Gates Helps to Launch New "Education Quarterback" Organization in Denver - Gates Family Foundation

Longtime community leader Nate Easley has been tapped to lead a new, independent nonprofit organization aimed at accelerating better outcomes and narrowing the achievement gap for tens of thousands of children in Denver.

“Local families, educators, and advocates all believe in the vision that every child should have access to a high-quality school,” Easley said. “Blue School Partners will be a strategic partner, investor, and advocate in advancing this vision. I’m honored to have this timely opportunity to continue my lifelong mission of advancing equity and narrowing the achievement gap.” Note: Subsequent to publication of this article, the new organization has been renamed RootED.

Easley will join Blue School Partners as its founding Chief Executive Officer in early October, after nearly a decade as CEO of the Denver Scholarship Fund. (Additional biographic information is below.)

Easley said Blue School Partners will work to maximize the capacity of existing organizations to strategically grow the number of quality schools, deepen the pool of talented school leaders and teachers, and increase parent and community engagement and demand for “blue schools” – a label earned by the top-performing campuses in Denver.

Denver’s progress in providing new and better options for families – particularly high-needs families – has served as a national example for expanding opportunity in urban public schools. Taken as a whole, Denver’s public schools – traditional, charter, and innovation – are improving faster than most other urban systems nationwide.

Yet as of 2016, 70% of Denver’s white students attend blue or green schools (the rating system’s second tier), compared to only 43% of students of color. Denver Public Schools has set a goal of 80% of all students districtwide attending high-performing schools by 2020.

Gates Family Foundation Senior Vice President for Education Mary Seawell, who served on the DPS school board with Easley, told Chalkbeat that Blue School Partners “started with a group of people looking at the data and seeing what the gap was … and what was the likelihood they’d get there without significant support.”

“Nate’s commitment and his passion are so real and that’s what’s going to drive him,” said Seawell, who is on Blue School Partners’ founding board of directors. “He cares about the highest-needs kids.”

DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he looks forward to working with Easley in his new role.

“Nate Easley has been an extraordinary leader of and partner with the Denver Public Schools during the past ten years. As chairman of the Denver Board of Education, Nate helped lead our district to new heights in student enrollment and academic growth. And as executive director of the Denver Scholarship Foundation, Nate has helped thousands of DPS graduates achieve their dreams of attending college. I am excited for Nate’s new role and look forward to continuing our work together for Denver’s kids.”

The “quarterback” strategy employed by Blue School Partners – serving as an independent local intermediary, run by local leaders, and working with established local partners to make strategic investments – is a concept promoted by Education Cities and promises to grow the pool of support for Denver schools.

Blue School Partners was founded by a coalition of community and philanthropic partners including the Gates Family Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, and other local leaders.

More on Nathaniel “Nate” Easley Jr., Ph.D.

Under Easley’s leadership, the Denver Scholarship Fund has invested $33 million in 5,600 Denver Public Schools graduates, three out four of whom have completed a college degree/certificate or continue to persist towards that important milestone. From 2009 to 2013, he served as an elected board member for Denver Public Schools, including terms as President and Secretary. He also worked as Vice President for National and International Programs for the Council for Opportunity in Education in Washington D.C.

Easley is a current member of Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s Education Compact, the Community College of Denver Advisory Council, the National College Access Network Board, the Colorado School of Public Health Advisory Council, and Colorado Latinos for Education Reform. He is a past member of Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s Education Leadership Council and the National Advisory Council for Texas Guaranteed Inc. (the third largest student loan guarantee organization in the United States).

Easley has extensive experience helping disadvantaged students realize their dream of a college education and securing grant funding to sustain student programs. His master’s and doctorate focused on how higher education can better support the academic success and college completion of Black and Latino students. He has more than 25 years of experiencing working at the state, national and international levels to create opportunities for first-generation, low-income and ethnic minority students. He is a proud graduate of Denver’s Montbello High School.