College Bound Dorchester Graduation

Six Questions with Barr's New Education Senior Program Officer

Getting to know Kate Dobin who leads Barr’s Boston K-12 strategy for Education.

1. How did you start working in education?

After college, I started working in investment consulting and decided to volunteer in a Boston elementary school. This experience inspired me to learn more about education systems and their impact on what I was doing and seeing in the classroom. A few years later, during graduate school, I became an Education Pioneers (EP) Fellow, a 3-month experience designed to be an "education in education.” The program had two components: A full-time internship with NewSchools Venture Fund (NSVF), working with NSVF to understand where their support was most valuable to grantees, where it wasn’t, and develop strategic recommendations for the future; and weekly workshops with the other EP Fellows, who came from a variety of fields and with a range of internship placements. We researched and discussed the achievement gap, the history of education policies, and debated the current education reform efforts underway in Boston and across the nation.

After my EP experience, I wanted to find a way that I could contribute to the efforts of public education by using my skills and background. I joined Parthenon’s K-12 Education strategy consulting team and spent the next six years helping school districts, non-profits, foundations, and state departments of education develop strategies to improve K-12 education.

2. What was one particularly inspiring, memorable project you worked on?

I had the opportunity to work with a large urban school district to review their human capital strategy. Human capital is incredibly important to the fabric of a school system, and because the strategic elements can vary widely, there were many stakeholders involved in the process, both internally and externally to the district. To have so many different stakeholders align on a common vision was challenging, but the result was a comprehensive and cohesive approach, and it showed me what can happen in education when everyone comes to together around a shared goal.

3. After working with schools and districts across the country, what attracted you to Barr and to K-12 education in Boston?

Being a K-12 strategy consultant for six years was a great experience. I got to work with many different communities to understand the challenges that schools and systems face. As I thought about my next role, I knew I had many valuable experiences that I could bring with me, but that there are also a lot of experiences I hadn’t had. I wanted to continue to learn from those who work in education in a variety of roles and settings. Barr’s approach to philanthropy and its set of values, especially its sense of humility and modesty, really resonated with me. Barr recognizes philanthropy as a privilege, really respects its partners, and believes that the solutions reside in those we serve. I think that philanthropy done right can catalyze positive change, and I believe Barr is committed to the right set of values to be that catalyst. The other thing that attracted me to this role in particular at Barr was the opportunity to work more deeply, and over a more extended period in Boston. I share Barr’s commitment to expanding access to high-quality education in Boston, and its belief that all students can achieve success. I am so humbled by this opportunity, and am looking forward to working with those in and around Boston to help make this a reality.

4. How have you spent your first two months here at Barr?

I’ve focused on working with our grantees, and on listening and learning. Barr has a long history of funding K-12 education in Boston. So, I arrived to a number of pre-existing, and in some cases, longstanding, grant relationships. I’m learning from them and the great work they’ve done for the students of Boston, and I’m looking for ways to support their efforts. That will certainly continue to be a priority for me. I have also been on a listening tour around the city to deepen my understanding of the landscape—meeting with folks to better understand their experiences, what efforts are already underway, and what the needs and opportunities are.

5. In your experience, what elements are essential for creating quality educational experiences for all students?

I don’t think there is just one model that makes for a quality educational experience, but there are common elements:

  • Meet students where they are by addressing their needs and supporting their abilities.
  • Provide engaging learning experiences so that students can think about skills and content beyond the walls of the classroom.
  • Encourage a culture of high expectations and believe in students’ ability to achieve.
  • Empower high-quality educators and school leaders who uphold these values in their work every day.

6. Who was your favorite teacher?

My favorite teacher was and continues to be my fifth-grade math teacher, Ms. Frasier. I do not remember ever opening a textbook, but I’m sure we did. Obviously, there was a curriculum, but what I remember vividly is how her teaching was geared toward real-world learning. I remember one project where we got on ladders, measured the height and width of the walls, and calculated how much paint we would need to give the entire gymnasium a fresh coat. My teacher created routines that made math relevant—like daily word problems featuring a down-on-his-luck “Farmer Fred,” and his disastrous crops. We helped poor Fred figure out whether to plant a new crop, drop the price on his current crops, invest in a new fancy irrigation system, or a whole host of other decisions. We didn’t realize that through these word problems we were learning arithmetic, economics, and business. Don’t get me wrong, it was not all fun and games, she set very high expectations for us, but she made learning hands-on and engaging.

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Kate Dobin

Senior Program Officer, Education