The Broad Residency Class of 2010-2012
Director of Excellence in Programming, Choice Foundation
I want to live in a New Orleans where the school system is reflective of the diverse and culturally rich city we live in. We’re not quite there yet, but that’s the vision.
In graduate school, Naressa Cofield published several papers on the topic of “phytoremediation” of soil contaminated by petroleum products and other pollutants. In phytoremediation, plants are used to absorb and metabolize unsafe chemicals, optimizing the environment so living things can thrive.
As the director of excellence in programming for Choice Foundation public charter schools in New Orleans, Naressa now uses data to remove bureaucratic barriers in schools so educators can focus on teaching and learning. One might say she is still working to improve environments. She’s just dedicating her efforts to a different kind of environment.
Growing up in rural Alabama, educators helped Naressa develop a lifelong love of learning. “Our teachers used basic things, items you would find around your house, to teach us science principles,” she said. “Because of those experiences, I love science. I want to provide those same experiences for all kids.”
In college, Naressa studied ecotoxicology at Alabama A&M University, focusing on how humans are affected by environmental changes. She continued in the field at Purdue University, earning her master’s and doctorate degrees. Later, she was accepted into Johnson & Johnson’s Engineering Leadership Development Program, where, among other things, she helped the company develop its global environmental compliance goals.
Throughout, Naressa also volunteered in her local schools. But, as she puts it, “There wasn’t a direct mechanism to have broader, systemic impact. I did things like tutoring and volunteering, but I don’t think schools and systems were equipped to leverage the expertise and skills that someone like me has to offer.”
While working at Johnson & Johnson as an operations engineer, Naressa received an email about The Broad Residency. “They asked if I was interested in a career where I could shape the future of education and
our nation,” she said. “My heart stopped beating. I thought, ‘This is exactly what I want to do.’”
Naressa was accepted into the Residency and worked as a consultant with the Superintendent's Delivery Unit, where she developed strategic targets linked to priority reform efforts and partnered with key agency leaders, stakeholders, senior app
ointed and elected officials to ensure educational priorities and plans were translated into student outcomes. Now, she oversees strategic initiatives for the New Orleans-based Choice Foundation, using data to help schools work well for educators and students.
Naressa recently introduced a shared information system across Choice Foundation to track student performance. Before the system was in place, if a student was absent, for example, teachers had to notify several people. Unsurprisingly, sometimes that happened and sometimes it didn’t. The lack of shared knowledge allowed proverbial cracks to form and the students who needed the most help were the ones who were most likely to fall through them.
“I hate inefficiencies,” she said. “It makes me really happy to streamline and automate school processes so educators can focus on helping students achieve.”
Thanks to Naressa’s efforts, each person responsible for providing student support can act on information immediately. That means they don’t have to wait to start working with students and their families to make sure kids are coming to school and getting the support they need as soon as they need it.
Additionally, Naressa’s work allows parents to get more involved with their children’s studies. Choice recently rolled out a portal allowing parents to see information on their children’s grades and attendance.
There isn’t a day that goes by that Naressa isn’t grateful she made the switch from engineering to public education. Every day, the students for whom she works show her that she is appreciated, too. “Whether I’m walking into schools or running around town, kids recognize me. They may not know what I do, but they know I work to help their teachers get better and they want to introduce me to their parents and families. I really enjoy that.”
The Broad Residency Class of 2010-2012
Residency Role: Deputy chief, Office of Innovation, Louisiana Department of Education
Ph.D., M.S., environmental/process engineering, Purdue University School of Civil Engineering
B.S., biology (minor in chemistry), Alabama A&M University