Born and raised in Northern California, Rachel migrated east to attend Princeton University, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in History. After college, she moved to New York City and had a brief stint as a teacher at a Catholic girls school in Harlem before she ventured into the world of documentary filmmaking. Her work on a film about the first charter high school in Silicon Valley changed her career trajectory and inspired her commitment to education advocacy. Motivated in part by witnessing the legal hurdles and political battles that the film’s charter school had to overcome just to open its doors, Rachel decided to head to law school.
She earned her J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. After practicing as a litigator for several years in the private sector, Rachel found her way back to education when she became Assistant General Counsel for Success Academy Charter Schools in New York City.
Rachel lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and their two sons.
I Aspire To Be Like My Grandmother. Here’s Why:
My grandmother’s story is one of grit, resilience and ultimately, optimism. As a Hungarian Jew living in Budapest during World War II, she witnessed most of her family being taken away to concentration camps, including her mother, brother and husband. At the time, she was only 22 years old, living in hiding with her two-year-old daughter. After the war ended, her husband returned home, but most of her family had perished in the camps. In 1956, after years of living under an oppressive communist regime, my grandmother and her family escaped from Hungary and immigrated to New York City. For my grandmother, there was no turning back, no longing for the old country. She was in America and was going to take advantage of everything it had to offer. Now, at age 92, she will tell you how much she loves America. For her, it was a country that accepted her with open arms, where she and her husband found jobs and thrived and where her daughter received a good education and went on to college. Her America is the America that everyone wants to believe in–an America in which one’s beginnings do not determine destiny, an America in which hard work and perseverance translate into social mobility. Her story inspires me to fight for an America like hers–one in which every child, no matter where they come from, has the opportunity to succeed and thrive.
Why I Love My Job:
Working as counsel for a charter school helped me understand the profound effects that state and local policy has on our schools and, ultimately, our children. At 50CAN, I have the opportunity to work with a really smart group of people who are deeply committed to figuring out and fighting for the policies that help ensure that every student has access to a great public school.
My Connection To Public Schools:
When I was producing a film about a charter school, I got to know many of the parents of the students attending the school. Almost all of them were immigrants from Mexico who had moved to the United States with the belief that American public schools were going to provide a path to prosperity for their children. However, what they encountered was something entirely different–namely, a public school system that was failing to serve low-income Latino students and that was preparing virtually none of them for college. Chronicling the lives of these families who felt so forsaken by the public school system continues to have a profound impact on the work that I do.
What I’m Bad At:
Despite my childhood dream to star in musicals, I am a really terrible singer. My kids tell me I have a good voice, but I’m well aware that I am going to lose that captive audience in a few years as they get older and become a bit more discerning.
The Image That Represents Why I Work At PennCAN:
This is a still from the opening sequence of the trailer for These Four Years, the film I worked on about the first charter high school in Silicon Valley. I just viewed the trailer for the first time in many years, and as I watched it, I was struck by how little has changed in 14 years. While we have certainly made some progress, we still have an education system with an inexcusable achievement gap and too many students without good school options. In the trailer, one of the parents says, “We are going to make history in California.” I work at 50CAN because I want to live in a society in which providing all students, regardless of their background, with a high-quality education is not a “history-making” event, but something we can all take for granted.