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A Reflection on 2019, and a Look Ahead

Charissa Fernández, reflects on the state of the community during her last year as Teach For America New York's executive director and welcomes Tia Morris, the incoming executive director for TFA NY. 

Teach For America New York Executive Director Charissa L. Fernandez

By Charissa Fernández

April 28, 2020

Dear Friends,

When I envisioned my last few months at TFA, I imagined passing the baton to our brilliant new Executive Director, Tia Morris, as she prepared to welcome the 2020 corps, launch our new strategy, and celebrate our 30th anniversary.  All of this will still happen but, like everyone, we’ve been forced to adapt.  

The coronavirus crisis has been a crash course in humility and humanity.  We’re humbled by how little control we have in this situation: our city brought to its knees, the borders that shape so much of our activity and identity rendered useless in the face of COVID-19. Within a few weeks, everyone knew someone who had been infected; and we have all been affected.  Yet we are not all impacted equally: the map of the highest concentration of infections closely mirrors the maps of the neighborhoods where Teach For America works.  Low-income communities represent a disproportionate number of the people who are hospitalized and they bear the brunt of the economic fallout. The rapid transition to virtual learning was commendable, but has magnified the gap between the educational have and have-nots. Most parents, myself included, have found that we are ill-equipped to homeschool our children.  For the high-need students and families we serve, these challenges are compounded by concerns about food, employment, shelter,  access to healthcare and technology. 

The depth and complexity of our connections has never been more evident.  The decision to close schools brought attention to their value as places where our most vulnerable students find the food, safety and community that every child deserves.  The shock of having to play a more hands-on role in our children’s day-to-day instruction has amplified our respect and appreciation for the tremendous effort, creativity, and patience teachers must display 180 days per year.  Our desire for calm, clear, rational guidance highlighted the importance of leadership at every level across every sector.  As I leave, my parting wish is that this episode in our history is brief, but these lessons, which are at the core of Teach For America’s mission, endure.  

Whether you’ve been with us for a year or 30 years, Tia and the entire TFA community - including our students - will rely on you to help keep those lessons alive. There is no time like the present to lead today, change tomorrow. 

Thank you for standing with us in the belief that all children deserve an excellent education and for supporting the outstanding teachers and leaders NYC needs. You can read more about TFA NY's impact in the 2019 Annual Report. On a personal note, I am so grateful for your partnership for these past seven years. I could not have persisted without your support. It has been a privilege to lead the region and I look forward to staying connected as a friend of TFA. 

With gratitude,

Charissa Fernández 

Executive Director