2015 Surge Fellows – Leadership Program Session II

On May 29th, 2015, Surge Fellows convened at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Pilsen, for their second session of leadership programming. A feedback-laden ‘Shark Tank’-style pitch was included, with Surge’s extraordinary ‘Shark’ panel of seasoned leaders: Jose Rico, Kim Foxx, Angelique Power, and Sarah Duncan. The cohort also enjoyed high-impact primers on how to tell compelling stories, and how to create a powerfully authentic personal branding.

2015 Surge Fellows’ Retreat

Former US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan shares an inspiring message with the 2015 Surge Fellows.

Elite Chicago Leadership Development program admits first class with promise to keep Black and Brown leaders in education

CHICAGO – April 15, 2015 – Surge Institute, Chicago’s newest premier education leadership development organization, announced the twelve (12) elite individuals in the Surge Fellowship 2015 Inaugural cohort. Surge Institute prepares, supports and connects emerging leaders of color to accelerate their growth as trailblazers within education.

Surge Institute was founded in 2014, in response to a dearth of leadership of color at the decision-making tables within education reform.  The Surge Fellowship, the Institute’s signature program, is designed to identify and groom emerging talent in education, and provide them with leadership development as well as access to networks and visibility, empowering them to bring new ideas, perspectives, and solutions that change the landscape of education. By preparing, connecting, and supporting high-capacity African-American and Latino leaders across organizations, Surge aims to dramatically improve education options and outcomes for low-income children.

A host of exceptional candidates applied for the fellowship, inspired by the promise to receive skills, networks, tools, and support necessary to deepen their impact. The diverse inaugural cohort is comprised of African American and Latino men and women from the Chicago Public Schools, high-performing charter schools and networks, non-profit advocacy agencies, higher education and justice reform.

2015 Surge Fellowship Awardees

Adrian DeLeon Data Strategist, Chicago Public Schools
Melissa Connelly Senior Director of Regional College Persistence, OneGoal
Adria Husband Director of School Financial Support, AUSL
Angela Layne Instructor, Noble Network
Grisel Maldanado Impact Director of College Success, UC Urban Education Institute
Ana Martinez Founding Principal, Rowe Elementary School
Stacey Mitchell Senior Managing Director, Staff Diversity and Inclusiveness, Teach for America
Candace Moore Staff Attorney, Chicago Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Khair Sadrud-Din College Years Counselor, LINK Unlimited Scholars
LeShonne Segura College Seminar Teacher, Bulls College Prep
DuJuan Smith Assistant Dean of Students, UIC
Cassie Williams Director or High School Curriculum, Civitas Education Partners

“The outstanding quality of all of the applicants made the selection process challenging. Surge is very fortunate to have an incoming cohort that represents some of the best up and coming minds on education in Chicago,” said Sarah Duncan, Co-Director at the University of Chicago Network for College Success and member of the selection committee.

Surge Institute is part of a new wave of organizations that focus on diversifying the education leadership pipeline.

Founder Carmita Semaan captured the attention of large, prominent foundations and secured over $1 million of funding for Surge from The Walton Family Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, NewSchools Venture Fund, and Schusterman Family Foundation.

Education is often referred to as the “civil rights issue of our time.” The most glaring disparity between past social justice movements and the current education reform movement is that the most visible and active leadership “heroes” in education reform typically do not represent the socio-economic or racial diversity of the populations it seeks to serve. 48% of K-12 students nationwide, and significantly more in urban areas, are non-white; while only 17% of teachers, 6% of superintendents, and 11% of board members represent these populations.

The most overlooked talent pools of people of color within the education sector are found within schools, advocacy and civil rights organizations, policy and philanthropy partners, and central administration offices at districts and CMOs. These talented individuals with deep community connections and shared experiences with the students and families served, often lack access to high-level opportunities for a variety of reasons. Surge is unique because it taps and develops these already high-performing individuals.

“Existing excellent programs like The Broad Residency in Urban Education and Ed Pioneers bring new private-sector talent into education. It is also critically important to engage talent that is already deeply committed to the education sector,” says founder and president, Carmita Semaan. “I believe this untapped group of high-potential individuals will become influential education leaders over the next decade.”

“Our efforts to transform urban public school systems will not succeed without diverse, talented leaders who possess a deep understanding of the challenges facing low-income students of color because they have experienced those challenges themselves. While many leadership development opportunities exist in the education sector, the Surge Fellowship brings a critical focus on the development of strong African-American and Latino leaders, who are woefully underrepresented in educational leadership,” says Becca Bracy Knight, executive director of The Broad Center for the Management of School Systems.

Darryl Cobb, partner at the Charter School Growth Fund and member of Surge’s board of directors says, “Through Surge, Carmita brings vision and her extensive leadership experience to solving a critical problem for the education sector – building a pipeline of high quality diverse talent.   This effort is a heavy lift, but one that is critical to our ability as a sector and a reform movement to ensuring that we have great leaders serving our children in every capacity.  I am extremely proud of Carmita’s tenacity in making the Surge Fellowship a reality.”

“I am honored to have this opportunity. It will give me access to spaces and people with whom I can build relationships to deepen the impact of our work within the community,” says Ana Martinez, Surge Fellow and the founding principal of Rowe Elementary, Chicago’s highest performing single-site charter school. Khair Sadrud-Din, College Years Counselor at LINK Unlimited and product of Chicago Public Schools adds, “I relish the opportunity to learn from so many leaders, professionals and my peers in the education space, and further invest in the students that are following in my footsteps.”

The inaugural cohort will receive 6-months of accelerated professional development including leadership courses and executive coaching. A second cohort will be admitted in September 2015 for a longer, 12-month fellowship program.

About Surge

The Surge Institute broadly addresses issues of race and class in urban education through leadership development, technical assistance and advocacy. The Surge Fellowship develops high-potential talent within education to create the pipeline of influential education leaders of color. This network transforms status quo systems and approaches in education by sharing ownership of the change efforts, engaging communities in defining and working toward success, serving as role models for young people to pursue roles with influence and risk

Surge Fellowship Kickoff Reception and Information Session

On the evening of March 16th, 2015, Surge Institute supporters, prospective Surge Fellows, and leaders across the education landscape enjoyed the Kickoff Reception and Information Session at Summer House Santa Monica in Chicago.

Surge is Here

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Love is in the air and The Surge Institute is officially on the map!  Today I received news from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that they are investing in the launch of Surge!  That amazing investment, coupled with funds from the Walton Family Foundation and Schusterman Family Foundation plus early start-up/business planning support from New Schools Venture Fund, means that Surge has now topped the ONE MILLION DOLLAR mark in fundraising in just over 15 months! (Yes, I DID just have a Mike Meyers/Austin Powers moment) How amazing is that?!?

This support from large institutional funders is totally game changing for Surge.  Not only does it allow me to build a small team to bring the organization to life, but it also gives us tremendous credibility throughout the sector. And this is just the tip of the iceberg!

Expect to see social media and other outreach in the near future as we try to spread the word about this work which we believe will greatly impact the future of education equity and reform efforts – first in Chicago and then throughout the country.

Snoopy Dance time!!!


The Founder’s Story

Carmita Semaan is the founder of the Surge Institute. Carmita grew up with her mother, Wanda Burnette, in Birmingham, Alabama. Wanda was unfortunately disabled by a debilitating stroke shortly after Carmita’s birth, resulting in harrowing medical issues and life below the poverty line for this divorced mother and her child. This backdrop has greatly shaped who Carmita is, what she values and what she believes her life’s work is destined to be.

Through grit and assertive coaching by Wanda and a network of supportive adults, Carmita pursued the honors track at her public high school, graduated with a Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Michigan and landed a position with Procter & Gamble. She later studied at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, where she thrived as a student leader and was selected to study abroad at the London Business School. She then took a role with Danaher Corporation, where she engaged in global product management before deciding to connect her skills to her passions for urban education, eradicating poverty and revitalizing urban neighborhoods through the Broad Residency in Urban Education.

Through the Broad Residency, Carmita joined Chicago Public Schools (CPS) under the leadership of Arne Duncan, who became the US Secretary of Education under President Obama. Carmita served in a variety of roles, including launching the Office of Graduation Pathways and serving as the Chief of Staff for High Schools.

After four years at CPS, Carmita left to become the Chief Strategy Officer for America’s Promise Alliance, founded and led by General Colin and Mrs. Alma Powell. She returned from Washington, DC to Chicago to lead Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, known as CURE, in honor of her deceased mother who suffered from the disease.

In 2012, she left CURE and began to pursue her dream of creating an organization that assists often ignored and underrepresented education leaders of color in accelerating their impact and influence across the field of education.

As a participant in various fellowships, Carmita has seen the unique benefits of the cohort-based approach to development and has worked diligently to increase access to these tables for other leaders of color. The Surge Fellowship is born of her desire to ensure that leaders are appropriately prepared and networked to fill the pipeline of leadership in education that often falls woefully short of representing the populations of children and families served.