Michael Gilligan

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Michael GilliganVice President, Strategic Initiatives

Michael’s career spans over 25 years in the education and not-for-profit sectors. Prior to joining Achieve, where his focus is on providing strategic counsel to state and national partners on advocating for and advancing the college- and career-ready agenda, Michael was Director of Strategic Initiatives and Resource Development at the Hunt Institute in North Carolina. Michael was on the start-up team for Hunt in 2002 and led the Institute’s efforts to support states’ development, adoption and implementation of rigorous standards in ELA, math and science. Prior to Hunt, Michael was acting director of development for the New York City Department of Education, where he created the World Trade Center School Relief Fund to fund services for kids and schools after 9/11. He was prepared to lead these efforts by his experience as a senior development officer at both Columbia University and UCLA.

Michael has also held executive positions at the Anne & Kirk Douglas Foundation where he directed the Douglases’ Los Angeles-focused philanthropic activities; and with Sylvan at School where he managed in-school reading centers in Los Angeles and provided professional development to LAUSD teachers. Michael also served on the start-up teams for Community Impact in Washington, D.C. where he led strategic planning; and at Teach For America where he was the founding director in Louisiana.

After completing college, Michael served as a construction volunteer in the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa. He is a graduate of Columbia University and has two daughters in the Durham, NC Public Schools.

Why are you passionate about education?

“I read often as a Peace Corps volunteer almost 30 years ago – probably 300 books. None meant more to me than Common Ground by J. Anthony Lukas: a story of race and class in America expressed through the lives of three 1970’s-era Boston families. It’s not a hopeful tale, though it did convince me of my path. So when I returned from Africa I began a career in education.

Ten years on I ran a reading program in Los Angeles. One day, a JROTC cadet approached me to enroll. He’d drill every day in front of our classroom rain or shine, so I told him it was not for him, it was for struggling students. He insisted he needed help to improve his ASVAB (military entrance exam) score. He turned out to be right; a senior who couldn’t read at a third-grade level. I wish I could say I served him – that he read at grade level and passed the ASVAB. He made strides, but he had too far to go. His fault was growing up in a neighborhood that we don’t care much about – our fault, my fault, was in renouncing responsibility for his success.

Another ten years later, visiting a school in New Orleans I saw a school community with common purpose – students, families, teachers, administration – all in it together –and it was a sight to behold. Until I saw their instructional materials, so much energy and enthusiasm undercut by such woeful resources. It was not so much that they were old or damaged – they were irrelevant and inconsistent.

And so today I work at Achieve, so that clear, coherent, rigorous instructional materials can make it into the hands of the committed teachers and students of that school in New Orleans; so that schools, districts, and states are accountable to that JROTC cadet; and so as to not lose sight of the power of education to realize the American Dream.”

Phone: (202) 419-1561