Paula L. White lives in the northern New Jersey town of Bloomfield, less than an hour outside of New York City. She was born in the United Kingdom and raised in Jamaica and Canada by her first-generation immigrant parents before moving to the United States as a young adult. While growing up, Paula was hardly a model student – she loved history and mathematics and was a voracious reader, but she stubbornly believed that she didn’t need schooling to validate her intelligence. A part of her still believes this, but after realizing that formal education expands knowledge, builds self-discipline and is a gatekeeper for hopes and dreams, she committed to scholastic excellence and went on to earn degrees from Spelman College and Columbia University.
A career educator, Paula has taught elementary grades, founded and led a public charter school, and served as the New Jersey Department of Education’s Chief Turnaround Officer in charge of public school improvement statewide. She also led flagship chapters of two national education nonprofit organizations. Her strong, informed voice on education and social policy has resulted in her being featured across various media including News 12 New Jersey, Chalkbeat, NPR, CBS News, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She led the first cross-sector team on chronic absenteeism in New Jersey, and her work elsewhere has resulted in broad policy changes including universal dyslexia screening for K-2 students and the expansion of restorative justice programs in public schools. She was recently named to PoliticsNY’s Education Power List, and recognized by City & State NY as part of the 2021 Education Power 100. Paula loves being with her family, reconnecting with students she has taught over the years, and walking solo while listening to podcasts about education or health.
I aspire to be like me. Here’s why:
I take a strengths-based approach to life. Each day I aspire to be a bit better than the “me” I was the day before by leaning into my own talents and fine-tuning the things that make me uniquely who I am.
Why I love my job:
I love my job because I’m passionate about children’s success, and JerseyCAN’s work in education expands possibilities for kids.The fact that I also get to do things I enjoy–like communicating with lots of people and making compelling arguments–is icing on the cake!
My connection to public schools:
From attending public schools to teaching in them, supporting my own children’s learning there and later leading public school improvement in the state of New Jersey, public schools have been a fixture in my life. I also founded a public charter school in Newark, New Jersey for historically disenfranchised students to collect on the educational opportunity debt that is owed to them and their families. Without strong advocacy for public schools, untold swaths of human talent will go untapped.
What I’m bad at:
Managing my own calendar. Whenever I do this, I end up agreeing to meet with people who want to sell me things I don’t need and I make snafus like scheduling in-person, back-to-back meetings in locations that are hours apart!
The image that represents why I work at 50CAN:
This is the cover of a book that chronicles the life of my great-great-great grandfather who was kidnapped from present-day Nigeria and enslaved in Jamaica until he bought his own freedom and charted a bold, triumphant course for our family. His story was agonizing and unjust, but he pushed through obstacles to make it possible for his children and later generations to succeed. Through my work at 50CAN, I hope to do for children in New Jersey what my ancestor did for our family.