Knowledge Is Power: Leveling the Playing Field in Education — Cynthia Plouché

Higher education and career readiness are essential tools in preparing students for lifelong learning and success in the world of work. Yet women and minorities still face systemic challenges in both areas.

We’re in conversation with Cynthia Plouché, a seasoned financial services executive, board leader, and education advocate, about her perspective on eliminating disparities in learning.

Cynthia, a key theme in your work is the importance of equal access to education in students’ success. How are we doing as a society in reaching that goal?

“We’re doing better with every year in our awareness of the inequities. Yet the amount of money schools receive often varies depending on zip code. Funding can hinge on property taxes, for example, so schools in affluent zip codes are typically equipped with more resources, such as high-end technologies.

“A key area of focus for me is social justice in the space of education. Success in education shouldn’t be determined by where you grew up, how much income your parents have, your gender, or the color of your skin. It should be about everyone having the same access and opportunity to achieve.

“Schools are not only venues for acquiring academic knowledge; they’re also places where identities are formed and where young people begin to understand who they are and how they relate to society overall. Having a team of school administrators and teachers who fully reflect the composition of the student body provides a critical opportunity for students to affirm their sense of belonging by connecting with trusted adults with similar backgrounds.

“I’ve learned over time that ‘if you can see it, you can be it.’ We need to be ever mindful of creating inclusive classrooms — where all students can envision the possibilities for their future and begin to be what they want to see.

“So, we still have lots of challenges to solve. How do we create revenue for public schools that isn’t tied to a community’s zip code? How do we correct pay inequities for teachers and ensure diverse leadership? How do we provide the best educational experience to students at the schools that don’t have abundant resources? The playing field will never be level until we address these issues together.”

We hear a lot about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on education. What is your assessment?

“Through the pandemic we surely lost a lot of ground in students’ continuum of personal growth. The challenges were often greatest for our most vulnerable students, especially those with lower socioeconomic status, or living in rural areas, who were not equipped for remote learning.

“Yet this time of widespread crisis also ignited our capacity to innovate in delivering education, primarily through technology. As the traditional system shut down, teachers stayed open. They rapidly adapted their teaching styles to remote or hybrid learning to be there for their students and support their academic and emotional needs. School districts across the country took action, handing out millions of laptops and tablets to close the gaps in technology access.

“Ultimately, the pandemic, with all its accompanying challenges, gave us an opportunity to make our educational system better. Many of the lessons from remote learning, particularly in incorporating technology and finding unconventional ways to solve problems, can be put to good use in creating a more adaptable system — one that’s ready for whatever awaits us on the road ahead.”

Thank you, Cynthia, for your positive perspective.

Cynthia R. Plouché is the founder and CEO of The Alzenia Project, a nonprofit organization that leverages the impact of other nonprofits to help young women of color achieve personal and professional growth. Along with her devotion to advancing diversity, Cynthia is also an inspiring business leader. She has a successful career in investment management, including more than 10 years as co-founder and chief investment officer of a woman-owned firm and culminating in ongoing corporate board leadership within the mutual fund industry.

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