The OPIA Blog

Alumni Spotlight: Education and Civil Rights

When Dan Gordon entered Harvard Law School in 1996, he knew that he wanted to pursue education civil rights work. As a law student, Gordon was able to participate in a variety of activities to help him explore other possible career choices including the Criminal Justice Institute, Harvard Law Review, and Ames Moot Court. Yet upon graduation, he remained committed to a career in education and has done so through working with the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, as a teacher in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS), and through working at DCPS’ central office. Now, as DCPS’ Deputy Chief Academic Officer, Gordon supervises 120 employees, oversees a $30 million budget, and engages crucial education issues on a daily basis.

Prior to entering law school, Gordon taught at an elementary school in Atlanta, Georgia through AmeriCorps. He came to Harvard Law School hoping “to try to remove some of the institutional barriers [his] students were facing in their lives.” Through the Office of Public Interest Advising, Gordon learned about a summer opportunity in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division and spent his 1L summer working on education civil rights issues. This internship allowed Gordon to stay in touch with the original reasons he went to law school

After graduation, Gordon clerked for one year then returned to the same DOJ office where he served as a trial attorney for five years. Ultimately, he realized that while he “loved the issues in education” he was less enthused about the “day-to-day tasks of lawyering.” Deciding that the most important contemporary education reform work was happening in classrooms and school districts rather than courtrooms and federal bureaucracies, Gordon switched careers and became a high school English teacher in a D.C. public school for three years. In addition to helping prepare individual students for success, Gordon wanted to work “on the front lines,” so his eventual work in a policy role would be informed by first-hand experience.

Gordon now supervises early childhood education, college and career readiness, support for English language learners, and out-of-school time programming. He recently completed the two-year Broad Residency in Urban Education, which is dedicated to helping bring people from one career into a career in urban education management.

The career shift has been very fulfilling for Gordon. “Life is entirely too short to spend so much of your time doing things you don’t find meaningful,” he said. He explained that it is very important for his work to be “mission-driven” and that he appreciates being surrounded by people who share this mission and sense of urgency. “Each day I am reminded of why I am doing this and how much more there is to accomplish, ” Gordon added.

Gordon noted that law school offers a tremendous amount of opportunities, and it is important for students to explore them. He explained that “part of the allure of law school is that there are so many doors that open…it is important when you are in law school to explore the doors” and to figure out what you do and do not want to do. However, he cautioned students not to “lose sight of why they applied in the first place.” He encourages current students to consider non-legal careers, as he feels strongly that his legal education and experience contribute all the time to his effectiveness in his current work.
Gordon is looking for dedicated people who are looking to do something meaningful with their lives to help close the achievement gap in DCPS. Students should feel free to reach out to him with any questions.

Written by Former 1L Section Rep Deena Greenberg