New York

Former KIPP AMP co-principal to lead TFA in New York

Teach for America’s New York office has a new executive director.

Jeff Li, who will take over management of the city’s branch of the program for new teachers, has spent the last year working on the group’s fundraising, according to his LinkedIn profile. He joined TFA’s New York management after a tumultuous year as co-principal of the Brooklyn charter school KIPP AMP. That year, 15 of the school’s 20 teachers voted to unionize, prompting a monthslong battle between the school’s teachers and KIPP managers. This year, the teachers reversed their decision and asked to leave the union in April.

Before becoming co-principal, he was a founding math teacher at the school and won the U.S. Department of Education’s American Star of Teaching award in 2008 for the achievement gains his students made. Li started out as a third grade teacher and TFA member in 2003 at P.S. 69 in the South Bronx after leaving a consulting career.

Li will start in his new role on June 16, said a TFA spokeswoman. An email that was sent to TFA teachers from Li and the outgoing executive director, Jemima Bernard, is below the jump.

Hello [Redacted],

I am excited to share with you that I have accepted a promotion at Teach For America and will join our national team as a Vice President of Regional Operations in mid-June. In my new role, I will be responsible for managing a portfolio of executive directors — including New York’s — as they work to achieve ambitious goals to help maximize Teach For America’s impact at closing the achievement gap in their local communities. Given the particularly challenging landscape we have all weathered together over the last couple of years, leaving the day-to-day oversight of our New York region is bittersweet for me but I am thrilled to bring what I’ve come to learn as the executive director of our largest site, along with my previous four years of experience as a senior leader at the New York City Department of Education to help propel our national efforts. At the same time, I am thrilled to announce that Jeff Li from our regional team will be assuming the executive director role.

Jeff started his Teach For America career as a 2003 corps member, teaching third grade in the South Bronx and then served as a founding math teacher of a high-performing KIPP charter middle school in Brooklyn. During his five years of teaching, Jeff was incredibly successful at driving his students towards achieving outstanding academic gains and in 2008 was awarded the sole American Star of Teaching award for New York State by the U.S. Department of Education. In addition to teaching, Jeff also served as Co-Principal during the school’s fourth year. Prior to his career in education, Jeff worked for several years as a management consultant at the Boston Consulting Group, providing strategy consultancy services to Fortune 500 companies. Jeff received his B.A. in Economics and International Relations with Distinction at Stanford University, and his M.S. in Childhood Education at the Bank Street College of Education in New York City. I am personally excited to see Jeff lead our region through this next important chapter in our history.

All my best,

Hello [Redacted],

I cannot tell you how thrilled and humbled I am to lead Teach For America’s efforts in our nation’s largest public school system.
In the twenty years of our presence here in New York, we have accomplished an incredible amount–but we have so much more to do. As someone who taught for five years, I am absolutely energized to work alongside each of you to ensure that one day, all children in our city — and our nation — will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

I know many of you, but not all. In the coming weeks (and always), please feel free to reach out to me directly, or to members of my team, if you have questions, concerns, thoughts, ideas or just want to say hello. I look forward to meeting or reconnecting with each and every one of you!

All my best,

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”