The strong pull of home has drawn a former community leader back to South Carolina to head a relatively new education advocacy group, StudentsFirst.
D. Jermaine Husser, a Goose Creek native, served as executive director of the Lowcountry Food Bank before leaving in August 2011 for a job as chief executive of the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
He stayed there about a year before deciding to come back South, and he’s been working in Charlotte since August as a capital fundraiser for the area food bank, Second Harvest of Metrolina. StudentsFirst announced Wednesday that Husser would be its new state director.
“You never miss home until you go away, and there’s no place like South Carolina,” he said.
StudentsFirst is an organization created by Michelle Rhee, who was one of the country’s most polarizing education leaders while serving as chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools. Her group uses a combination of approaches, from mobilizing its members to backing specific lawmakers during elections, to further its policy agenda, and it is working in 17 states.
The national group came to South Carolina in March, and Husser was one of two state-based hires announced Wednesday. The other was Allison Spry Waymyers, who has been working in Columbia and will serve as outreach director.
“Our new state-based staff has the right kind of experience and are well-positioned to continue advancing education policies that identify great teachers and put our kids first,” said Tim Melton, vice president of legislative affairs for StudentsFirst, in a statement.
This will be Husser’s first foray into education, but he said it’s a natural transition given what he’s done in his former roles. The food bank could double the amount of food it distributes, but that won’t change the cycle of poverty for students, he said.
“What can change that is really ensuring that every child has the opportunity for a world-class education,” he said.
StudentsFirst plan to hire two more South Carolinians for field coordinator positions, and Husser said he looks forward to continuing to build relationships with businesses, lawmakers and educators.
The group has four priority areas in South Carolina: creating a turnaround district for failing schools; improving educators’ evaluations so teachers receive consistent feedback; empowering parents to demand change when they’re unsatisfied with their schools; and holding charter schools to a high standard.
StudentsFirst has 25,000 members in South Carolina, and its regional press secretary, Calvin Harris, said it saw progress this year on a charter school accountability proposal that has been passed by the House and now resides in the Senate.
Reach Diette Courrégé Casey at @Diette on Twitter or (843) 937-5546.