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Broad Alumni Spotlight: Veronica Conforme (TBA 2013-15)

Veronica has served as the Chief Executive Officer of UP Education Network since 2017.

Headshot of Veronica Conforme

What is your current organization and role?

I serve as the CEO of UP Education Network in Massachusetts. UP Education Network was founded in 2010 with the mission of rapidly transforming chronically underperforming schools into extraordinary schools that sustain high achievement for students over time. We currently operate three schools in Boston – UP Academy Boston, UP Academy Dorchester and UP Academy Holland – and serve 1,600 students in grades PreK-8. I think of UP as a school success organization focused on improving outcomes for students, through academics, the student experience, and building relationships of trust with families. 

What is something you’re currently working on in your professional role?

This has been ongoing for us, but the pandemic brought it into sharp relief: How do you accelerate learning for students? What are the ways in which we can support teachers in reaching students’ social-emotional needs as well as their academic needs?

A main priority for us right now is getting very good at understanding what is in students’ brains. What is the data and other evidence we see of learning? How do we analyze and make sense of that? How do we come together to talk about it, and then pivot quickly to respond to the needs we see? It’s a very systematic approach to student learning. As we move forward, I’m excited to see what it will continue to reveal for us about how we can better support our students.

What is one way UP Education Network has been working to increase equity for the students and communities you serve?

Increasing equity in our organization is an ongoing priority. We’ve been working on adult culture within UP, and I’m proud that we’ve retained 95 percent of our leaders and 85 percent of our teachers over the past year. We’ve supported our team with mental health supports that are beyond what health insurance covers. We have also put into place emotional intelligence coaching, and for our leaders, coaching for managing across lines of difference that is attuned to the identities that people are bringing with them to their leadership roles. So for example, if you are a leader at UP who is a person of color, you are getting emotional intelligence coaching about how to effectively manage a team of white teachers, or a mix of white and teachers of color. 

The professional development that we’ve done organization-wide, as well as the coaching for leaders, has led to increased trust among our team – it’s really changed the way we talk to one another and how we show up as leaders each day. We plan to expand the emotional intelligence coaching to teacher leaders next, and eventually to all teachers and to students. While it’s a bit early to tell what the full impacts will be, the high retention numbers already mean more consistency of who is teaching in our classrooms and leading our buildings, and that’s so important for students and families.

How has your experience as a Broad alum influenced the way you approach your work?

My Broad experience provided the ability to see education leadership work across the country in multiple different settings and environments. It makes you feel less alone in leading when you know that there are many of us tackling these difficult challenges – and you know that if you reach out to someone, they will know the right person to connect you with. That’s especially important right now, because our work as systems leaders has gotten even more complex and nuanced in the wake of the pandemic. It requires us to be more interconnected with states, with cities, with all the other systems that impact our students. We have to lean into this moment with the intention to build even more bridges. 

What is a thought-provoking education-related book or article you’ve read recently?

Right now we are reading The Noble School Leader by Matthew Taylor. We are using it as our workbook for the emotional intelligence work we are doing across the organization. It helps you plan and prepare yourself for difficult conversations – how to know what’s going to come up for you, what your triggers are, and how to respond in those moments.

I would also recommend From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life. It’s a wonderful, asset-based way of thinking about your own personal development and professional growth.