Sarah McKibben Montana is a senior program manager with Deans for Impact. Prior to joining Deans for Impact, she taught high school in southern Arkansas and has worked with networks of educators and policymakers in both rural and urban contexts. She received her BA from Vanderbilt University and her MPA from American University.

Friends don’t let friends make evidence-free assumptions.

Why did you start working in education?

In college I studied community development and prepared for a career in international development, but I also started tutoring at a local church after-school program. I worked closely with a third-grader named Brooklyn, and through her lens on life I started asking questions about why her experience of school was so different from my own. That why question started morphing into a question of how to fix it, and that led me to graduate school in education policy, which led me to working in education research, which led me to teaching high school in South Arkansas.

Why were you excited to join Deans for Impact?

The Deans For Impact mission exemplifies my theory of change for improving our education system. I’ve come to believe that excellence in teacher training is a necessary component for ensuring excellence in education, period. After working in our education system from multiple perspectives, I also see the need for organizations that can bring policy, research, and practice together to learn from each other, especially in teacher preparation. Deans For Impact is uniquely situated to do that work well precisely because our network approach surfaces and honors the expertise of the very people doing the hard work of teaching teachers.

Why do Deans for Impact’s guiding principles ring true for you?

I love how Deans For Impact strives to model the principles we ask our members to adopt. Measurement can be tedious and feedback can feel painful, but when both are in the name of growth––whether as an individual or an organization––it reflects caring. Friends don’t let friends make evidence-free assumptions. That’s the saying, right?

Who was your favorite teacher and why?

I had two former teachers’ voices in my ear during my own teaching career. As a high school student, I adored the first and (thought I) dreaded the latter. The first, Mrs. Maddox, taught my American history and government courses. She cried the day she got to teach us about the Constitution. She stayed after school to coach a debate team about civics, and she cultivated an approachable, joy-filled classroom. The second, Ms. Quin, taught 10th and 12th grade English with what seemed an iron fist. We spent a month (or what felt like one) revising a single paper, going over every line as a class to get it just right. It felt excruciating at the time, and she was the teacher we all collectively loved to hate, but she taught us to love and honor language through writing. And she would go to the ends of the earth for us, though she showed that more subtly. Both could hardly contain their passion for their subject matter, and both held me to a high bar, even when I didn’t always think I wanted to meet it.

What’s your favorite food truck and why?

I’m new to Austin, but I’m forever grateful to Pho Wheelz in DC for feeding my stomach and spirit during graduate school.

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