Meet Jon Spack: Q & A With Discovering Justice’s Executive Director
Prior to Discovering Justice, you spent several years with Citizen Schools, a national non-profit focused on expanding learning time, and Spark, a San Francisco-based non-profit that works to increase youth engagement and reduce the high-school dropout rate. It seems like you’ve built a career around education and civic engagement.
Yes indeed. In fact, Discovering Justice played a foundational role in fostering my passion for civic education. In 1999-2000 I was a Citizen Schools Teaching Fellow placed at Discovering Justice to support the first Mock Trial Program at the Moakley U.S. Courthouse. One of my greatest joys was recruiting civic leaders and other volunteers to serve as jurors for the students’ arguments. One courtroom had two rabbis, a priest, a Fidelity executive, a teacher, a Boston City Councilor, a Supreme Court Justice, and my grandmother together in a jury box!
What excites you about Discovering Justice?
I am deeply passionate about how Discovering Justice increases educational and civic access for under-resourced schools and communities to directly alter the current opportunity gap in our country. When young people feel connected to our justice system in a positive manner and when they have access to adult volunteer mentors, it has a profound impact on their participation in positive activities. What drives me most about Discovering Justice is our ability to impact young students both at the Moakley U.S. Courthouse and in the classroom. It is a critical time in our country to prepare young people to value the justice system, realize the power of their own voices, and embrace civic responsibility. I am thrilled by the impact Discovering Justice had just this past year: Over 20,000 elementary school students and 738 teachers in 85 schools across Massachusetts used our Children Discovering Justice curriculum; over 300 middle school students argued constitutional rights in front of federal judges at the Moakley U.S. Courthouse in Boston as well as courthouses in Lowell, New Bedford, and Springfield; and over 1,500 people learned about the justice system through Moakley U.S. Courthouse Tours. What is most remarkable is that all of this was accomplished by a staff of only eight. I am extremely excited to work closely with our Staff, Board, and existing partners in Boston, Cambridge, Lowell, Lawrence, New Bedford, and Watertown to serve even more students and educators this year.
Can you tell us a little more about yourself and your background?
I come from a long line of educators in my family and am honored to have continued this tradition by focusing my entire career to date on impacting K-12 urban education. After starting my career working directly with students and families in Roslindale and Roxbury with Citizen Schools, I became very involved in social entrepreneurship and growing organizations to reach their potential. I have been fortunate to work closely with the founders of some great youth-focused organizations, watching these individuals craft a vision and helping lead the charge to implement models that have had significant impact. This work brought me to the San Francisco Bay Area for over 10 years, but I always knew that Boston would call me back, which it did in 2014 as my wife, daughter, and I moved to Brookline. Outside of the non-profit educational world, I am also quite passionate about all Boston sports teams, the Wisconsin Badgers, California wine, travel, stand-up comedy, very spicy food, and almost any beach anywhere.
Tell us about your impressions of Discovering Justice so far.
Discovering Justice has an exceptional Staff and Board; enthusiastic teacher, school, and district partners; and dedicated supporters, including the volunteer judges, lawyers, and docents who talk with such joy and enthusiasm about our programs. In particular, the Judges of the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, who in partnership with the Boston Bar Association created Discovering Justice 17 years ago, are champions of our work. I see Discovering Justice as being at a point of deep inflection. There are so many great opportunities to expand our reach given that the curriculum is newly revised and expanding to K-8 to be stronger than ever. Both the Staff and the Board are fully committed to helping strategically shape the next few years of Discovering Justice. It is refreshing to be a part of an organization so eager to talk about what can be ahead.
What are your priorities for the coming year?
While it is too early to fully commit, I envision my priorities for the year to include building the Discovering Justice brand, especially outside of the legal community. I want Discovering Justice to be recognized and positioned as a leader not just in legal or civic education, but in education in general. I also plan to determine our readiness to scale to serve more students and communities across Massachusetts and perhaps elsewhere. Already we have received inquiries from different communities here in Massachusetts as well as in states such as Connecticut, Virginia, and Louisiana. Finally, I want to put on the most successful Annual Benefit in Discovering Justice history on Wednesday evening, April 13, 2016 right here at the Moakley U.S. Courthouse—save the date!
Thanks for answering our questions, Jon. We’re very glad to have you at Discovering Justice!