TNTP’s Irreplaceables: Meet Layla Avila

At TNTP, our primary organizational strategy has been our people. Early on, we figured out that if we attracted outstanding, passionate professionals, they would grow and our organization would grow along with them.

Layla Avila is one of the best examples. Fifteen years ago, she took a chance on TNTP. She probably thinks TNTP took a chance on her, as a young classroom teacher, but truthfully she could have done anything. She was obviously on her way to big things, as the daughter of Mexican immigrants who grew up in East Los Angeles and received degrees from Columbia and Harvard by her mid-20s. To TNTP, she brought a deeply personal (and hugely important) understanding of the school communities our organization serves: In her first role for us, she accepted the challenge of running a teacher recruitment effort in the same community where she’d taught elementary school, Compton, CA.

TNTP wasn’t much to look at in 1999. To call us a start-up might be an overstatement. We were a small collection of idealists—many of them early participants in Teach for America—who believed that urban districts could attract top talent if teaching was pitched as a chance to change the world, not as a fallback job. It was a tall order, and our operating model made it even taller. We proposed that districts would pay the costs for this tiny, unproven non-profit to find teachers for the classrooms that always seemed to get last pick. The phone didn’t exactly ring off the hook.

Enter Layla Avila. People like Layla have helped us prove that it is possible to attract great teachers to some of this country’s most challenged schools—and they’ve helped us succeed when we’ve bitten off more than we can chew, which is fairly often. Layla set to work creating TeachCompton, a program that would select and train career changers to become educators. She knew that the name Compton did not connote “place I want to take a teaching job.” The community had been in the news throughout the ‘90s, often in a bad light. But the students of Compton were a selling point. They were young people full of possibility, the hope for the community’s better future, and Layla knew this better than any of us: They were her own former students. She and her team landed on a tagline: “Compton’s children deserve a Beverly Hills education.”

BOOM. Who can argue with that? TeachCompton was born.

For Layla, TNTP was a job that became a career. She managed teacher pipeline programs from coast to coast before leading our pipeline programs nationally in 2007. As we’ve learned more about how to best support teachers and schools, our work has changed shape, and Layla’s been part of that evolution. During her tenure, she’s overseen the process of raising standards for our teachers so we award permanent certification only to those who demonstrate effectiveness on-the-job (as chronicled in our paper, Leap Year). Over the years, her team has persuaded tens of thousands of highly talented professionals to answer what was essentially the same call-to-arms she made in Compton, way back when.

In 2013, Layla became TNTP’s executive vice president for partnerships. Now, she leads our process for deciding where to work and what to do there. Given that nobody knows our work and history better, nobody could be better suited for the job.

For TNTP, Layla has been a leader who grew us from a start-up to a mission-driven, national voice in the shared quest for better schools. Without folks like her, we wouldn’t have lasted long enough to support programs like the New York City Teaching Fellows or to publish The Widget Effect. In the meantime, Layla has been a powerful voice in her own right, serving several terms on her local elected school board in South Whittier, CA, testifying before Congress, and serving as an expert witness in the Los Angeles lawsuit over teacher layoffs.

This fall, Layla will become the first employee ever to reach the fifteen-year mark at TNTP. The start-up is a start-up no more. But our philosophy remains the same. We practice what we preach to school districts: recruit great people, work hard to retain them and find ways for them to grow—and then we hope they choose to make a career with us.

To Layla, please accept our sincere admiration and gratitude for being one of the risk-takers who paved the way for us all. We wouldn’t have TNTP as our professional home without folks like you. Thanks for taking a chance on us.

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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.

Learn More About TNTP