Profile in Public Service: A Passion for Education and Community Impact Drives Andrew Bishop (MPP ’20)

This article is part of the series "Profiles in Public Service," sharing the stories of Batten School community members making a difference in leadership and public policy across the past fifteen years.

Andrew Bishop Batten School
Andrew Bishop (MPP '20) relies on lessons from his Batten education in his role today in the Richmond school system.

For Andrew Bishop (MPP ’20), local community impact has long been a hallmark of his career — in the rural Chinese community where he taught English for two years and the hard-to-leave small Mississippi town where he taught for another two before enrolling in the Batten School.

And, today, it’s inside the Richmond Public Schools system where he’s crunching data and diving into issues of teacher retention and satisfaction, supporting the community of educators and families there.

“What’s so nice about working for a local school district as opposed to working elsewhere in education is that you can really feel the impact of the work that you’re having in ways that, as you go up in layers, you don’t necessarily see or feel,” said Bishop, now manager of data and system administration for the Richmond, Va., school system. “You get to see the fruits of your labor on a daily basis here, and that is ultimately really fulfilling.”

After four years of teaching, Bishop enrolled at Batten for a master’s degree in 2018 to expand on the skills he cultivated as a teacher and begin to address broader education policy issues beyond individual classrooms. He reentered the workforce in 2020 at a particularly difficult time for educators — weeks before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Batten prepared him to respond, he said, as he supported efforts to move almost every school process and procedure online — from enrolling students to educating them.

“I was coming out of Batten at the right time because I felt really prepared to be able to face whatever challenges came our way,” he said. “So much of our work was around problem-solving.”

Building Connections

As an undergraduate student at Drew University in New Jersey, Bishop majored in political science and Chinese studies, studying abroad in China three times to improve his language skills. After graduation, he moved to southern China for a two-year teaching stint through Teach For China, part of the Teach For All network that includes Teach For America. When the two years were up, he signed up for another two years with Teach For America in Mississippi.

Like many rural schools, both lacked resources, including not having enough qualified teachers. But they approached education in dramatically different ways. China’s classrooms are teacher-centered with students’ attention focused primarily on their instructor. In the United States, it’s student-centered. While teachers are still in charge, students are more active participants in their learning.

“I feel like I was a good teacher when I was in China,” he said. In Mississippi, “it was like starting over again with honing my craft as a teacher because the structure was just so different.”

But Bishop grew into the role, building ties with kids and families in the community. “There’s something deeply meaningful about that type of connection,” he said.

In fact, he loved it so much, Bishop considered extending his time at the school, perhaps moving into administration. But, with an interest in political science and education policy, which he’d studied at Drew, Bishop was keen to take his unique experiences — teaching in rural schools both domestically and abroad — in a new direction.

With a master’s degree in public policy from the Batten School, he could bolster his quantitative skills, build on the leadership, presentation and public speaking skills and dive deeper into the theories and practices of education policy. “It was a very tough decision for me to leave,” he said. “But I feel like it was the right one for me.”

‘Full Batten Skill Set’

At UVA, he hit the ground running, working as a research assistant at EdPolicyWorks in the School of Education and Human Development while diving into his courses at Batten. He leaned into learning about higher level research methods and data, and he appreciated the way professors didn’t just focus on theory, but how to implement new ideas and solutions.

Between his two years at UVA, Bishop secured a summer internship with Richmond Public Schools, and his first projects were looking at topics such as teacher and student satisfaction, teacher retention and chronic absenteeism, crunching data and drafting presentations to the school board.

“It was really taking the full Batten skill set and running with it,” he said.

Less than six months later, he was back in Richmond with a full-time job at the district, finishing his studies at Batten that spring at the same time. And soon, Bishop was thrown into an all-hands-on-deck scenario as the school district moved to virtual education and operations because of the pandemic.

Amid the crisis, Bishop relied on lessons from his Batten education, including that foundational knowledge in education policy, ability to analyze complex data sets and the leadership and presentation skills to explain complex solutions. “Education is sometimes not always thought of as the quickest and most reactive field,” he said. “But we were forced to figure out in weeks, and sometimes, for some problems, days, how do we get an entire school division up and running [virtually].”

These days, Bishop is working in the school system’s human resources department, still tackling issues such as teacher retention and satisfaction, and helping the district implement new technologies. And the focus for Bishop, as always, remains the same: serving the community.

“So much of the day-to-day work is around trying to figure out how can we make things easier for people, whether they be our students, our families, or our staff members,” he said. “Because if things are easier for them, then we're doing our job.”

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