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Meet Our Team: Tim Valenti, Director of Data Strategy

In this blog series, we are interviewing a member of the CT3 team about their background in education as well as the expertise that they each bring to their work with educators across the country.

Why do you work in education?

When I was in graduate school at Columbia University’s Teachers College, I started by pursuing a degree in psychology, not education. Psychology programs are often housed in the same schools as education programs and I feel fortunate that this was the case at Columbia. During a research internship there, I had the opportunity to work with Geoffrey Canada and a team of researchers conducting childhood development assessments for the Harlem Children Zone (HCZ). I made three observations that were common across the many, relatively well funded, HCZ schools that continue to shape my career:

  1. These schools had access to a massive amount of data but rarely was someone dedicated to analyzing and translating it to the school community — unlike any other industry, public or private.
  2. Researchers, including my own team, were focused on longitudinal results rather than current practices. Students were being negatively impacted by our inability to produce actionable real-time data.
  3. There was a wide opportunity gap between multiple demographic groups that was being lost in the “averages.”

As I realized that there was a need for my skill set in these schools, my career focus shifted from psychological research to one that served typically disenfranchised students by translating research methodology and data analysis into meaningful and sustainable action. Within the education community we’ve made strides in addressing these three observations. I’m proud to have been a part of that in the various roles I’ve served, especially here at CT3.

Tell us about your background working in education.

After the Harlem Children Zone, I was fortunate enough to gain experience translating research into practice at the University of Chicago’s Network for College success. There I supported schools through their School Improvement Grants in helping them set and meet their required benchmarks for the term of their grants and beyond.

I eventually took a role as the managing director of data systems and accountability at Perspectives Charter Schools in Chicago to gain more experience working as part of a school community, rather than as a partner, and to gain more experience in school leadership and education technology.

I believe my greatest attribute in the fields of data management and education leadership is in aggregating data from a multitude of qualitative and quantitative sources and translating it into a cohesive story to inform decisions that lead to improvements. CT3 has fostered this skillset and operationalized it to help me be a more influential agent of change by committing to anti-racist values, driving innovation, and evaluating the impact of school practices on student outcomes.

What are your top priorities at CT3?

My top priority is helping CT3 become the most effective professional learning organization for our partners, their students, and their communities. My work for the foreseeable future will focus on expanding our ability to measure student outcomes and the effectiveness of our anti-racist approach on dismantling systemic structures that have negatively impacted traditionally disenfranchised youth. As part of this process, I’m committed to making this data actionable in real-time to benefit our current and prospective partners.

This year we began implementing exciting new researched-based methodologies and technologies that will serve as the foundation for this work for years to come. Our current partners will see many of these changes and improvements within their data insight systems. I’m eagerly looking forward to sharing these updates in more detail with our CT3 community.

What has been your proudest moment working in education?

Many moments and celebrations come to mind but the one that stands out is the work I did with the Mikva Challenge and the Chicago Mayor’s office. We provided students free passage to and from school, something not offered by Chicago Public Schools. To increase attendance rates, a principal I work with started a Transportation Incentive Program (TIP) to incentivize students to come to school by providing bus passes as long as they met specified behavioral and academic standards. I analyzed, promoted, and replicated the success of this work across the district, with the help of Mikva Challenge and their student advocates. What started at one school as a principal funded attendance intervention for 30 students expanded to 10 schools with a $200,000 budget two years later. The TIP program still exists in schools across the city and serves as key evidence in the fight to provide all Chicago students with free transportation to and from school. What makes the program so powerful for me and for those it serves, is not just the financial support provided to students, but the meaningful relationships the program helps bridge between school officials and students.

What in your opinion is the most important aspect of education to best serve students?

Keeping students at the heart of every discussion and decision. I worked with a principal once that would dedicate every meeting and every presentation to a student. He would put a chair out for that student and drape it in graduation attire to help keep the meeting centered on the student and their success. I’ve brought this mindset with me and often name a student (in my head) before getting to work.

What are you an ‘expert’ in besides CT3’s work?

I’d like to say parenthood but in reality I’m still a novice in that department. I am an avid photographer and videographer, with one of my videos having over two million views on YouTube. I enjoy the whole process from imagining a shot, to setting it up, executing it, and publishing it. Because of my love for the art, I’ve invested a silly amount of resources into it, making sure it’s not the gear that keeps me from having one of my photos appear on the next cover of National Geographic.

Anything else you’d like to share about the state of the world?

During my years in studying data, I’ve learned that context matters and that data is just one voice in what is usually a very noisy discussion. As the world faces current and new challenges, my hope is for people to try to listen to multiple voices before jumping to a solution. Although there have been many technological advances to help us connect with others, take action, and analyze information, there is no shortcut to critical thinking and relationship building. Without the latter, I believe our solutions will not sustain and our children will be left with the consequences. I cherish voices different from my own and the trust that comes from actively listening. I’m thankful to be at an organization that mirrors this belief.

CT3 transforms the quality and culture of education for youth, especially those in traditionally disenfranchised communities.

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