The Sun’s Anna Pier checks in with Sonoma native Angela Ryan, who this month became Executive Director of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation.
Mary Favaro announced her retirement after less than two years, so this was a short turnaround.
Yes, but it was really a built-in succession process. Mary and I were hired at the same time, she as ED and I as Director of Programs and Grants. When Mary announced her plan to leave, the SVEF board did not do a new search. Mary is continuing to mentor me, and she has joined the SVEF Board of Directors.
You went to Sassarini, Altimira, and Sonoma High, did your undergrad at Davis and Cal Poly, then doctoral studies at Ohio State, and teaching in New York City. How does northern California compare to the Midwest and the East coast?
Sonoma is my home by birth and by choice, so I’m biased in favor of the lifestyle here, but there are benefits to living in the Midwest and East Coast. For starters, there is greater diversity in some aspects of life. There are actual seasons, so that one comes to appreciate the changing of the calendar and the uniqueness of those variations. Plus, the wardrobe accessories like varying levels of hats, scarves and gloves is something I never think about in Sonoma. I kind of miss that. People in the Midwest have very few pretensions and I appreciate that openness and frankness. New York City is superlative in every way, I miss fast-walking down a crowded sidewalk, passing every kind of food, culture, art, history, and language in existence.
Please talk a little about your Ph.D. dissertation, Education for the People: The Third World Student Movement at San Francisco State College and City College of New York.
My major fields of study in graduate school were women’s, African American, and modern United States history because I am fascinated by the 1960s and the movements for civil and human rights that gained widespread participation and whose reverberations are felt today. And of course, I am interested in public education and how it’s evolved. During my studies I came across the “Third World Liberation Front,” which was a multiracial student group at San Francisco State in the late 1960s. I realized what a profound impact they had on education and racial progress – creating the discipline of Ethnic Studies – but they were almost completely unknown. The more I studied them, I realized that a very similar thing had been happening at City College of New York, and my dissertation topic was settled. It didn’t hurt that I was able to conduct almost all of my research in my two favorite cities.
You told me you had wanted to be a professor. What about when you were a little girl, what did you dream of being?
To be honest, starting around sixth grade, the only profession I had ever dreamed of being was a college professor, specifically of history. Before that, possibly a professional basketball player, but the WNBA wasn’t even a pipe dream at that point, so I probably didn’t let myself get too attached to that dream.
How did this career switch come about?
I got my doctorate just as the Great Recession happened, and there weren’t any tenure-track jobs for me. I had been very successful at grant writing to finance my dissertation research, which entailed traveling to archives of Black, Asian-American, and Latinx student activism.
What was your previous job?
Director of the Petaluma History Museum. Before that, I worked as a volunteer with Teen Services Sonoma.
What are your current goals for the Foundation?
I want to help people recognize that the Ed Foundation is here to provide students with opportunities that they would not otherwise have. I very much want to help students impacted both academically and emotionally by Distance Learning.
Have you participated in any protests, student or otherwise?
I believe deeply in the value of direct action in a democracy. My career in protest began with a very earnest walk-out over campus conditions when I was a senior at SVHS; numerous protests in college and grad school, mostly pro-choice, racial justice, and anti-war. In NYC I was around for the Occupy Wall Street protests, and others. In Sonoma. I’ve helped organize a bunch of protests, including two Women’s Marches, and the Keep Families Together March.
You affirmed several times that you are passionate about equity in education. Please give some examples of how the work of the Foundation can and does support that?
The Ed Foundation helps provide equitable access to educational opportunities for all students, for example the preschool program that sends 100 students to preschool every year, whose families otherwise may not be able to afford it. Every student in Sonoma Valley should have the very best educational opportunities, regardless of economic status, and the Ed Foundation works to make that possible.
What do you anticipate being the greatest challenge of the job?
Our job is to work closely with the District to identify areas of need that can have a significant impact on student achievement and long-term outcomes, and which can support equitable access. Then we work with friends and supporters in the community to fund them. This year has been disruptive in every way imaginable for students and educators in our district. The challenge will be to find and identify the greatest opportunities to support students as we return to normal, and work to overcome the lingering effects of this pandemic year.
What about support for what we’re in now, Distance Learning?
Yes, we are focused on helping the students who have been highly impacted both academically and emotionally. And from the outset of the pandemic, we funded the first batch of hot spots for families who did not have internet access, and we continue to support hot spots. We funded Chrome Books for the 100 preschoolers.
So preschoolers have Zoom classes?
It’s pretty remarkable how well that is going. You should see them having circle time, playing games, and working with materials from packets distributed to them.
Have there been changes in your ability to raise funds due to the pandemic?
People want to be generous, and our individual and major donors have continued to be very supportive. We miss the in-person Red & White Ball, for the community it creates as well as the fundraising. It will be virtual again in 2021. But we are anxious to harness the community spirit again. The SVEF has been able to give around $1 million to District programs for the past few years.
What about the issue that plagues the District, student achievement?
I see the District implementing various things to address the many challenges. We have a true partnership with the District; our job is to find donors for the programs they identify.
How do you evaluate the success of the programs you fund?
All of the programs we fund have measurable outcomes. We formally review these objectives twice a year. And before Covid, we would also be on the ground, trying to go to sites to informally observe programs in action.
What are you most enjoying or looking forward to about the new job?
Working my hardest every day to help our educators do what they do best. I am passionate about equity in education, and I will be working for that end. This is a dream job for me. I love Sonoma, I love our schools and together, we can support students and educators now, when they need our help the most. A community is only as strong as its public education.