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See the trailblazing women over 50 championing equal access to education

During Teacher Appreciate Week, Forbes’ Randall Lane and Know Your Value’s Daniela Pierre-Bravo join Mika Brzezinski to recognize the leaders dedicated to getting America’s schools back on track.
From left: Laurene Powell Jobs, Anne Williams-Isom and Anna Maria Chavez.
From left: Laurene Powell Jobs, Anne Williams-Isom and Anna Maria Chavez.Getty Images / AP

For 14 months now, educators and children have shifted to a variety of remote or blended learning – or none at all if they are among the 16 million school-age children who fall on the wrong side of the digital divide. Even as the country emerges from the pandemic, the effects of the widening education gap will linger well into the future. In fact, closing the student digital divide will require action from Congress to invest $6 billion to $11 billion in the first year alone, according to Common Sense research.

That’s why Know Your Value and Forbes have teamed up to shine a light on some of the trailblazing women over 50 who are fighting to get the nation’s schools back on track. On Friday, Forbes’ editor and chief content officer Randall Lane, and Know Your Value contributor Daniela Pierre-Bravo joined “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski to discuss the leaders working to improve access to education for 56 million school children. They include:

Anna Maria Chávez, 53: The former CEO of of the Girl Scouts of America was the first women of color to take the helm of the organization in 2011. She implemented programs focused on STEM, financial literacy and science education. In June 2020, she became the executive director and CEO of the National School Boards Association, which represents the nation’s 50 million public school students. She’s focused her efforts on securing COVID-19 relief for educators and increased resources for special education support in schools.

“She talks about how every kitchen table has become a classroom in this last year and the idea that school boards have become the center of education in the last year has never existed before,” Lane explained. “As we transition back to normal schooling in September, she’s going to be right at the center of that.”

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Judith Rodin, 76: Raised in West Philadelphia, Rodin attended the University of Pennsylvania, where she eventually became the school’s president and the first woman ever to run an Ivy League university.

There, she doubled the university’s research funding and tripled its endowment. She also initiated investments in local public schools, including the establishment of a pre-K to 8 school in West Philadelphia.

“Perhaps the most enduring legacy is she changed the town relationship, where she made Penn a true force in West Philadelphia, built a school there and integrated the university into the local community, and in doing that really changed the way people look at higher education,” said Lane.

Rodin went on to serve as the president of the Rockefeller Foundation, a post she held for 12 years.

Laurene Powell Jobs, 57: A force for social impact, Powell Jobs has used her career to prioritize educational opportunities for students. The widow of the late Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, she inherited billions of dollars’ worth of stock in Apple and in Disney.

She leveraged those funds to establish the Emerson Collective, a hybrid investment, social impact and philanthropic firm with a core focus on education. Powell Jobs also cofounded College Track, a nonprofit program that helps students with disadvantaged backgrounds prepare for and graduate from college.

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Anne Williams-Isom, 56: Williams-Isom is an endowed chair at Fordham University and the former CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone, an organization that annually serves 13,000 students across 100 blocks of northern Manhattan.

“Her career really has been dedicated to improving child welfare within communities of color and addressing inequalities in education,” said Pierre-Bravo. “This is someone who grew up with a single mom in Queens, so she knows the barriers in struggling communities and has used education as a tool of empowerment.”