Educational policy and historical context

Ellie Rounds '98

Image courtesy of Ellie Rounds '98

Ellie Rounds '98, Access and Equity Coordinator

Major: History, Minor: Religion

Employer: Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MA DESE)

A typical day: As an Access and Equity Specialist, Ellie works primarily with charter schools under the Massachusetts Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education. Most of her work involves special education and English as a Second Language programs. She visits schools, making sure these programs are accessible and equitable for all students. Since the Mass. Department of Education is the sole authorizer of charter schools, Rounds’s position involves working closely with these institutions to make sure they are following standards and policies. She works as a liaison between charter school administrators, teachers and the various units in the DESE.

How Rounds got from graduating from MHC to becoming a Access and Equity Specialist: After graduation, she entered Teach for America and taught within the program for three years as an English teacher in Special Education outside of New Orleans. She then moved to Boston and taught at one charter school, and then helped open another new charter school. She also worked for a number of years at both charter and traditional district schools. 

From working closely with specialists in education, she decided that policy work was what she really wanted to do. She found an open position with the Massachusetts Department of Education, where she helped revise criteria for evaluating schools. In part of her work, she interprets federal and state law related policies and shares her knowledge with those trying to meet policies or teacher qualifications. For example, Rounds helps charter schools and teachers with their questions on teacher qualification standards. 

How to make the path from History major and career smoother: As a History major and Religion minor, Rounds suggests students explore classes beyond major requirements. She especially recommends taking Politics classes for this kind of work, since she thinks it would have helped her in her current job.

She also recommends that students take advantage of as many diverse classes as one student can take, before “you convince yourself this is the only thing you want to do.” She worries that too much emphasis is put on students to find career tracks early on, when really diverse experiences help uncover new opportunities.

While teaching was a passion of hers, she didn’t know until she started her work as a teacher that she wanted to do policy. Teaching helped open that possibility to her, experiencing how policy and law influenced the classroom.

"The ability to read and write critically and understand historical context was important, especially because policy work occasionally does not integrate it well enough. History and a historical context help to teach others and describe policies, particularly in education and legal issues."

From her own experiences in the classroom, Rounds feels that historians can sometimes get caught up in the past—what would be more helpful are explicit connections to the current day.  

"Having a History major gives students a critical eye for interpretation and information, and speaks to a developed way of thinking, reading, and writing. It would be important for students to hone those skills more and advertise or translate those abilities to the workplace." Rounds advises.