An Open Letter to Wendy Kopp

NEW YORK - MAY 08:  CEO and founder of Teach for America Wendy Kopp arrives at TIME's 100 Most Influential People Gala at Fre
NEW YORK - MAY 08: CEO and founder of Teach for America Wendy Kopp arrives at TIME's 100 Most Influential People Gala at Frederick P. Rose Hall on May 08, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)

Dear Wendy,

I know you said in the email you sent yesterday announcing you were stepping down as CEO of Teach for America that you didn't want any goodbye notes because you were not leaving, just moving to the Board of Directors. However, you didn't say anything about sending you a thank you note, so that's I what I'm doing, kind of.

During the eight years that I have been associated with Teach for America, I haven't always loved the organization. In fact, there were a few desperate moments when I was in the classroom that I was quietly cursing you. More recently, there have been times that I wished you and your team would make a bigger political splash, push the envelope, and dare lawmakers to challenge the status quo.

In those moments, I wouldn't have wanted to send you a thank you note. However, with the benefit of hindsight I can now see that each time I found myself frustrated about something you weren't doing, it was because you were challenging me to not stand on the outside pointing out problems for others to fix. You were preparing me, and the thousands of other Corps Members, Alum, and students whose lives TFA has touched to be the ones who find the solutions. And while the educational inequities in America are still great, the evidence that you have succeeded in training an army of people to do that is overwhelming, and for that, I want to thank you.

Without TFA there would be no KIPP-Inspire in Saint Louis to have proven that the achievement gap between African American and white students can be closed. Without TFA the conversation in the Missouri General Assembly and legislatures across America would not be focused on protecting great teachers, increasing access to high quality schools for all kids, and providing transparent data to parents. Without TFA education entrepreneurs like Alicia Herald and Munro Richardson who founded would not be using their talents to find and place great teachers. Without TFA political leaders like Mike Johnston (D-CO) would not be supporting groundbreaking legislation that allows us to reimagine what American education can be. As you know, this list could go on and on. The outcomes you have produced for students are amazing. The work you have done to ensure that the network of brilliant people dedicated to improving outcomes for kids is deep and broad is an invaluable asset. So for all this and so much more, I thank you and the amazing team of people you have assembled at TFA.

However, as you and the new leadership prepare for the next phase of the work, I want to encourage you to not stop challenging people like me, the ones who spent quiet moments wishing they had never mailed back their applications. Don't stop challenging us to find the solutions to educational inequity with the same relentless pursuit you demanded when you were teaching us to have a laser like focus on making significant gains in the classroom. But also, please do not stop looking for new ways TFA can influence the debate. Do not forget to challenge TFA staff, corps members, alum, and benefactors to lift their heads up and look outside the four walls of the classroom to the school boards, legislatures, and Congress. The collective voice of TFA in those arenas will be crucial to achieving the mission you have successfully ingrained in tens of thousands of us -- that one day all children will have an excellent education. I look forward to continuing to work along side you and your team.

Thank you,
Kate Casas (St. Louis-'05)