East End Student Asks CEO the Tough Questions

Daniel and Mark
East End senior, Daniel Muñoz, and CEO Mark DiBella

Daniel Alberto Muñoz is a senior at YES Prep East End and the oldest of three siblings. He is a YES Prep Student Ambassador and participates in Cross Country, Track, and National Honor Society. Daniel hopes to attend Rice University or Boston University to pursue a career in the medical field. He wants to transform his community by improving the educational opportunities available to students in low-income communities and by diminishing the language barrier between healthcare providers and patients in Spanish-speaking, low-income communities. Muñoz interviewed CEO Mark DiBella earlier this fall. The interview was transcribed by sophomore Christian Alejo.

Daniel Muñoz: Have you witnessed or experienced educational inequality, and if so, how has it shaped you?

Mark DiBella: Personally, when I was in school, I did not experience educational inequality. Rather I experienced the privilege of growing up in an upper middle class community. So if you think about educational inequality as a seesaw where some people have more and some people have less, I was on the side of the seesaw that had more. My personal experience with educational inequality began when I joined Teach for America in 1999 and became a teacher in a school that served students from underserved communities. That was the first time I experienced educational inequality. How did it shape me? It changed my entire career. I thought I wanted to be a lawyer, and after experiencing educational inequity through the lives of my students, I decided I wanted to work in education for the rest of my life.

D: That’s very interesting because you were on one side of the seesaw and now you’re in the other one, and it’s just amazing how you have been able to see both sides of this dilemma.

M: Yes, it helps, and I think too many people assume that their experience is the experience that we all have as humans. We think that the way we see and experience the world is the experience of the world. But the older I get, the more I realize that my experience is just my experience, and there are literally billions of other experiences out there that are different than mine. And you have to be open to all of those other people’s experiences to help shape your own.

D: How can you shape YES Prep’s board to reflect the community it serves?

M: One of the things I’m working on right now with the board is creating a nominating process that ensures that we are getting nominations from a broad variety of sources. We are trying to broaden the ways that people can be nominated to the board. We would like a board that is diverse racially, that is diverse in terms of gender, and that is diverse in terms of experience. We need to be able to evaluate where we are in terms of different types of diversity and then compare that to where we want to get.

D: How do you think educational inequality impacts our country as a whole?

M: I often refer to educational inequality as a domino; if you tip that domino, it sets in motion a string of other dominos that need to be changed in our country. For example, I deeply believe that fixing the education system will have a drastic impact on tragic social ills like the school to prison pipeline and on homelessness.

D: What do you think are some of the key solutions to educational inequality?

M: One key solution is more choices for parents. If you’re a wealthy person, you have the choice to move to somewhere with a strong public school or send your child to a private school. Parents in underserved communities often don’t have that option. So, we need to make sure that all parents have the choice of sending their kids to an excellent school. Another solution would be figuring out how to make teaching a lifelong, sustainable profession, so that all students benefit from an experienced teacher who is committed to changing the education system from the inside out.

D: What progress have you seen in terms of solving educational inequality?

M: I’ve been working in education for 18 years and it feels simultaneously like a lot has changed and that nothing has changed because the problem is just so big. One thing that has changed for the better is when I started in education, across the country there were maybe 10,000 kids in high-performing charter schools. Now across the country there are 200,000 to 300,000 kids in high-performing charter schools.

D: If you were the president of the United States, what would be the first thing you do in order to solve this problem?

M: This is radical, but if affluent parents had the same limited set of options that lower income parents have, I think they would have a much better understanding of why choice is so important for everyone and then use their influence to champion for educational equity. Another way to change education would be to change the starting salaries for teachers to $150,000 a year. If we fundamentally changed how people value the teaching profession, we could retain and attract the top talent in our country and radically change educational inequity.

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