From Corps Member to Senior School Administrator
TFA Alum Jacqueline Downey's Drive for Education Equity Shaped Her Career in Public Education.
Growing up and attending public school in the affluent Seattle suburb of Sammamish, Jacqueline Downey assumed that most schools were as well resourced and high-performing as those in her community.
Then, early in her time at Whitman College, she took a sociology course. Among the books she read for that class was Jonathan Kozol’s “Savage Inequalities,” which lays bare inequities in public education across the U.S. Reading Kozol opened Jacqueline’s eyes to a new reality and altered the trajectory of her life.
While at Whitman, she also took part in the college mentoring program, and worked for two years with a student from a low-income middle school. That brought home in a personal way the inequities she had read about in Kozol’s book.
"Just being able to shadow her and get to know her, in combination with my education about the public education system, made me feel like we have to do something,” she said. “Even though I personally did not experience the inequity and the racism within the public education system, I felt that as someone who is white and privileged, I have a responsibility to be an active participant in making things better.”
“Even though I personally did not experience the inequity and the racism within the public education system, I felt that as someone who is white and privileged, I have a responsibility to be an active participant in making things better.”
That epiphany led Jacqueline into a career in public education, beginning with two years as a Teach for America corps member at a Denver charter middle school where most of the students came from low-income families.
“TFA’s framing of the teacher as a leader in the classroom, making a direct impact with students is what really caught my attention,” she said. “I had a number of leadership roles in high school and college, and had a social justice mindset, but the social justice leadership of TFA helped me see that opportunity.”
After her TFA stint, Jacqueline moved back home to Washington and enrolled in the University of Washington’s Danforth Principal Program. While in the program she acted as a principal intern at a Seattle high school. At the same time, she worked part time as a TFA recruitment manager, visiting college campuses around the state.
Once she graduated from the Danforth program, Jacqueline was hired by the Highline School District as an assistant principal. She moved up to principal, and now has a senior position in central administration, supervising middle- and high-school principals.
“TFA’s framing of the teacher as a leader in the classroom, making a direct impact with students is what really caught my attention.”
Her focus and passion remain centered on educational equity. One of Jacqueline's primary responsibilities is to help Highline principals develop annual action plans, focused on academic success, social-emotional wellbeing, and being future-ready.
As Highline emerges from pandemic-era disruptions – Jacqueline says this is the first school year that almost has a pre-Covid feel – it’s important to use data to assess student needs, while keeping a firm eye on equity, which means maintaining a level of rigor that meets academic standards.
“It would be very easy for people to pull back and say we need to focus on remediation,” she said. “We can't afford to do that. We need to figure out how to give students rigorous access at grade level in a way that honors their voice and experience, and keeps them engaged, feeling involved and heard.”
In the schools she oversees, Jacqueline said, every student is known by name, strength, and need. “We want our students to graduate prepared for the future they choose,” she said.