Leah Owens has dedicated her life to fighting for educational justice. As an educator, activist, and organizer, Leah has a deep commitment to ensuring equal education for all children. According to her educational philosophy, equity plus justice equals equality.
In 2004, Leah was hired by the Newark Public Schools District through Teach for America to teach high school students in the subject of English. She taught beyond the program’s two-year commitment and became immersed in the Newark community. As a teacher in the district, Leah took on many leadership roles, including writing culturally-relevant curriculum; developing an engaging afterschool program; producing a school-wide Black History month assembly; presenting at district-wide professional development meetings; and co-writing a grant to take students on an overnight field trip to Salem, Massachusetts. Leah is also very proud to have been chosen to be a participant in the first Amistad Summer Institute, which was a program that came about due to the enactment of New Jersey’s Amistad Act.
Leah has also taught adult learners. She has worked as an adjunct professor at both Rutgers-Newark in its Urban Teacher Education Program and Essex County College in the Humanities Department. She was further recognized for her leadership abilities by taking on the position of English Learning Team Leader at Teach for America-Newark. The main responsibility of this position was to plan and then facilitate monthly professional development sessions for first- and second-year high school English teachers.
This experience as a teacher leader, along with being a public education advocate in the Newark community, led her to found an unincorporated organization for other educators who want to make an impact outside of the classroom. Leah has organized informational sessions, rallies, and demonstrations all towards the purpose of securing democratic public education and educational equity, particularly in New Jersey’s low-income communities. Her most recent past work was as a community organizer with New Jersey Communities United on a campaign to improve the quality of early childhood education and access to affordable child care in the state of New Jersey.
Leah is a member of many social, community, and political organizations, including New Jersey Communities United and the Newark Branch of the NAACP. She is a founding member of the Newark Education Workers Caucus, the social justice caucus within the Newark Teachers Union. Abbott Leadership Institute recognized her advocacy for Newark’s children with an Advocacy in Teaching Award, and she also received the Woman of Strength, Honor, and Service Award for her service in the Newark community. Leah serves on the Advisory Board of the Urban Education and Teacher Unionism Policy Project at New Jersey City University.
Leah earned her bachelor’s degree in English from Duke University, holds a master’s degree in public administration, with an emphasis on educational policy, and is certified to be a public school principal. The Master of Public Administration degree has laid the foundation for her perspective on the role of a public administrator, which is to lead with a vision of growth and development and be able to work collaboratively to ensure the most effective outcomes. Leah has studied, written about, and presented on the layers of education reform in New Jersey—becoming familiar with the intimate details of the Abbott legacy—in addition to national and international trends in education reform.