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Welcome to the EPFP Alumni Blog! Here we highlight the work of EPFP alumni around the country by featuring guest blog posts about our three pillars: Policy, Leadership, and Networking. For more information or to report abuse of this feature, please contact the EPFP national program staff at

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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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Cross-Boundary Leader: Terri Ferinde Dunham (DC EPFP '93-94)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Thursday, February 19, 2015


Cross-Boundary Leader: Terri Ferinde Dunham
(DC EPFP '93-94)

Terri Ferinde Dunham is a partner at Collaborative Communications Group, where she has managed, facilitated, and supported groups that expand learning opportunities and redefine professional development. For more than a decade, Ms. Dunham has managed the National Network of Statewide Afterschool Networks. She has also written and published the groundbreaking compendium Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning Programs for Student Success, and currently serves as the director of the Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project. Prior to working at Collaborative, Ms. Dunham worked at the U.S. Department of Education for 10 years and was recognized as a Fellow with the Council for Excellence in Government. In 2014, she was named one of the top 25 most influential people in afterschool by the National AfterSchool Association.

EPFP Experience

When I was a Fellow, I was working for the U.S. Department of Education, and it helped to create my perspective on education at the time. I was able to see across organizations, boundaries, and sectors, which is very hard to do in a federal agency or organization. Having the opportunity to see what’s out there and how you can influence what’s happening across the board was very powerful. I particularly enjoyed the conversations with people I normally would not have had the opportunity to speak with.

EPFP gives fuel to the fire for early and mid-career professionals, which is one of the main reasons why I continue to sponsor Fellows at Collaborative to participate in the program. We have a bright, skilled, and thoughtful staff who know about education, but EPFP provides the depth of knowledge and connections that are invaluable to our staff and our work. The strength of the program and people is that they are steeped in knowledge that is based in practicality. Sharing knowledge with peers and getting new perspectives from Fellows and speakers is a powerful way to learn.

Creating Meaningful Change in Afterschool Policy and Practice

The National Network of Statewide Afterschool Networks (NNSAN) is a group of 48 state networks that work to create more and better afterschool networks, find funding for afterschool programs, and build quality systems for afterschool work. One meaningful aspect of this work is truly working across sectors for afterschool solutions. One example of this is STEM learning. In so many states, we need to build the STEM workforce and our students need to develop strong STEM skills. Afterschool programs can offer space for STEM-focused workforce development or build student interest in the area and create opportunities for communities.

The Expanded Learning and Afterschool Project (ELAP) is an effort to bring to the forefront the research and communications tools that talk about how afterschool works and impacts students. This includes compiling research and articles from many authors and initiatives about the ways and spaces in which afterschool programs work, as well as research on how they help to close opportunity and achievement gaps. Most recently, we’ve done research with the Afterschool Alliance that shows more demand than ever for afterschool programs, and we’re making the case for afterschool programs in a variety of settings and showing their results.

What Leaders Need to Know about Policy, Leadership, and Networking

From our unique view in the afterschool space, we see that leaders are looking at the broader view of learning to encompass all the spaces and people that are involved in education. Having a broad vision is important for creating a seamless and comprehensive system for the greater goals of preparing students for college, career, and life. Policy is more detailed and nuanced, so it’s important to look across sectors. Networking can help with this by allowing leaders to break out and see networks across boundaries to connect the dots to help and support young people.

Developing Education Leaders

I like the idea of helping all leaders be exposed to all areas, from high-level idea development to on-the-ground work. We also need to develop leaders who understand the value of partnerships. We are too often conditioned to think only about what we do and take on a lot that relates to that, but leaders need the skills to build and leverage partnerships to collectively do the work, which shows the power of collaboration. A lot of my work at Collaborative is around network development and building communities where professionals are sharing and shaping their leadership skills through peer engagement. Good leaders create, join, and participate in strong networks where they have peers no matter how isolated their work may seem.

Cross-Boundary Leadership

I am constantly trying to connect networks and resources to people and ideas who can benefit from them. My leadership role is being a connector. I am always scanning and seeing need and reaching out and bringing relevant resources in. In my specific area of expanded and afterschool learning, for example, I look for how college and career readiness and college access networks could intersect with and leverage our networks, and find ways to connect them.

Career Challenges

The greatest challenge I see is building a learning system that is cross-sector and child-centric. Policies and people are siloed, and there are so many components to consider: allowable and required uses of funding, getting credit in classrooms, etc. It’s very hard to break from the traditional model, even for places with a strong vision. Creating powerful conversations and convening people to work out problems and create good practices can create a new vision of learning.

Leadership Lessons Learned

Strengthening and sharing research is very important. I often find myself talking about leaders being articulate in their research, but we need to compile digestible bits of research that are easy to share and understand. On the communications side, we are always working to build our tools and graphics to share information more effectively.

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Alan Richard (DC EPFP '00-01)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Cross-Boundary Leader: Alan Richard
(DC EPFP '00-01)

Alan Richard has had a long career in communications, writing, and journalism in the education sector. Before his current role as Chair of the Rural School and Community Trust, Richard spent the past three years at public relations and communications agencies in Washington and was the Communications Director at the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) in Atlanta. He has also worked as a journalist at Education Week and The State newspaper in Columbia, SC. We asked him about his EPFP experience, challenges he’s faced during his career, and cross-boundary leadership.

EPFP Experience

I participated in EPFP while worked at Education Week and was the first working journalist to go through the program. I was new in town some colleagues encouraged me to apply to the program to learn more about how Washington and federal policy worked. Some other Fellows in my cohort worked at the U.S. Department of Education, and others were teachers and principals, and I felt their responses to our discussions were very powerful. It was great for me, as a journalist, to learn about the importance of policy and guiding educational practices and opportunities and “lifted the veil” of how Washington works to help me better understand ESEA, what the U.S. Department of Education actually did, and the importance of policymaking. I was also able to meet some interesting people and I’m still in touch with a few Fellows today.

My year in EPFP (2000-2001) was exciting because that was when No Child Left Behind was taking place, and we actually had advisors to Sen. Joe Lieberman and the White House come in and debate some of the points discussed in Congress at the time. I was especially interested to learn about the development of NCLB because it represented a united front between President Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy, although Kennedy later became a critic of the implementation.

Not long after my year in EPFP, Hunter Moorman, who was the DC site coordinator at the time, and I drove from DC to Columbia, SC, and brought the idea of starting an EPFP site to several education organizations there. We were able to meet with the SEA, school board, education oversight committee, and other groups, and these conversations eventually led to the launch of the South Carolina EPFP site, which was an exciting thing to be a part of.

Cross-Boundary Leadership

Cross-boundary leadership is at the heart of what I do and have done in my career. As a journalist, you have to really try to set aside biases because you are telling other people’s stories. Issues can be quite complex and have lots of nuances, so working with a wide variety of sources and getting the right information is important. At SREB, we worked with political stakeholders from all sides, including governors, higher education officials, superintendents, and legislators on both sides of the aisle. Now, as a communications consultant, I’ve realized that no one has a monopoly on good ideas—everyone has a role.


One of the most challenging things I’ve had to do is to stay above the fray. At times I fear that a lot of education policy debates happening now are not particularly useful. The biggest challenges that remain to improve education are important because they affect students, such as preparing students for learning and work after high school, and they deserve great attention from all of us regardless of political views. We should be working to solve these challenges together, such as making school more appealing to all students and providing quality early education that all students deserve.

Lessons Learned

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to figure out what matters most to you and to the debate and take focus off of the most immediate political argument. Take Common Core for example. The main issue there is the need to work together to agree on the proper role of education and raising academic standards, but many people are stuck on the political aspect of the issue. Instead, we should be focusing on implementing standards the right way and creating more opportunities for students to attend postsecondary education and be successful in college and technical training. That’s what will make a difference.

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Maurice Sykes

Posted By Jennifer Masutani, Monday, November 24, 2014
Cross-Boundary Leader: Maurice Sykes

(EPFP '78-79)


Maurice Sykes is an Education Policy Fellowship (EPFP ’78-79) Alum and Director of the Early Childhood Leadership Institute at the University of the District of Columbia. His book, Doing the Right Thing for Children: Eight Qualities of Leadership, was recently published by Redleaf Press. In his book, he shares stories of his leadership journey sprinkled with personal anecdotes that reflect the challenges and opportunities that he has experienced throughout his professional career. He has organized the book around his prescription for leadership success based on his eight core leadership values: Human Potential, Knowledge, Social Justice, Competence, Fun and Enjoyment, Personal Renewal, Perseverance, and Courage. We asked him about his leadership lessons.

Cross-boundary leadership

Being a well-developed Myers-Briggs extrovert, quite naturally I draw my energy and inspiration from the external world.  I have always possessed a collaborative spirit and I have always believed that the business of education is everybody's business.  Therefore, I operate in multiple spheres of influence within and outside of the educational arena.


I view myself as an urban educator whose specialty is early childhood education.  However, my book is aimed at developing cross-boundary, early childhood leaders who view their work as a building block for school readiness, K-12 school reform, workforce development/college readiness and the overall improvement of community economic development.  While situated in the early childhood space, my book is about enrolling the right people and fostering collaboration across organizational boundaries to promote social justice and equality of opportunity for children from under-resourced communities. It is intended to create a compelling context for doing the right thing for children.


Some things just come with the territory and challenges and opportunities are a part of the leadership experience.  Some of the challenges are from external forces, some are from internal forces and some of the challenges are self-generated.  In all three instances, the leader must first assess where the challenges and opportunities are coming from and what are the most appropriate set of remedies/responses to "fix" the situation.  The least productive response is to seek to find the "culprit" by blaming everyone except yourself. It has been my experience that when challenges arise it is time to bring vision, voice and visibility to the situation.  This is where you apply your knowledge of you your craft, knowledge of yourself and knowledge of others to the situation.  It is the interaction and the interdependence of these threes spheres of knowledge that enables leaders to overcome challenges and exploit opportunities.

“EPFP was the most powerful professional development I had in my career, in large part due to a meticulous way EPFP created a set of developmental experiences that took people out of their comfort zone and exposed them to different perspectives. EPFP was transformational for me due to people we interacted with. We were taught networking as a science, how to cast and refurbish the net; how to understand networking and self on a deeper level. We had a broad range of opportunities and developmental experiences and interacted with cutting edge thinkers. EPFP was enlightening and transformative.”


Lessons Learned

The biggest lesson that I have learned is that sometimes you have to slow down in order to speed up change that is enduring and transformational.  There are two core leadership lessons that emerge from my book:

First, leaders need to be in constant conversation with themselves and their practice. What gets in the way is our biggest blind spot – absence of self-knowledge. Leaders must challenge their own thinking. A strong leader knows him or her self and has the interpersonal power to enter a room and engage in a dialogue with others in a strategic, authentic and purposeful manner.

Second, courageous acts are not always great, but they are courageous nonetheless. For example, it takes courage to confront one's self and others in order to continuously advocate for children.  The quality of a great leader should be measured as much by his or her detractors as it is measured by his or her supporters. I am always somewhat skeptical about leaders who everyone likes. People might not always like your decisions, but if you are guided by your core values you will always do what is in the best interest of children. 


Tags:  alumni  leadership  washington dc 

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Dr. Steven R. Staples (VA EPFP ’89-90)

Posted By Jennifer Masutani, Monday, November 10, 2014


Cross-Boundary Leader: Dr. Steven R. Staples
(VA EPFP ’89-90)

The new State Education Chief of Virginia, Dr. Steven R. Staples (VA EPFP ’89-90), is IEL Education Policy Fellowship Program alum. When we asked Dr. Staples about his EPFP experience, this is what he told us:

“EPFP experience exceeded my expectations. It allowed me to associate with folks I wouldn’t have otherwise met. It shaped my perspectives and views on the world and on education and opened my horizons on diverse issues, at both the state and national levels. It also informed my career choices to pursue the superintendency.” 

Dr. Staples also shared with us how he leads across boundaries, what are some challenges he has faced during his illustrious career, and what lessons he has learned.


Cross-boundary Leadership

The key is to look for a common problem that has no simple solution, but whose responsibility is embedded across many sectors. Think about the K-12 system and the phrase “college readiness”… Each agency defines “college readiness” in a different way. If we are to create a seamless system from K-12 to postsecondary education, we need to listen to each other and understand each other’s perspectives. This means engaging critical stakeholders with different perspectives to share their views. Creating a trusting, safe space and giving people permission to step outside their comfort zone is critical in leading across boundaries and problem solving across sectors. As education leaders, we have limited authority outside of K-12 space to use the bully pulpit. Thus, it is important to continuously initiate outreach to others.

In the era of accountability, the State Departments of Education (SEAs) are perceived as the big brother, an oversight group that is not willing to encourage real partnerships. But, that is not the case. State DOEs are working to change that culture by working with local educational agencies (LEAs) to help support underperforming districts. This year, Virginia is working with districts on final accreditation decisions. When schools do not make accreditation, we work to create a customized memorandum of understanding that will encourage close collaboration and support between SEA and LEAs.

Lessons Learned
Given the importance of reaching across systems and sectors to create positive change, networks become critical. Never stop networking! There are stakeholders who are working on similar problems and facing similar circumstances. Social issues in particular, fall into this category – they are cross system, cross sector, and complex. Creating a culture that encourages networking and incentivizes a collective reexamination of how and why we do things is critical. Such culture allows us to be flexible and adaptable.

Dr. Steven R. Staples (VA EPFP ’89-90) is the 24th Superintendent of Public Instruction for Virginia. As Superintendent, he serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Virginia Department of Education and Secretary of the Board of Education. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Staples served as the Executive Director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, was a faculty member at the College of William & Mary and completed a 33 year career in local K-12 positions, from classroom teacher to school superintendent.

Tags:  alumni  cross-boundary leader  virginia 

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