Nada Djordjevich is a writer and consultant with more than fifteen years experience working to strengthen schools, communities, and arts organizations. As Executive Director of Gibson and Associates, she has secured more than $35 million in private, state, and federal funding for education initiatives and developed three-year plans for two of the ten largest school districts in California. As an educator, she taught history, English language development, and writing and served as an academic dean. She has worked in both public and private high schools as well as community college and non-profit settings. You can read more about Nada Djordjevich at nadadjordjevich.com and gibsonandassociates.com, or follow her on Twitter (@NadaDjordjev) or LinkedIn.
She spoke with Eva Kaye-Zwiebel on January 3, 2018. Their conversation has been edited for length. Updated information on the California budget and resource links were added for reference and context.
Small Stones (SS): Can you tell me, big picture, about your work, and then about the big issues that your clients are, collectively, encountering right now?
Nada Djordjevich (ND): I’ve been involved in all sorts of areas of school reform: creating school district plans, large-scale partnerships between school districts and institutes of higher education, and teacher pipeline programs. These are projects for which district administrators or schools usually need to hire somebody outside to get the work done. As a consultant, I’ve worked under Republican and Democrat administrations—in both California and the federal system. I’ve been involved with several initiatives at the federal and state level including No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top. With NCLB, for better or worse, because it was bipartisan people thought, “We don’t like it necessarily, but we know it’s here to stay.” There have been a lot of transitions recently, and that creates anxiety and a lack of traction.
This happens with any administration, Democrat or Republican: you have an exodus of knowledge, when people who have been in departments for years and years leave. You see that at the local level, too, when you have a change of superintendents. Like I said, people could argue against the vision, but between 2000 and 2016, for the most part education vision was bipartisan. You might have Democrats, certainly at the local level, more willing to tax, but there wasn’t a sense that we are on completely different teams.
SS: Can you give some examples of areas where there’s less agreement than before?
ND: STEM and higher ed are two examples. A lot of my work is in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). I’ve written 12 grants in this area. The science and math emphasis actually came from the Bush administration, and then Obama took on the STEM initiative. There was a sense of, “It doesn’t matter who’s going to be in power; Republicans and Democrats both like science and technology and both are going to be advocating for it.” The Math and Science Partnership grants were wonderful partnerships and there were 13 years of them. The lack of support for STEM now, that’s been a real shift. A recent article from Fast Company describes how STEM budget cuts impact low-income youth’s access to science and technology.