Profession: Trustee and co-founder, City Year Inc./founding chair, New Schools for Baton Rouge
Hometown: Boston, Massachusetts
Family: Married to husband, Sean Reilly, for 30 years, with three children: Anna (21), Aidan (19), and Rowan (17)
Years with company: 30
During her student orientation at Harvard Business School in 1988, Jennifer Eplett Reilly was asked to state how she planned to use her MBA.
She responded without hesitation.
“I said that I wanted to create innovative public-private partnerships to build communities,” Eplett Reilly recalls. “This has basically been my intention and path ever since.”
For more than 30 years, Eplett Reilly has been a leader on civic projects that crisscross sectors and bring multiple perspectives to the table. She is a co-founder and trustee of City Year, one of the country’s first and best known national service programs. She is also a co-founder of the Echoing Green Public Service Fellowship and a former consultant to the Commission on National and Community Service. She served on Teach for America’s founding national board and is the founding board chair of New Schools for Baton Rouge.
In these and other leadership capacities, Eplett Reilly has worked to bring sometimes disparate partners together to enact civic change. She says she has been particularly motivated by two things. One is projects that harness the idealism of bright young people, a passion satisfied through her work with national service programs like City Year and Teach for America, both of which Eplett Reilly helped launch nationally and locally.
The other is an intense focus on making public education work for all kids. A Massachusetts native and the product of K-12 public schools, Eplett Reilly and her three siblings were raised by a single mother who was also a public school teacher.
“I know public schools can be excellent when you have an extraordinary school leader who is student-focused and has the autonomy and resources to advance their school community,” she says.
Eplett Reilly’s work with New Schools for Baton Rouge is about broadening excellent public charter school options for East Baton Rouge Parish families. Since it launched, New Schools has facilitated the opening of 14 new charter schools that now serve 6,000 students. Some of those schools include sought after national operators with proven results, like Basis and IDEA, which opened three sites in Baton Rouge last fall. Earlier this year, the well-regarded San Francisco-based KIPP Charter Schools, declared its interest in opening schools in the Capital Region. The announcement was particularly moving for Eplett Reilly and other charter school advocates, who had first tried to recruit KIPP to Baton Rouge nearly 20 years ago.
The game changer is the New Schools model. CEO Chris Meyer credits Reilly for putting the education nonprofit in a position to attract time-tested school operators with proven results. New Schools has raised $30 million toward an excellence fund that helps charter schools get off the ground in Baton Rouge, as well as $70 million in building and developing excellent new facilities.
“Jennifer has always had this ‘bigger than’ vision that says, ‘we want to find the best schools, no matter where they are, and ask them what it would take to scale up in our community,’” says Meyer.
“If you look at her record of service,” he continues, “she’s been intent on taking great ideas and laser-focusing them on making a local impact. This is because she has a deep sense of community. Without her leadership and support, we would not have had such an audacious approach.”
1985: Receives Bachelor of Arts, Political Science, Wellesley (Mass.) College
1987: Completes two-year Corporate Finance Analyst Program with E.F. Hutton and Company in New York
1987: Co-Founder of national service pilot program, City Year Inc., in Boston
1990: Earns a Master of Business Administration from Harvard Business School
1990: Co-creates Echoing Green Public Service Fellowship as founding executive director
1995: Leads initiative with Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge to develop CREATE Baton Rouge, a community cultural investment plan
1996-2019: Civic leadership initiatives, founding board chair of entrepreneurial public private initiatives including Shaw Center for the Arts, LA Cultural Economy Foundation, City Year Louisiana (now City Year Baton Rouge and City Year New Orleans), New Schools for Baton Rouge
Who inspires you
My mom! She was a single mother, raising four children while teaching public elementary school. Our big Irish Catholic family shared lessons of faith, family and the value of education for everyone.
Necessary workplace changes
I would like to see more women in corporate leadership and serving on corporate boards. We have made strides but need to be intentional to tap diverse, talented, experienced women professionals.
Advice for young women
Be bold, be bold, be bold! Find a professional purpose that aligns with your passion and true north. Whatever path you choose, make service a part of it.