"The way to level the playing field between poverty and wealth is to provide kids with a great education."

Long before Occupy Wall Street brought national attention to the country's growing class disparities, Kristin Ehrgood '92 (international relations) made the issue her life's mission.

"The way to level the playing field between poverty and wealth is to provide kids with a great education," says Ehrgood, co-founder and president of the Flamboyan Foundation, a family foundation focused on improving public K-12 education in Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

Ehrgood came to her vocational calling after a series of  "ahha" moments: recognizing the socioeconomic gaps in her own suburban public education upon entering Bucknell; viewing a "crushingly sad" on-campus photography exhibit on U.S. poverty and racism; and teaching in a school in a migrant workers community in Florida through Outward Bound.

As a college senior, Ehrgood decided to ditch her law school plans to join Teach For America. She's never looked back. "My experiences through Teach For America solidified my passion for education and shaped my career," Ehrgood says of the eight years she spent as a classroom teacher, state executive director and director of site development for the organization.

Ehrgood then earned a master's of public administration at Harvard, where she met her husband and business partner, Vadim Nikitine. Together, they jumped headfirst into building education reform-focused nonprofit organizations, starting in 2002 with the founding of Sapientis, a nonprofit dedicated to improving public education in Nikitine's native Puerto Rico. To more broadly address the philanthropic and educational challenges on the island, they started the private Flamboyan Foundation in 2007, and expanded to Washington, D.C., upon their return to the area in 2008. To address the need for grassroots organization among parents of D.C. public school children, Ehrgood also founded and chairs the board of DC School Reform Now.

Today, Ehrgood is the driving force behind Flamboyan Foundation's goals, which center on education advocacy and family engagement in Washington, D.C., and on fostering strong school leadership and building the island's philanthropic and nonprofit communities in Puerto Rico. Though new and small — just 10 employees — Flamboyan has helped train 450 D.C. teachers on conducting productive home visits with student families and worked to change the tax code in Puerto Rico to be more conducive to philanthropic giving.

Posted February 3, 2012