Ginnae HARLEY '88, Public Education

A self-starter who has followed her passions throughout her decades of experience, Ginnae HARLEY '88 has worked in government service, program development, corporate product and brand development, and public education throughout her career. Through the many twists and turns, Ginnae discovered that her most rewarding experiences have come from helping other people realize their goals and dreams. Now dedicated to bettering public education, she works for the State of Tennessee in the Office of School Improvement where she creates transformational opportunities for all students, regardless of their zip code or background, to ensure they are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in life.
Years at Ellis:Grade 9 to Grade 12
Occupation:Executive Director of the Office of School Improvement for the State of Tennessee
Education:B.A. Government, Cornell University; M.B.A. General Management, Washington University in St. Louis; M.E. Education Leadership, The Broad Residency in Urban Education
From working in product development to managing federal programs for public schools, how has your career path evolved and changed over time?
After graduating from college, I worked in a job handling credit card bills at a call center. From that experience, I learned what I didn’t want to do and how I didn’t want to be treated. Shortly thereafter, I became a recreation coordinator with the City of Phoenix, where I developed, launched, and marketed innovative programs for at-risk youth. Program development became a passion for me and I wanted to learn more so I committed to business school. After earning my M.B.A., I worked in brand management with Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Yum Brands. After a period of reflection, I wanted my life to be meaningful to others, so I became a fellow for The Broad Residency in Urban Education and completed a residency with the Knox County schools. With that said, I believe my career path is a good reflection of me. It features diverse assignments, highlights my interests, passions, and values, reflects geographical differences, and in short is serendipitous.
Tell me about a project or accomplishment that you consider to be the most meaningful in your career.
My greatest career accomplishment is the X-Tattoo Removal Program I launched in Phoenix, which helped at-risk youth start anew by removing their gang tattoos. Students participated in volunteer public service projects, and in exchange, the students earned tattoo removal treatments from a plastic surgeon. The city of Chicago then launched its own program and I was able to provide valuable insights on how to best run the operation. As a result, 90 percent of the initial group completed treatment and 33 percent completed their GED. Because of my leadership on the project, I received the City Manager’s Excellence Award. But my greatest satisfaction came from building and leading a coalition that served the community and creating a win-win situation for all.
For Ellis students reading this: is there any wisdom you’d want to pass on to them? What would you want them to know?
Be yourself! Stop worrying about what other people think or want you to do. Live YOUR life because it is yours ONLY. Enjoy life at The Ellis School—it is very unique to be in such a nurturing environment with so much support. Going to Ellis is a rare experience that will establish a strong foundation for you moving forward.

How did your Ellis education influence and guide you after graduation?
When I started at Cornell University, I discovered very quickly that The Ellis School prepared me incredibly well for college, especially with writing. Ellis also laid a great foundation for me professionally because I was and am such a huge advocate for supporting women.

What do you think are the advantages of Ellis’ all-girls environment?
First and foremost, The Ellis School really supports young women academically especially in the areas of math and science. We are not taught or influenced to take a back seat or defer to men. Ellis teaches girls to believe they can do anything.

Name an instance or time in your life when you have been brave and bold.
I think my life is big, brave, and bold. Anytime you step outside your comfort zone you are being brave and bold. But the easiest example is choosing to attend Ellis in ninth grade, six weeks into the school year. Attending Ellis was only one of the bravest, and best, decisions of my life.

What is your best memory of Ellis?
Vivid memories include: sitting on the heaters in the back of classroom with friends before class started, winning the basketball championship, breaking the rules by ordering pizza to be deliveredand then later confessing, calling my sister, who at the time was in Madrid Spain, from the phone booth by the reception area because I needed help with my college decision, and telling Mr. Schopper that he had to write another geometry test so I could play basketball. I have so many, incredibly fond memories of Ellis.

If you could interview anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
I would gather my female ancestors from the last four or five generations and just talk to them about their lives, dreams, fears, challenges, and expectations of themselves and their children. I think understanding the “why” behind who they became would help me better understand myself.

How would you describe yourself in three words?
Entertaining. Engaging. Energetic.

What is the most important lesson you learned at The Ellis School?
A great education can take you far, and great friendships and experiences can take you even farther.