Each Achievement First school is filled with teachers and leaders who have a deep passion for education and are eager to constantly improve through rigorous professional development.
"I like helping students build a strong foundation while giving them the skills they need to be successful at the next level."
Undergraduate Degree: Northeastern University
Graduate Degree: New York University
Few people can recite the name of their father’s high school guidance counselor, but it is a name Sam will never forget. His dad, a first-generation Puerto Rican immigrant whose parents had not attended college, credits his admittance to Harvard University to this invested guidance counselor. Sam’s father, whose parents primarily spoke Spanish, hadn’t understood the possibilities that existed for him until his guidance counselor helped him believe in his academic potential and take advantage of college opportunities. When it came time for Sam to attend high school in Cambridge, Mass., he saw firsthand how a great guidance counselor impacted his experiences and his feelings of belonging in the school community. His appreciation for the tremendous impact guidance counselors can have on students’ lives fueled his desire to major in sociology, work in an after-school program throughout college and earn a master’s degree in school counseling.
Sam was a founding school counselor at a high-performing public charter high school in Brooklyn, where he saw the founding class of students grow from freshmen to graduating seniors before accepting the role of founding school counselor at AF Brownsville Middle. His days are filled with classroom observations and check-ins with students, with his primary focus on students who require counseling as part of their IEPs. Sam likes the opportunity to work closely with deans, help build relationships with students, and find new and different ways to help struggling students. He also runs the schoolwide academic and character celebration—Community Circle—each Friday, as well as the AF Brownsville Afterschool Experience, which includes offerings like chess and drama. As the school grows, Sam, who played Division I baseball and football before transferring to Northeastern University, plans to coach one of its athletic teams.
Favorite aspect of role: "I love seeing students support one another during Community Circle. There is such positive energy. Every week, I look forward to impacting their lives hopefully half as much as they do for me on those Fridays."
Proudest Moment: "I was proud to see all of our staff, students and families come together during Family Game Night and the Thanksgiving Potluck Dinner. We all need to work together to create a great school, but we didn’t talk about school on either night. These events were about us coming together as people who care for each other as a true family would, and that is what I love about AF Brownsville Middle."
"I grew more as a teacher in my first year at Achievement First than I did in all of my prior years of teaching."
Undergraduate Degree: Tulane University
Graduate Degree: Pace University
When Hurricane Katrina forced Megan to leave her college campus at Tulane University, she headed north for a semester at Fordham University and fell in love with New York City. She applied for a teaching position and has been teaching there ever since. A Teach For America alumna, Megan taught for three years in an integrated special education classroom in a traditional public school. She loved her co-workers, but she felt she wasn’t getting the necessary support from the administration, and that effort, engagement and academic performance varied from classroom to classroom.
She joined AF Bushwick Elementary because she was looking for a school that was committed to excellence and offered support and professional development. She found a culture of constant feedback. She was observed weekly by her coach and frequently by her principal. Fellow staff members were quick to offer helpful tips and share best practices. Megan enjoyed the intentional, intensive lesson planning and saw it made a huge difference in her students’ learning. An Oregon native, one of the major reasons Megan has found her home at AF Bushwick Elementary is the sense of Team & Family. The support of her first-grade team makes her love coming to work.
Favorite aspect of role: "I’m always amazed at how much my first graders grow. I love the work we put in as teachers and the work they put in as students, and I love seeing how much they learn from week to week."
Proudest moment at Achievement First: "I am most proud when my students meet their end-of-year benchmarks in reading. It makes all of the extra interventions, time and energy worth it. I feel so proud to work with a group of teachers who come together across the grade to make sure that all students are moving on to second grade with a foundation that prepares them for future academic success."
"I believe Education = Freedom; I’m a testament to that. I know if adults do what we need to do, our kids can do anything."
Undergraduate degree: University of Chicago
Law degree: University of Connecticut
When Laneka was in middle school, she dreamed of becoming a defense attorney. She never imagined that she would one day find her passion teaching physics in the same building where she attended eighth-grade classes. Born and raised in Hartford, Laneka graduated from Hartford Public Schools and became the first person in her family to graduate from a four-year college. As a high school student who was enrolled in the district’s gifted and talented program, she was troubled that many of her peers didn’t have the same choices or opportunities that she did. As an AF Hartford High teacher, she is excited to provide excellent educational opportunities to students in her community.
Even as she pursued her dream as a law student, Laneka always felt a pull toward improving education in her community and helping young people make better decisions. She served as a substitute teacher during law school and, after graduation, worked in juvenile court while also coaching a high school trial team. Laneka returned to her Hartford community, where she still lives with her husband and children. After working at a private law firm, she was introduced to education reform through her role in policy and research at the Connecticut Senate Democrats. While she enjoyed her work, she was frustrated with the way legal policies were applied to struggling students—children from her neighborhood—and knew she wanted to find a more direct way to help. Laneka, who has a strong background in math, science and law, was drawn to Achievement First not only by its strong academic program, but also by its investment in character development. She is thrilled to teach students in her community about what it means to be a great citizen and a great student.
Favorite aspect of role: “I love interacting with our students. We come from the same community, and I hope that I can leave a lasting impression of what is possible.”
Proudest moment at Achievement First: “During one of the first weeks of my first year at AF Hartford High, a student in my advisory sought me out during study hall. She was having some problems, and she wanted to talk through them with me. The next week, she asked if I would write her a recommendation. I was proud that I had already established a level of comfort with my students—even just a few weeks into the school year—and it was great to know that I was able to put her at ease.”
"We know other schools might give up on kids, but here we invest even more in the children who need the most help."
Undergraduate Degree: Virginia Commonwealth University
Master’s Degree: American University
When Crystal Ward taught sixth-grade science and social studies at a turnaround school in Washington, D.C., she noticed the students who thrived in her classroom were asked to leave almost all of their other classes because of misbehavior. To Crystal, that seemed unproductive and unfair. As the founding dean of school culture at AF Endeavor Elementary, Crystal works to establish an atmosphere that helps all students meet the high expectations in every classroom. Crystal loves getting to know each student personally, coaching teachers on how to help students with behavioral challenges, and building relationships with students and families. She also values the opportunity to share opinions and resources with deans across the Achievement First network.
Crystal joined the Achievement First Team & Family after a long career in working with children as a mentor, an Algebra readiness tutor and as a Teach For America corps member. Crystal, who feels strongly about the need to connect students with role models who share their experiences, also recruited teachers from historically black colleges and universities for Teach For America.
Crystal’s childhood experiences drew her to a career in education. Growing up in a military family, Crystal attended public schools in England, Alabama and New Mexico. She was accepted to a Connecticut prep school in 10th grade and—despite the fact that she had always been at the top of her class in public schools—found that she was underprepared for a rigorous academic environment. At Achievement First, she works on a Team & Family committed to making sure students are prepared for future success.
Favorite Aspect: "My favorite part of doing this work is that I get to see our most struggling students succeed. We know other schools might give up on kids, but here we invest even more in the children who need the most help."
Proudest Moment: "One of our students, a young man who has been in my office quite a bit as we work on various issues, was recently watching a video about REACH values during an assembly. When I was featured in the video, he started blowing kisses at the screen. It made me proud to know that even though this is a child with whom I have challenging conversations on a daily basis, at the heart of it he knows I love him."
At Achievement First, we recognize that the most important factor in driving student achievement is the quality of the teacher in the classroom. We also know that teachers are most effective and most satisfied when they are working with exceptional school leaders. We are committed to attracting, developing, celebrating and retaining great educators to help promote success for all students across our thriving network. Our goal is simple: to recruit the best teachers and leaders from around the country, provide them with outstanding professional development, and create opportunities that will inspire and support them throughout their careers.