The city of Austin, Texas, has been a destination and hub for Teach For America alumni for a long time. Alumni from all over the country, and especially those who taught in TFA’s four Texas regions, flock to Austin for its vibrant culture, professional opportunities, and innovative spirit. Today, there are more than 800 alumni living and working in Austin. They’ve formed deep connections with the local community and one another and hold a presence across the systems that impact education, from classrooms to state offices.
What’s unique about this alumni community is its roots are self-organized and self-led. Alumni have been deeply engaged in the Austin education scene without an official TFA presence or full-time staff support. In 2008, alumni leaders took a step towards formalizing their network by establishing a board, making it the first TFA alumni board in the organization.
Now, after years of laying the groundwork, the Austin alumni community will become TFA’s first alumni region, led by a newly hired executive director, Christine Nishimura, a 2006 Los Angeles alum who has lived in Austin since 2009. Christine will lead the region’s efforts to galvanize the alumni base in Austin and strengthen ties with the community, schools, and local leaders.
Christine previously served as an attorney for Disability Rights Texas and most recently at the Texas Charter Schools Association, advocating for children and families and providing legal guidance to over 120 charter schools across the state of Texas.
By creating this alumni region in Austin, Christine says the alumni movement can be more strategic and organized around making an impact. She looks forward to creating space for more collaboration and learning among alumni working on similar issues so good ideas can spread throughout the network.
The region is also working to establish partnerships with Austin’s school districts to place alumni educators in high-need schools, particularly in high-demand subjects such as bilingual special education and advanced math and sciences.
“Now we can take the next step and start connecting alumni across all spaces to share ideas and learn from each other so that the success we’re having starts to spread throughout the city,” Christine says.
Building the Foundation for an Alumni Movement
When Christine moved to Austin to attend law school at the University of Texas, she quickly made connections with a large contingent of TFA alums who were also in the law program. Together, they helped create a restorative justice program at Webb Middle School.
What began as organically made friendships and informal happy hours among alumni living and working in Austin soon evolved into launching a leadership board. Christine joined the board as a member and later served as board chair from 2015 to 2017.
In addition to hosting social events during the back-to-school and holiday seasons, the board organized policy forums, where alumni could engage with local and state policies that impact education. The forums became a big draw for alumni and brought together community leaders, school board members, and others for panel discussions on immigration, Black Lives Matter, supporting DACA students, and how gentrification is impacting Austin’s neighborhoods.
“Over the years we added more and more learning events for alums to understand the history and context of the city,” Christine says. “We’ve found that that’s really what our alumni want more of.”
Lindsay Fitzpatrick is one of many alumni who have been leading efforts to mobilize the alumni base in Austin over the years. After teaching in New York City as a 2004 corps member, she moved back to her hometown and ventured into the education policy field. She is currently a cross-team lead for transition initiatives at the University of Texas in Austin and works with district, state, and higher education leaders to develop a math curriculum that prepares K-12 students to be successful in their first year of math once they get to college.
Lindsay joined TFA’s staff part-time in 2013 to strengthen connections within the Austin alumni network and help establish the foundation for what is now a thriving alumni community. She spent three years reaching out to as many alums as she could who were living and working in the city, meeting them for coffee and getting them to come out to events.
“In the early years, it was really about networking and getting people connected,“ Lindsay says. “We were trying to figure out where we fit in the landscape and what we could really do.”