Join our diverse force of leaders shaping the course of our nation.
From Basketball Recruit at a Top College to Recruiting Top Teachers for a National School Network
Jonathan Howard (New York ’06) had his life figured out before he set foot on a college campus—or so he thought. As a star shooting guard at Brophy Prep in Phoenix, he was a nationally rated basketball recruit with a bevy of college suitors. Opting to stay close to home, he chose Arizona State University. “I realized I was pretty good at basketball at an early age, and it opened doors for me,” remembers Howard, who once had designs on a career in the pro ranks.
Of course, even the most well-laid plans can fall by the wayside, and when the physical toll of college hoops and a heart condition prematurely derailed Howard’s athletic career, he found his true calling in education. That journey began in 2006, when he joined Teach For America, and continues through his current position as vice president of recruitment at Democracy Prep Public Schools, a national network of open-enrollment, high-performing public charter schools.
At Democracy Prep, 99 percent of students identify as people of color and 85 percent qualify for a free lunch; according to their most recent data, 100 percent of their graduates are admitted to college, and 80 percent are admitted to the most selective colleges.
Howard’s presence has been a crucial element in this success; under his watch, Democracy Prep has recruited teachers from 37 different states, with 25 percent of teachers having at least five years of classroom experience and 43 percent of them identifying as people of color.
“I love my job,” he says. “I get to travel the country and do some of our most crucial work, which is to locate and successfully convince our next group of teachers to come teach in our schools.”
Currently on paternity leave with his third child, Howard carved out some time to speak with us about his experience as a student and his transition from coveted hardwood recruit to esteemed recruiter in the field of education.
A lot has been said about the prestige of the teaching profession or working in education as a whole. What is one way your work addresses that?
We value our teachers, so giving them opportunities to grow within their work through professional development is one of the big driving forces behind our success. Sometimes I tell teachers that if you don’t think you’re growing wherever you’re at now, maybe it’s time to look elsewhere. At Democracy Prep, you’re going to have someone in your classroom every day, giving you praise and feedback on how to get better.
And from our CEO on down, every decision that gets made at the school level or at the network level is about the kids. We won’t open a school to just open a school. Our students in the communities we serve don’t have time to waste. They can’t afford to have another year of their education wasted by going to a bad school. The urgency behind our work and focus on what’s doing best for kids is paramount to what we do.
What’s one example of your impact that sticks out to you?
Definitely seeing kids over the years who have grown up before my eyes. In fact, our first sixth graders are now seniors in college, and so we’ll have our first college graduating class this year. To see them grow up and succeed in college, that’s why we do this work. They are walking testaments to the collective effort of everyone at Democracy Prep.