Remembering Layla Avila

Earlier today we got the unthinkable news that our friend and former colleague Layla Avila lost a battle with cancer, passing away peacefully with her family and friends by her side.

Layla’s imprint can be found on nearly every corner of TNTP. She was one of our first employees, starting in 1999, hired to launch TeachCompton. During her more than 15 years here, she held nearly every job imaginable—from managing our Teaching Fellows programs to business development, research and evaluation, and serving as my chief of staff. She, as much as anyone, turned TNTP into the strong, vital, student-focused organization it is today. And after leaving such an indeliable mark here, she co-founded Education Leaders of Color, a crucial space for people of color in our sector and one of the most powerful forces for positive change in education.

Since she left TNTP, I’ve kept monthly check-ins with Layla. These conversations had long outlived their ostensible purpose—to navigate questions left over from her transition and discuss the launch of EdLoC—but we kept them I think because I really looked forward to them. And Layla, ever generous, was willing to help me out. We spent part of each call talking business, ed policy, politics, fundraising, and school boards. But most of our calls were spent talking about life—our families, our fears, and our hopes. We talked about her warm, smart, and graceful husband Manuel, who seemed to love and appreciate her hugely—which is to say equally as much she loved and appreciated him. Her striking and willful daughter Cati, her beautiful little son Max, her beloved mom, who passed away a few years ago. Her impatience with anyone unwilling to do what needed to be done to give Black and Brown kids a fair opportunity. Her memorable vacations and family visits to Mexico. Her unwillingness to dump her old SUV.

Layla always seemed sure about the right path. Her convictions and values were clear and unerring. She had the world figured out. It often disappointed her, but it never surprised her. That’s what I think I needed most of all from our conversations—she instilled in me the confidence that, in spite of all the setbacks, in spite of all the injustice, it would all work out. If she had the world figured out, that meant that it could be figured out. I left every conversation with more steel in my spine about our mission, about how to lead, and about righting wrongs.

I’m heartbroken and will miss Layla terribly, as will so many TNTP staff members past and present who were lucky enough to experience her warmth, generosity, and great wisdom. Our thoughts are with her family and her colleagues at EdLoC as they cope with an unimaginable loss. Friends have set up a memorial page to capture memories and well wishes for Layla’s family, and a college fund has been established for her children.

There will be time in the coming days and weeks to talk about how best to honor Layla's enormous legacy. But for now, I hope we can just spend some time with the memories of a good and great person, being grateful that we got to know her while she was with us.

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, stands in front of her students while introducing them to the captivating world of science

Imali Ariyarathne, seventh-grade teacher at Langston Hughes Academy, introduces her students to the captivating world of science.

About TNTP

TNTP is the nation’s leading research, policy, and consulting organization dedicated to transforming America’s public education system, so that every generation thrives.

Today, we work side-by-side with educators, system leaders, and communities across 39 states and over 6,000 districts nationwide to reach ambitious goals for student success.

Yet the possibilities we imagine push far beyond the walls of school and the education field alone. We are catalyzing a movement across sectors to create multiple pathways for young people to achieve academic, economic, and social mobility.

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