Lynette Parker (above, with nieces Kalia, 8, and Rayna, 6) was one of five kids in her family to be raised on welfare. She graduated from college in 1995 hoping to work in advertising. But that didn't pan out, and she found herself in a run-down classroom teaching high school English. "I was drawn to the kids, so it fell into place," she says. Still, it was tough. The school gave her a yellow pad, two pens, an eraser, and a box of chalk: "Every Friday I said, 'I'm quitting,' and every Monday I was back." She earned her master's in educational administration at New York University, but George Bush's No Child Left Behind Act led her to conclude that "politicians and policies were [too] removed from the classroom." Parker, now 35, is studying educational policy, organization measurement, and evaluation toward a Ph.D. at Berkeley.
Goal: "To be in that room" when educational programs are evaluated. She's "not opposed" to entering politics herself, especially if it helps poor children and minorities.
The administrator's dilemma: It's hard to know what's needed in the classroom if you're not there.
Education: B.A. in English (Cal State-Long Beach, 1995); M.S. in educational administration (NYU, 2003); M.S. in applied statistics and research (University of Northern Colorado, 2005). Parker expects to earn her Ph.D. by 2012.