Director, Charter Parent Action Network
Valerie Babb likes to talk. Whether she’s chatting with charter school parents about how to improve public relations for the education reform movement, or with elected officials about the needs of charter school families, or on the radio at 90.3 FM, Babb’s gift of gab has helped earn her a reputation as someone who can work a crowd into a frenzy, or quietly consult with parents, teachers and politicians behind-the-scenes.
A native Harlemite, Babb grew up in a self-described “revolutionary” household. Her grandfather, an ex–Black Panther, ran twice—and lost—for a Board of Education seat. Out campaigning for her grandfather on the streets of her neighborhood is where Babb got her first taste of community organizing.
After a few stints in marketing and business development, Babb took a job with the Rev. Calvin O. Butts’ Abyssinian real estate development nonprofit.
“That was the first place where I really got to understand city politics and interact with elected officials,” she says. “How the community and local officials being engaged could really produce some positive results.”
She joined the education reform movement soon after, accepting a job with the New York City Charter School Center. But Babb’s first encounter with school reform happened much earlier, when as a teenager her parents pulled her out of her gang-ridden high school and placed her in a safer alternative school. She credits the choice her parents made with setting her on the right path.
Today Babb navigates the treacherous waters of education policy, working with charter school administrators, parents and elected officials to improve relations in the community. The current debate surrounding education is fierce, she admits, but she is up to the task.
“I think one of the mistakes we’ve made in the charter industry is not communicating before there’s a problem, and that’s something we’re doing more of now,” she said.
How did your past jobs get you to where you are now?
“I think the kind of dedication, persistence and perseverance at Abyssinian really shaped me for this role I have now. We fed 10,000 people in one day. I developed walking pneumonia, but I got it done.”
What will your business card say in five years?
“It’ll be ‘Executive National Director,’ because I want to take the program national. And ‘Great mom and superwife.’”
If you weren’t working in politics, what would you be doing?
“I’d be a radio talk-show personality. Or a stand-up comedian.”
What would be the title of your autobiography?
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