Principal, Innovative School Models (ISM) Practice

About Education First:

Education First is a seasoned team of trusted advisors to the leaders responsible for delivering what many Americans want most: public education that effectively prepares all students for success in college, careers and a world of constant change. We were founded in 2006 in order to fill a need in the field for excellent consulting and advising delivered by educators and education policy advisors.

Our mission is to deliver exceptional ideas, experience-based solutions and results so all students – and particularly low-income students and students of color – are prepared for success in college, career and life. We work closely with policymakers, practitioners, funders and advocates to design and accelerate policies and plans that support strong systems, outstanding educators, engaged students and effective investments and organizations.

We are nearly 60 consultants who live in nearly 20 different states and work across the nation. We are educators, policy advisors, advocates and funders. We have served local, state and national clients in more than 40 states. We understand the complexity of public education – from the classroom to national policy – and know how to navigate it. We rely on our trusted relationships and deep knowledge to develop solutions that bridge the gap between visionary leadership and pragmatic implementation. We also are hard-working and light-hearted, passionate about student success and obsessed with quality and professional growth; these are just a few of the traits we encourage and cultivate at Education First. Our vibrant culture is built on our core ideals: original thinking, collaboration, entrepreneurialism, authenticity and fun.

We recognize that, in order to pursue our mission, we must study gaps and inequities, ask tough questions about structural racism and more deliberately engage diverse voices in problem-solving. Education First has a robust Race, Inclusion, Diversity and Equity (RIDE) strategy to build our staff and organizational capacity to lead on issues of equity, and to increase diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels of the firm. We also have a deep commitment to, and growing experience with, helping clients elevate, interrogate and take seriously how they pursue equity in their work. To achieve our goals, we believe intentional development work must be done at three levels: 1) with individual staff on their own implicit biases and identity development; 2) at the organizational level to analyze and redesign systems that could otherwise mirror the inequities we seek to dismantle and to nurture our inclusive, vibrant culture; and 3) with our clients to ensure they focus on equity as an integral component of their work, from the stakeholders they engage in decision-making to the lenses they use to analyze their challenges.

Talented people are our most precious resource. We believe we have the best team in the country to support education leaders and advocates in advancing students and erasing pernicious equity gaps. We have grown significantly over the last five years and have plans to continue to expand and diversify our staff over the next few years. As a virtual firm we prioritize the experience of what it feels like to work here – combining excellence and fun in a diverse, inclusive culture, and nurturing the deep connections team members feel to one another and our mission. Our appreciation of the intersections of talent, culture, inclusion and connections is what makes working here different than working anywhere else.

About the Position:

Learning science tells us that all kids learn differently and need varied instructional methods and settings in which to engage and be engaged, to acquire and access knowledge and to apply it effectively and fruitfully. However, too many students are still attending static schools that rely on traditional modes of schooling to meet the needs of diverse learners.

A number of promising innovative school models are beginning to recognize the significant teaching, learning and context shifts required to develop a new generation of thoughtful, productive and engaged citizens. Innovative models are evolving and spreading quickly among early adopters (often though not always as charter schools). But the field is not yet ready to scale, with most of the early adopters continuing to test and refine their approaches. For example, many innovative models are seeking to integrate social and emotional learning with their academic programs; others are realizing they need to mature their whatever-it-takes approach to create systems for teacher development, instructional quality, school scaling, etc.

Meanwhile, interest in adopting and scaling innovation is growing within the dominant system for educating students—the traditional public system. However, this system currently lacks the capacity, structures, and supports to allow these new models to take root in their contexts.

At Education First we have developed a framework for systems-level innovation with principles, priorities for innovation and our perspective that guide our work with innovative models and organizations. We help school system leaders cultivate the conditions to bring innovative models into their contexts so that they can bring equity and excellence to their educators and students, and we help foundations and other advocates improve the enabling environment.

Innovative School Models (ISM) is a growing practice area for the firm. Current projects include:

  • Supporting EL Education to develop a playbook for its school design fellows. This includes laying out a scope and sequence for new school designers seeking to develop new school models within the EL network.
  • Supporting Chicago International Charter Schools (CICS) to conduct a nationwide landscape scan on best practices for nurturing a strong innovation ecosystem.
  • Partnering with IDEA public schools to design curriculum and training supports for educators to develop students’ college-going identity as a key component to improve IDEA graduates’ college completion rates.

Education First seeks a senior leader and strategist with field-recognized ISM expertise to join our nationally recognized and growing consulting firm. Ideal candidates are experienced executives who are recognized in the field as experts in innovative schools. Candidates have led in school systems, are seasoned managers and mentors, have a high standard of excellence for research, work product and service to clients, and an extensive, regularly-cultivated network.

Position Responsibilities:

The ISM Principal will help to design and facilitate systems-level solutions to fundamentally change the student experience by spreading and scaling innovative school models, tools and practices. As detailed below, we are looking for a leader who will apply her or his keen understanding of current issues in the field to design a powerful set of services and bring together our existing body of work and team into a cohesive practice area. S/he will drive business development and contribute thought leadership to increase our presence in this growing body of work and build the firm’s reputation nationally. Principals at Education First must have a keen eye for quality of research, work product and service to clients and they are expected to manage, coach and develop team members to consistently meet our quality standard and help position and market the firm as a leading thought partner. Clients include state agencies, school districts and charter management organizations, nonprofits and foundations. This is an exceptional opportunity for an exceptional person.

Specific responsibilities for the principal will include:

  • Create the vision and business plan for Education First’s Innovative School Models practice.
    • Build the inspired vision for what the practice is, based on Education First’s Core Principles for Innovative Schools and the expertise you bring.
    • Create a strategy that deepens and refines our current ISM offerings to align with that vision and that builds our capacity to support (1) emerging and established schools and networks of innovative schools seeking to scale and (2) traditional school districts seeking to redesign or open new innovative schools and cultivate the school and system conditions for success.
    • Lead a small and growing ISM team; guide the development of materials that are important for representing and doing the work; use your “lived” school- or system-level innovation expertise to create tools that facilitate strategic decision-making and systems-level analysis for scaling innovative models and approaches and redesigning schools.
    • Refresh the strategy at regular intervals and ensure it matches both the needs in the field and Education First’s core competencies.
  • Execute the business plan and sell mission-aligned projects to new and current clients. 
    • Identify new clients, districts and CMOs with whom we should partner and design and carry out the specific tactics to win work with these clients.
    • Manage overall ISM business development planning and execution to meet our organization’s growth goals.
    • Coach and develop team members to cultivate their networks for future clients and deliver with excellence to current clients to create repeat business.
    • Cultivate long-term relationships with clients around the nation.
  • Contribute thought leadership in public forums and to communication pieces. 
    • Contribute and deliver content for the firm’s website, blog and newsletter, engage on Twitter and Facebook, and support op-eds and press releases.
    • Identify leading conferences and convenings at which we should attend and present.
    • Develop team members’ thought leadership skills.
  • Serve as accountable project leader for quality delivery of strategic ISM projects.
    • Manage consultants to set and monitor project work plans and drive the project to completion at or under budget.
    • Oversee production of project deliverables that meet our internal quality standard, including research plans, status reports, interim reports, technical reports, presentations, abstracts and manuscripts.
    • Mentor, guide and manage team members.
    • Coordinate regularly with the project manager and/or client to ensure project success, including budgeting, planning and regular reporting of actual time spent and costs against the contract, and evaluation.

Experience & Qualifications:

  • Ideally 15+ years experience designing, managing, implementing and/or advocating for innovative school models designed to improve P-20 education outcomes for young people, which could include:
  • Starting/opening/founding a new school (district or charter)
  • Providing oversight or systems-level leadership for new schools and/or innovative schools
  • Leading an innovative school, school network or district
  • Developing innovative models for school design, in close partnership with school or system leaders
  • Significant experience (3-5 years) in an executive position working in field-recognized CMOs, school networks or districts
  • High level of credibility; seen as a leader of peers; strong relationships with thought leaders in the field; well-versed in innovative teaching and learning policies and practices
  • Excels in understanding needs in the field, creating aligned vision and detailed strategy and leading a team to accomplish envisioned strategy
  • Demonstrated track record in and authentic passion for developing, motivating and mentoring team members, especially team members at different points in their careers and from a mix of diverse cultural identities
  • Creates equitable and inclusive practice area and project team cultures; contributes as a leader to the firm’s overall vibrant and inclusive culture
  • Strong existing network of innovators, entrepreneurs, school systems, technical assistance providers, thought leaders, and/or foundations et al., ideally with a track record of leveraging, cultivating, engaging and growing the network; experience fundraising and/or selling preferred
  • Outstanding eye for quality of research, work product and service to clients and proven ability to develop team members to consistently meet the Education First quality standard
  • Exceptional client relationship management and engagement skills
  • Exceptional project management oversight skills with a track record of leading teams to execute and deliver high quality results or products
  • Able to oversee multiple projects and budgets and motivate teams under tight deadlines
  • Able to identify and translate client materials/documentation into tools and products for broader field
  • Consulting experience a plus
  • Master’s degree, doctorate or Juris Doctor in education, public policy, public administration or business preferred

Who You Are:

  • Unwavering in your commitment to improving student learning and achievement and moving education systems beyond the status quo
  • A visionary and creative thinker with a strong commitment to redefining the student experience, particularly for low-income students of color
  • Highly organized and a detail-oriented self-starter committed to quality and results who also is highly collaborative
  • Proactive in anticipating and adjusting for unexpected barriers to success
  • Strong growth mindset; takes ownership of your own development and intentionally supports others to grow professionally
  • Flexible, resourceful, good-humored and enthusiastic about our fast-paced, results-oriented culture and virtual office environment
  • Energized by the nature of consulting, which provides continual learning opportunities, fresh challenges and projects, requires the ability to diagnose problems quickly and tailor appropriate solutions and offers a field-level and systems-level opportunity for impact
  • Leads from a place of self-awareness and collaboration, striking a good balance between confidence and humility
  • Strongly recommended for employment by peers, colleagues and team members

This position requires 25-40% travel for client engagements and business development.

Location & Compensation:

Education First is a virtual consulting firm headquartered in Seattle, WA. We seek to hire the most talented staff in the nation, regardless of location. Currently, our staff members reside in California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington and Washington D.C. The location for this position is flexible, but must be accessible to a major airport. Education First offers a competitive salary and benefits package. For greater detail about the company, please visit our web site at

Education First actively engages our team to foster an environment of diversity, inclusion and equity and is a proud equal opportunity employer. We strongly encourage applications from candidates of all races, national origin, age, religion, creed, veteran or disabled status, sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

To Apply:

This search is being managed by Axis Talent Partners.  Interested candidates should submit a resume and letter detailing their interest in the mission and qualifications for the position to:

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Sound like a fit? Apply now to begin the process.