The Broad Fellowship for Education Leaders
The Broad Residency 2003-2005
Ken Zeff has been a respected leader in public education for more than 15 years. But he didn’t start out in education.
In fact, Ken spent the first six years of his career in management consulting before transitioning into public education.
“The Residency helped me enter education at the right level. You reach a stage in your career where it is difficult to imagine taking an entry-level job just to get into a new industry,” Ken said.
Ken began as a Broad Resident in the San Diego Unified School District before being named to a prestigious White House fellowship and then senior consultant for policy development for the U.S. Department of Education. There, he worked directly with Secretary Margaret Spellings on the team that developed the blueprint for the reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
But he missed the satisfaction of seeing a more immediate impact of his work on the lives of students and their families that he had working in an urban school district. So, Ken left Washington, D.C., and returned to the work he loved in local public school systems, first as chief operating officer of two public charter school networks and then as chief strategy officer of Fulton County Public Schools, the second-largest school district in the state of Georgia.
In 2012, Fulton County was designated by the state as a charter system — but not the kind of system most people think of when they think of “charter.” The state’s regulations allowed traditional school districts to apply for charter status and go through a rigorous review process that would allow the district’s central office to exercise local authority over much of its practices. This enabled them to better support “bottom-up” innovation throughout the system, offering each school a level of autonomy in exchange for producing real results.
“The role of our office is not to create innovation but to create an environment that fosters innovation,” Ken said at the time. “Far too often in education, you have solutions chasing problems. We get better decisions when we centralize and we have the humility to recognize that all of the answers aren’t in the home office.”
A critical component of Fulton County’s charter system approach is school governance councils, which approve budgets, propose changes, develop strategic plans and hire the principal. This structure gives teachers, parents and community leaders a strong voice in the system. Ken calls it a vital element in their effort to improve the overall performance of a large, diverse, county-wide district. And his track record in leading this work was recognized when Ken was tapped to take on the role of interim superintendent while the district was transitioning between leaders. He now is executive director of Learn4Life, a nonprofit focused on harnessing the collective impact of metro-area philanthropy, business and other nonprofit partners to support public schools and common education goals across the Atlanta region.
Through it all, Ken continues to leverage The Broad Residency’s nationwide network when he is looking for information or guidance.
“Say there is something interesting going on in Chicago or New York that I want to apply to our work here in Atlanta. I can be on the phone in an hour with someone who can get me the materials I need,” Ken explained. “The Residency is a portal into every major reform effort in the country.”
- Current Title
- Executive Director
- Current Organization
- B.A., University of Michigan, Economics and Political Science
- M.B.A., University of Pennsylvania, The Wharton School, Strategic Management
- Resident Functional Area
- General Management/Strategy
- Resident Organization
- San Diego Unified School District
- Resident Title
- Special Assistant to the Deputy Superintendent
- Previous Title
- Chief Operating Officer
- Previous Organization
- Green Dot Public Schools
- Previous Organization Sector
- Public Charter Network