March 2020 Alumni Spotlight
Marxe Alumni Spotlight with Meredith Gray, MPA ‘09
In this month’s spotlight we talk to Meredith Gray, alumna and executive director and co-founder of The Co-op School, a cooperative preschool through middle school in Brooklyn. She tells us about the School, her role, and the lessons she’s learned both there and at Marxe.
What are your biggest takeaways from the Master of Public Administration program? How have you applied these lessons to your career?
I found the insight and professional experience of the professors to be the most important part of the program. To have people guiding me that had balanced state budgets, managed large city agencies and faced all the challenges that you face when working in the public service/non profit world. Like many of my peers, I was working full time while pursuing my MPA and I found it easy to interweave the work/assignments we were doing in our courses to the work and projects/policies I was trying to develop at work. It provided me with a platform to test out new ideas and proposals on an audience with genuine and thoughtful feedback that helped shape the proposals I brought back to the work place.
Tell us about The Co-op School and your role as Executive Director.
The Co-op School is a cooperative preschool through middle school in Brooklyn. We just moved into our new campus at 644 Gates Ave, this summer and are enjoying having all three programs under the same roof for the first time. As Executive Director, I over see the day-to-day operations of managing and running the school, but most importantly I work with staff and families to make sure we are providing an inclusive and open community that works to understand experiences and viewpoints other than our own. [We are] ultimately striving to recognize that.
What drove you to co-found The Co-op School?
The Co-op School originated as a preschool program, with many families joining as first-time parents. There was a real eagerness for families to actively participate in this new chapter of their lives and the cooperative aspect of the school allowed for people to share their skills and interests with the group. Working within this framework presented a unique challenge to create an engaging and thoughtful community that I don’t think I could have found anywhere else. Not only was there a real since of ownership but there was an intimate sense of partnership between all our community members that is what fostered our ability to continuously grow and change throughout the years.
What are some of the chief challenges you’ve faced and how did you overcome them?
The Co-op School has been growing and expanding since it was established 17 years ago. It began as a ten family preschool, in a basement apartment, and now houses over 300 students from preschool to middle school. There is no was to prepare for that kind of growth, it just takes an absolute leap in faith and an acceptance that there will be failure along the way. One of the most important things I have learned from this is that you can plan and safeguard all day long but you know when or where something is going to go wrong until it goes wrong. The key to managing that is to not be afraid or deterred by set backs but to be able to look at them critically and map out how to move forward and reflect on how to prevent them from happening again.