people and leaders I would have never been able to connect with otherwise, build relationships with people across the state with diverse backgrounds, and, at the Washington Policy Seminar, I had the opportunity to meet Fellows from other EPFP sites across the country and learn about policy on a national scale. 

Designing 21st Century Learning Systems

I most recently worked with Transform South Carolina to launch the initiative as a grassroots effort to pull people together from different areas and sectors—from parents, teachers, and students to business leaders, elected officials, and school and district administrators—to help move our state’s education system forward.

Getting the initiative up and running was a daunting task, but very exciting! The leaders of the initiative knew it would take a lot of heavy lifting across sectors to really gain support and redesign public education. We first hosted a summit and invited school districts across the state to tell them about the initiative and encouraged them to bring community supporters from their districts, like school board members and teachers. We had great speakers, including a college student who discussed integrating technology in education and a business leader to talk about what the future of learning looks like. Following the summit, we asked districts to apply to be involved in the initiative, and the response was overwhelming. So we invited the districts back together for a two-day workshop that was really hands on—a deeper speaker series, academic discussions, a session on how we could grow creativity and innovation in South Carolina. The leaders of the effort then used what we learned and heard in this workshop to inform our visits to schools and districts, and we continued to build partnerships in communities across the state, talk to leaders about their long-term needs, and work with participating schools to identify outcomes, organize data, and provide technical assistance.

The most interesting part of this work—and about 21st century learning—is that it’s truly a collaborative effort. Creating this new education system involves focusing on integrating technology and helping students develop 21st century skills, which in turn requires teamwork from folks in different areas, including the education sector as well as business, community, and policy sectors. It also requires collaboration among teachers and administrators to share information about what is working in their schools and districts and help each other replicate best practices.

Cross-Boundary Leadership

Cross-boundary leadership all comes down to listening. Being a successful leader requires you to listen to people and build relationships early on, and I love talking to people and learning about their background and what their needs are. Education impacts the entire community, so it’s important to know what the needs are in business communities, faith-based organizations, and nonprofits, and then figure out where you can have common ground among all of those needs. When you can hear people’s needs and understand where the resources are to help them meet their needs, you create a win-win situation for everybody. It’s also very important to be open, honest, and genuine, and not just “talk to talk.” Leaders need to collaborate and maximize the limited resources we have to be successful. If you’re willing to take more time to listen, build relationships and work together, and keep student success at the forefront and move toward that direction, it makes a huge impact on all involved.

Career Challenges

Running for my local school board was very challenging. I have a sense of urgency in that we can’t wait for tomorrow to improve our schools and help our students—they need us today and need help now. It breaks my heart that we’re losing students every day as leaders often are slow to come together and figure out what needs to be done. My campaign was my first experience running for an office and I really wasn’t connected to the political machine or know how it really worked on a local level. I saw how my district was performing and genuinely wanted a voice and to make a difference because our schools and students needed help now. Although I was not elected, the experience taught me a lot and gave me a new perspective on our political process. And I truly wouldn’t have been prepared for running if it wasn’t for EPFP.

Leadership Lessons Learned

My advice is to really learn how to lead change. I’m really big on the idea that the only constant is change, but people aren’t comfortable with it. It’s so important to understand the change process; we live in an age with so much information sharing and technology that change happens even more quickly. It’s important for leaders to see themselves as change agents and to continue to have a vision and be bold and constantly reach for that.

Communication is another crucial part of leadership. There are so many communication tools today, and having an idea of branding, sharing, and communicating your vision is critical. It’s important to know when to provide data and evidence in depth, but also to know how to get a message out succinctly in a 140-character tweet or present it visually in a YouTube video.

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