Angela Doan remembers the moment when she realized her plan to be an architectural engineer major wouldn’t cut it.
“I learned early on that math didn’t truly interest me,” she said with a laugh. “What I was actually passionate about didn’t add up to what I was doing.”
She was originally interested in building homes for the less fortunate. Angela found herself wanting to lead in decisions rather than drawing them out.
“A mentor of mine recommended I take a teaching course to get first-hand experience of working with people,” Angela said. “I found that the classroom inspired me.”
She changed her major at the University of Utah, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education. For four years, Angela taught in the Salt Lake City School District at Edison Elementary under a Title I improvement grant.
“Those years gave me first-hand experience about what works for students and teachers,” she said. “I clearly saw gaps between good intentions, the execution of policies and laws, and what was actually happening in school classrooms.”
Those “gaps” – areas of missed opportunity for every student to be successful – are one of the many priorities that Angela will be focusing on as Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s recently-appointed Senior Advisor for Education.
“Education is at the core of our efforts to create opportunity, equity, and hope in Salt Lake City,” said Mayor Biskupski. “Our bottom line is to empower Salt Lake City kids to be academically successful, and to give our students and schools the tools to do so.”
As Senior Advisor for Education, Angela will focus on the Mayor’s key priority areas. These include early childhood education, dismantling the school-to-prison-pipeline, and ensuring that the Salt Lake City’s diverse student population is being well-served in a safe and world-class educational system.
“Dozens of languages are spoken throughout Salt Lake City schools,” said Angela. “The data is clear that over half of the students being served are students of color, and that we are a minority-majority school district.”
Studies show the-school-to-prison pipeline disproportionally affects students of color, marginalized groups, and students who face abuse, poverty, housing instability, and learning disabilities. When kids are put in contact with the juvenile justice system, they are more likely to come in contact with the adult criminal justice system. Actions such smoking or skipping school – juvenile “crimes” – can result in suspension or expulsion. This leads to higher dropout rates and repeated offenses, instead of getting to the root cause of the issues the student is facing. Utah recognizes this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed.
“Growing up, I had a lot of friends that were smarter and savvier than me but were in gangs and often in trouble,” she said. “I always wondered how they got trapped into the criminal justice system and how our institutions allowed that to happen.”
Recognizing the challenges and opportunities ahead, Angela draws on her past experience as both a teacher and an education law student. For three years following her teaching at Edison Elementary, she studied at Boston College in Massachusetts. She received her master’s in educational leadership and her J.D. from Boston College Law School.
During her studies, Angela had a full professional work-load. She worked for the U.S. Department of Civil Rights, handling racial and sexual harassment cases and supporting English language learners. She drafted legislative bills for the Massachusetts Advocates for Children, and studied the criminal justice system and why it fails at the New England Innocence Project.
Despite her rigorous work and study schedule, Angela remained focused on her passion: education. But she never forgot about home.
“Salt Lake City is my hometown and my home school district,” she said. “The opportunity to come back home and support my community is huge, and I feel like I have tremendous support to get work done.”
“We’re thrilled to have such a talented individual ready to get to work for Salt Lake City,” said Mayor Jackie Biskupski. “Angela understands the opportunities and challenges of our shared goals: to keep Salt Lake City kids in school, expand their opportunities, and to close the school to prison pipeline.”
As Angela has settled into her space at the Mayor’s Office, she can’t help but smile thinking about her journey.
“My grandparents used to be the night custodians in the City and County Building in the early 1980s,” she said nostalgically. “Everything feels full circle now – I’m ready to get to work.”