Elissa Spelman Honored with Ten Outstanding Young Leaders Award

Last night, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and City Awake honored ten of the region’s emerging young leaders from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors who have demonstrated a commitment to improving the civic and business environment and the quality of life in Greater Boston. Breakthrough Greater Boston’s Executive Director, Elissa Spelman was one of those honored last night.

For nearly a decade, Breakthrough has thrived under Elissa’s leadership. During this time the organization has seen significant growth, expanding from a one-city organization to three cities, now serving over 500 students and training 100 Teaching Fellows annually. With continued growth on the horizon, once all three campuses have enrolled students at each of the six grade levels Breakthrough serves, we will work with as many as 900 students and 200 teachers each year. Elissa brings deep experience in the field of education, beginning her career as a third grade teacher in Dorchester and, prior to joining Breakthrough, supporting dozens of programs serving low-income youth while leading the Wellington Management Foundation.

“On behalf of Breakthrough Greater Boston’s staff and board, we are thrilled to have Elissa recognized for her commitment to educational equity and her inspiring leadership of the organization,” said Board Chair Melanie Goins. “Elissa is a quiet force behind Breakthrough’s success in creating paths to college and promoting careers in education for thousands of students and teachers. Her work at Breakthrough is essential to keeping Greater Boston at the vanguard of communities that are tackling inequities at both the individual and systemic level.”

Read Elissa’s remarks from the event:
My vision for Boston is to build an exemplary teaching force. I believe the future success of our city is dependent upon how we value, nurture, and educate our children. But today, a child born in one neighborhood of Boston would not even recognize the educational experiences of a child born in another zip code. If we place top quality teachers in every child’s classroom, we have the ability to dismantle this devastating inequity.

At Breakthrough, all of our teachers are college students, who we are training to become the next generation of urban teachers. Observers often remark, “I almost can’t tell the difference between your students and teachers!”. Of course, this is in part because our teachers’ age. But it is also because of three other key elements: 1) our teachers reflect the diversity of our students, 2) our teachers are engaged in genuine relationships with their students, and 3) our teachers are learners, being supported by their own coaches. These are keys to creating a transformative teaching force.

Research from the Institute of Labor Economics shows that students of color who have just one teacher of the same ethnic background are far more likely to stay in school and to internalize an expectation of going to college. It matters who stands at the front of the classroom. At Breakthrough, over 60% of our teachers are of color.

The work of Dr. Ron Ferguson at Harvard shows us that students simply do not learn as much from teachers who they believe do not care about them. At Breakthrough, the first thing we have teachers focus on is building relationships with students. As our teachers get to know their students deeply, they gain their trust and, thus, the ability to push them to achieve.

Finally, teachers’ own learning must be prioritized too.Teachers make hundreds of split-second decisions in the course of one class period. At Breakthrough, every teacher has their own coach who helps them analyze their practice and prepares them with proven skills to make them effective teachers.

Boston has been a pioneer in education since our nation’s founding.  We can continue to be that pioneer. I believe we have the opportunity to become a city in which every child has an excellent teacher regardless of zip code; a city in which every citizen can thrive.

Read more about the event and this year’s honorees.