PNP MBAs Tackle Education Issues

in Alumni, Alumni Profiles, B&L
April 6th, 2012

The Business of Learning

Missing the BusThe United States faces an education crisis. State and local education associations and professional educators and foundations have been addressing the challenge for years, but there is still a long road ahead, made more daunting by reductions in federal and local funding for education.

Missing the Bus.


  • 70% of American eighth graders can’t read at grade level and most will never catch up.
  • 1.2 million students drop out every year.
  • 44% of dropouts under age 24 are jobless.
  • America’s top math students still rank 25th compared to the top students of 30 nations.

From The Broad Foundation’s website.

Kristen McCormack (MBA ’92), executive-in-residence and faculty director of the Public & Nonprofit Management MBA Program (PNP), says, “School leaders are asked to do far more today than ever before, in educational organizations that have become more complex. Duties formerly handled by superintendents now fall on the shoulders of principals. Principals have become de facto CEOs, in charge of budgets, hiring and firing, and operations. And while much of that is good in terms of direct accountability, it also makes the principal’s job tougher than ever. It calls for management skills more than ever before.”

Hardin Coleman, dean of Boston University School of Education, says, “The environment has changed dramatically in the past few years. Increasing numbers of our students who want to go into educational administration are taking courses in management. And MBA students who want to manage community nonprofits are taking courses in our school as well.

“A principal needs to supervise,” Coleman continues, “which means watching, spending time with teachers, coaching them. In many schools, he or she gets pulled away because of managing the physical plant, the cafeteria, etc. Business managers usually supervise perhaps 6 to 10 reports. But most principals may have 25 to 30 people to supervise. It calls for a special type of person.”

School boards need to address what has changed in schools as the economics have changed, says Coleman, and be open to new ideas. “We need people who will innovate in organizations rather than just enter and serve the existing system. Sometimes you get innovation from people outside schools of education because they’re doing research which leads them to insights about education.

“We see it as a good thing that we have more educators learning management skills,” Coleman adds, “and more nonprofit management people taking courses with us on topics including school and society, policy issues, school law, and program evaluation.”

PNP Grads In the Field.

We talked to a few recent PNP MBA graduates and one current student who found satisfying careers on the front lines of education management. Hopefully the skills and talents they bring to the front lines of the field will help to remove obstacles and promote progress in American education.

Making the Grade.
“We see it as a good thing that we have more educators learning management skills and more nonprofit management people taking courses with us on topics such as school and society, policy issues, school law, and program evaluation.”

Jagdish ‘Jug’ Chokshi (MBA ’99), joined the Neighborhood House Charter School (NHCS) in Dorchester, Mass., in 2004 as CFO after serving in other positions, including a stint at Citizen Schools [founded by PNP alum and School of Management Lecturer Ned Rimer (MBA ’95)]. Chokshi serves on the strategic planning team, and leads or participates in all financial functions, facilities management, real estate development, HR, and management leadership. He also works directly with two related entities—the NHCS Foundation and the Project for School Innovation, an offshoot of the charter school.

jug“We’re always evaluating how our programming affects the kids and families in our programs,” says Chokshi. “We have external measures such as the MCAS [the Massachusetts state-wide student competency exams], but we’re continually evolving and working to make sure we’re focused on the mission all the time.”

Funding is always a challenge, he says. “As a semi-public entity, we receive state funding. But not everyone is a fan of charter schools, so we must be aware of our public image. And we also need private money, which puts us in competition with many other causes.

“Without my classes in marketing, strategy, and operations, I would never have been able to address the problems we face with the same kind of thought process. What seemed ‘nice to know’ in class became extremely useful when we faced real situations in planning. My professional experiences were excellent. I had good training at PerkinElmer, and some consulting experiences, but my BU education helped in every area.”

As a side note, Neighborhood House was founded by Kristen McCormack in 1995 and was the first full-service charter school in the state. “Full-service” means it provides education for K-8, plus pre-school and after-school care, as well as medical services, eye care, and even literacy training for family members.

Missy Longshore, MBA ’05, is Director of Operations and Special Projects for the Stuart Foundation. She applies her analytic and project management skills to various Stuart Foundation program areas including internal communications, operations, technology, and process improvement. The Stuart Foundation is a family foundation in San Francisco that provides funding and program support to improve public education and child welfare systems in California and Washington.

missyPreviously, she was projects manager at the Broad Center for the management of school systems. Longshore, like most of the alumni we contacted for this story, started out working in nonprofits, but as she rose through the ranks, discovered that both she—and the organizations—lacked the skills needed to move the organization forward.

“Today, I use my PNP degree almost every day,” says Longshore. “I help manage a 20-person operation and report directly to the President. I need good judgment and analytical skills, plus the teaming and organizational parts have been very helpful.” Without her MBA skills, she says, “I can’t imagine doing my job.”

Longshore notes that MBA graduates may be interested in the Broad Residency, a two-year program to prepare them for leadership in education. Participants are placed in a relevant organization, and attend sessions at the Broad Center four times a year for training. (For example, see Carrie McPherson Douglas, MBA ’07.)

Sheilah Kavaney (MBA ’01), COO of KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Austin, in Texas, says she “absolutely loved my time in the PNP program.” Several years before, Kavaney co-founded the YES (Youth Engaged in Service) charter school in Houston, but knew she needed more skills to make a meaningful difference.

sheilahShe discovered a love for change management, and a mentor suggested she pursue an MBA. She was accepted to the BU MBA program, and opted to attend on a part-time basis, while she worked days at the Cambridge-based Breakthrough Collaborative charter school.

After graduation, contacts in Houston eventually lured her back to Texas to grow the YES program. That, in turn, led her to KIPP, a public charter school system with 99 schools across the country, where she now oversees KIPP Austin.

Kavaney added “With my MBA, I was able to clean up accounting, HR, and benefit systems that were set up by others who didn’t have those skills. Just as important, I had a new vocabulary in finance, so I could talk to our board of directors in a way that they could better understand our needs.”

At KIPP, Kavaney says, “I’ve tackled finances, budgeting, and operations, and sometimes you find small things that make a difference. The biggest obstacles we face are resistance to change, and a lack of people with management skills. Today, when I look for someone on the operational side, I give preference to MBAs.”

wassermanMike Wasserman (MBA ’12) is a current PNP student, attending part-time and expecting to graduate in 2012. He is also the director of development at Bottom Line, an organization in Dorchester, Mass., that helps low-income and first-generation college students get into college, providing multifaceted support for them once they get there.

Mike’s undergrad degree from Brown University is in public policy. In his role at Bottom Line, he’s focused on the long-term sustainability of the organization where he works with the board of directors and major donors, and engages in grant writing and marketing.

“I felt I was missing some skills and experience that would be helpful. I wanted exposure to a broad range of business and financial challenges that I knew would be helpful here and later in my career. The coursework here at BU, both in hard skills and case analysis, are exactly what I was hoping to find.”

Carrie McPherson Douglas (MBA ’07), who participated in the Broad Residency, served her two-year residency at Aspire Public Schools in the San Francisco Bay Area. She was then hired as director of human resources at Aspire, and most recently appointed director of talent strategy. In her new role, Douglas leads the College Ready Promise Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Teacher Effectiveness Grant, and talent initiatives including leadership pipeline, recruiting, performance management, and compensation and retention.

douglasPrior to her Broad Residency, Douglas worked as a financial consultant for a number of public and nonprofit organizations in the Boston area, including the Boston Public Schools, EdVestors, Outward Bound, the New Sector Alliance, and the Neighborhood House Charter School. She began her career as a teacher in Portland, Oregon, and then moved to Boston as a volunteer teacher with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, eventually teaching high school science at Cristo Rey High School in Cambridge.

Douglas says her MBA experience is invaluable, both to herself and the people with whom she works. “Educators don’t get much exposure to spreadsheets and PowerPoint, so I’ve brought a lot of that to our group. The same goes for complex project management, budgeting, working in teams—all skills I brought with my MBA.

“When I first came to Aspire, I was in human resources, and all my time was spent with litigation, compensation, and benefits. I wanted to help build our people’s talents, and fortunately was able to create the position of developing our human capital. Today I’m in charge of recruiting, teacher/principal performance management, professional development, and retention strategies.”

Whether in public, private, or charter schools, the application of proven management skills to the field of education will improve outcomes for students, teachers, and the society that depends on their success.

Fueling Hope For College.

Gene Miller (MBA ’84), is chief operating officer of the Boston nonprofit Families United in Educational Leadership (FUEL), founded in 2010.

FUEL educates families in underserved communities about the college process and encourages them to save for college through a matched savings program. It requires participating families to save a fixed amount of money each month, which is then matched by FUEL. Families are also required to attend mandatory financial literacy meetings called Savings Circles and participate in after-school educational programs. More than 300 families are now participating in three cities: Lynn, Chelsea, and Boston.

The organization has multiple Boston University connections. The Founder and Executive Director of the program, Robert Hildreth, is the chairman of BU’s Board of Overseers. Project manager Yiming Shuang (COM ’09), and Director of Research and Evaluation Joe Doiron (SED ’11) is currently working toward his EdD and is also a Glenn Fellow and adjunct professor at BU.