Dana Fitchett: Finding balance in an inequitable world

This is the kick off to our “Aspir(e)ing Profiles,” series where we will feature leaders in education, child and human development and health and wellness connected to the Wheelock College Aspire Institute. Look out for our monthly profile. You might be next!

“Equitable access is my number one concern. We need Dana 2 to focus on the root of the problem and invest in real public education.”

Dana Fitchett is an emerging leader in Boston’s education world. As the Program Coordinator for Education Innovation at the Aspire Institute, she is involved in Educator Mentor Corps and the Boston Family Engagement Partnership . She candidly discusses her interest in and commitment to education, which is deeply rooted in both personal and professional experiences.

“It’s always felt natural for me to see the huge disparity between the way things are and the way things could and should be. As humans, we tend to be fearful of change, but given the scary state of the world in regard to issues like education, economics, incarceration, immigration, or housing, among other things, change is clearly what we need. When I look at the education system in particular, I see that just tinkering with the systems that we currently have is not enough.”

Having studied urban education at Vassar College and then working in numerous corners of the education system, Dana moved from the Match School, an urban charter school, to Concord Academy, an elite private school, to the Steppingstone Foundation, an education access organization. Working simultaneously at Match and Concord Academy opened Dana’s eyes to the severity of inequality that exists. “I adored the environment and kids at CA, but it was difficult for me because I was also at Match and saw the major contrasts between what the two schools offered. The education students at CA get is incredible, but it’s something so many kids can’t get just because of their circumstances.”

“It’s always felt natural for me to see the huge disparity between the way things are and the way things could and should be.”

These contrasts, paired with her own experience of an insufficient education, drive Dana’s misgivings about private education. “I don’t believe in private education because as long as it exists there is no motivation to improve public education just because of the way power structures work in our society.”

Disillusioned by working in a school, as well as the top-down approach she experienced at Steppingstone, Dana came to Aspire to work on the Boston Family Engagement Partnership because, like many aspiring change agents, she wants to learn how to make change from within the system, especially within a project that is really striving to empower people in their communities.

There are solutions to inequity in education. Faced with issues like school choice, the charter movement and the Boston busing system, the problem, Dana believes, is we aren’t embracing anything big enough. She cites Mission Hill, a Boston public school, as an example of one of the most successful urban public schools in the country, which has managed to translate the concept of exploratory learning – similar to what she saw at Concord Academy – to a public school setting. Given that Mission Hill is a pilot school, it’s had more flexibility to make these kinds of changes. She also sees community schools as a powerful tool to encourage young and old to invest in their own communities. It not only would mean that families could participate more regularly, but it would free up a lot of funding and has the potential to reduce crime. In thinking about the current “solutions” to the problem of education, Dana echoes Harlem Children Zone’s Geoffrey Canada’s belief that, “We’ve got great models, but it’s not helpful to the nation when we’re saving 2,000 kids and we’re losing hundreds of thousands.”

Now enrolled in Boston University’s Community Fellows Program , Dana sees hope in the program’s explicit creation of a pipeline of people of color doing social impact work in order to make the workforce more diverse and accessible to people of color. How do you avoid institutional barriers and give people the credentials they need to go somewhere in the world? How can we make people truly powerful in their communities? How do you marry the top and the bottom in a genuine way? Although daunted by these questions and the inevitable obstacles to progress, Dana continues to pursue, as in all aspects of her life, a sense of balance.

Getting to know Dana

If you could be a fly on the wall at any time, when would it be and why?

The 16 th century. The moment of determining that slavery came to be is the most intriguing to me. What was it at that moment when black people encountered white people? I think that’s the moment that destroyed our country from being the place it wanted to be, and I see the remaining impact of slavery all around us.

Who inspires you?

I am pretty easily inspired. My mom is number one for so many reasons – she made herself the woman and mother and citizen that she is. Resilient people inspire me – people that don’t cave to the insanity around them. Positive people that know that even though nothing is perfect, there is still beauty all around us.

In my lifetime I’d like to …find balance.

Dana Fitchett is the Project Coordinator for Education Innovation at the Wheelock College Aspire Institute. In addition to her education work, Dana is a dancer and choreographer. She continues to choreograph and perform as her schedule allows. You can reach her at dfitchett@wheelock.edu .