Alumni Stories: Leah Jack
Building a budget by building consensus
By Keith Meatto
For Leah Jack, developing a budget is a matter of building consensus.
As business manager of the Athol-Royalston Regional School District in Massachusetts for two years, she worked closely with the superintendent to gather budgetary needs from district teams, anticipate revenue sources, negotiate union contracts, work with the school committee and town officials to assess school taxes, and craft a budget that worked for both the schools and the voters. All this while managing the politics that are integral to public education systems.
Her work in public education relies on the skills and knowledge she developed at the Center for Public Research and Leadership (CPRL) at Columbia University and through the MBA program at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, one of CPRL’s partner schools.
At CPRL, she got an education in school system governance – how institutions set goals, motivate actors to meet those goals, design strategies, engage stakeholders, measure progress, and respond to evidence of success and failure – and how to make positive change in schools. “If you want to be a leader in education, you can work those chops very solidly at CPRL,” she said
In particular, she learned the importance of building trust and finding common ground with diverse stakeholder groups when she examined the educational and emotional challenges faced by children of members of the military who are forced to move every few years. For Leah, this project for the Military Child Education Coalition was also personal. Her mother served in the Navy, and Leah spent her childhood in Virginia, Florida, Georgia, and England, to name a few.
Leah’s growth as an education-focused business leader started well before graduate school, however. After five years at JP Morgan in Boston in financial services operations and product management, she began to steer her career toward education. As a child she dreamed of being a teacher, and the 2016 presidential election inspired her to leverage her skills for social good. She became director of business operations for the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership, a nonprofit supporting underperforming local public schools. To sharpen her business acumen to better serve public schools, she pursued her MBA at Dartmouth and spent a semester studying with CPRL.
As business manager of the Athol-Royalston Regional School District, she oversaw a $35 million budget and staff of three people to serve the district’s 1,500 students and 300 staff. Among her achievements in that role were procuring new ceilings for an older school building, rolling out a web-based system for staffing substitute teachers and an employee access portal, and fully funding the sophomore trip to Washington, D.C.
In September, Leah started a new role as project manager at the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care. There she will oversee projects aimed at increasing access to early childhood education for families across the state.
“The more effective we can be at using our resources, the better our education systems will get in terms of providing positive outcomes,” she said. To do this, she will leverage the project leadership skills she honed at CPRL while supporting structural change.
“We want children to feel prepared to engage in the global economy and in their local communities.”