Group of students collaborating in a high school classroom.

Four Questions with Jessica Rose, Senior Program Officer, Education

Jess Rose, leader of the Catalyze New Models portfolio, shares what led her to Barr, her commitment to racial equity, and what inspires her to support excellence in high schools.

What led you to join Barr in July of 2023?

My own high school experience had a profound impact on me and greatly influenced my career in education and my journey to Barr. Growing up, my family talked about education, and specifically about teaching and learning, a lot around my dinner table. I had the chance to go to a quirky independent high school and it changed my life. We waded through marshes to tag invasive plants in ecology, all of the arts were core academic classes, and there were no grades. Juniors and seniors could teach full courses to 6th and 7th graders on our own. I went off to college already having taught for two years with a strong belief that the instructional core (the intersections between students, teachers, and learning) was sacred, complex, and full of power.

In college I developed a deeper awareness and understanding of systemic inequities and their impact on education. I realized then that my life’s work would center on dismantling these inequities and building something better in their place. I was considering how I might dig further into fostering racial equity and advancing deeper learning in schools when I saw a posting at Barr. I was drawn in by Barr’s dedication to working with grantees and partners to transform public high schools to be places where all students—especially students of color and other systemically marginalized students—thrive and graduate prepared to lead flourishing lives. I was thrilled to join the team!

You've spent 17 years in education at the school, district, and state level. What guiding philosophy do you bring to your work at Barr?

I’m guided by the belief that what we create in public schools needs to be worthy of our students’ humanity. I believe it’s important for a school to remain focused on its core purpose—which I believe is helping young people build, practice, and hone the knowledge, skills, and mindsets to cultivate the life they most want. When this guiding principle remains at the forefront of every choice and action, students can leave high school with every door open to them; they can be leaders of their own learning and their life—and they can be agents for change and leaders in their communities and the world.

What inspires you about your work through Catalyze New Models?

I am buoyed by our grantees and how they are committed to doing high school differently. We share a belief that our schools and school systems weren’t designed for our current students and the purposes that we need today. I’m inspired by our Meeting the Moment cohort. Meeting the Moment brings together central office, teachers, students and families to focus on transformative instruction to update how teaching and learning are approached in the classroom. I get excited whenever we come together to collaborate on ways to listen deeply to students and develop solutions that can transform classrooms, schools, and entire systems to suit their present needs.

Can you tell us about a teacher who inspired you?

Tim Bakland was my 10th grade Humanities teacher and his class and his teaching unlocked a world of intellectual rigor, deep thinking, and love of learning for me. I felt like I found myself in his class—or at least a kernel of who I wanted to become. He encouraged me to be a leader in ways that started me on my own path to becoming a teacher.

I would be remiss if I didn’t say that my students have been some of my very best teachers in life. My students showed me the importance of making learning purposeful and how critical it was for them to simultaneously see themselves mirrored in our work, and to be exposed to people and experiences outside their world. They also helped me in my own understanding of how our racial identities show up and influence all our work in education; I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.

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Jess Rose

Senior Program Officer, Education