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tv   Overheard With Evan Smith  PBS  June 21, 2011 11:00pm-11:30pm PDT

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>> funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by hillco partners, texas government affairs consultancy and its global health care consulting business unit, hillco health. and by the mattson mchail foundation in support of public television. and also by mfi foundation, improving the quality of life within our community. and also by the alice clayburg reynolds foundation and viewers like you. thank you. >> i'm evan smith. she is the founder and ceo of teach for america, which for two decades has recruited the best and brightest college where they're needed most - in urban and rural public schools - for more urban and rrral public schools. her most recent book is "a chance to make history: what wwrks and what doesn't in providing an excellent
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education for all." she's wendy kopp. this is overheard. >> wendy kopp, welcome. >> thank you. >> very nice to meet you, finally. >> it's nice to be here. >> let me ask you a broad one first. okay? what's wrong with public education today? ú&'s pretty broad. i admit. >> well, you know, the, the most fundamental problem is that still in our country that aspires so admirably to be a place of equal opportunity, where kids are born determines their educational prospects. >> yeah. >> that was the reality 20 years ago. it's still the reality today.
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and, you know, we have 15 million kids in our country poverty line.elow the >> right. >> half of them won't graduate from high school. the half who do, will have on average, an 8th grade skill level. >> yeah. >> so, you know, what we've learned innthe last 20 years is that it doesn't have to be that way. that we can prrvide kids who face all the extra challenges of poverty with an education that i would say, i would call transformational. like an education that actually changes the trajectory that would be predicted by kids' socio--conomic circumstances and, you know, the biggest problem is now that we know that that's possible.. >> yeah. >> .we need to figure out ú&w do do we scale that. like how do we ensure that all of our kids. >> right. >> .in our most under resourced communities, have the chance to fulfill their true potential. >> how do you fix a public school in a community like the one you're referring to? that isn't workingg what, what is required of all offus? what's required of the system to fix that school? >> so you know, the...the reason i, i wrote this book, a chance to make history is
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.is to communicate what i've learned from our teachers, our alumni. >> yeah. >> .others in, in the communities in which we're working about thii exact question. [coughing] >> so. and, and i think it starts with understanding. "a chance to make history" takes its title from one of our teachers. >> mm-hmm. >> .who just finished her two years in the bronx. she walked into her classes of 112 9th graders -- all of whom were growing up below the poverty line, learning english as a second language. they were starting the year significantly behindd they had had little exposure to science. she was teaching them biology. &-says "this is your chance to make history." and calls upon them to do what few kids in the bronx do, which is take and pass the new biology. >> mm-hmm. >> so, you know, a lot of people think she's crazy. i mean this is a very ambitious role. >> it's a huge rock to push up a huge hill. yeah. >> she gets the kids on an absolute mission, convinces the kids that if they work hard enough, they're going to reach that goal. >> mm-hmm. >> .and that doing that is going to make a difference in their lives. that that's going to convince everyone that they should be on a college
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track. it's going to influence.. >> mm-hmm. >> .their course selection and whatnot. so she gets them working with her. &-curriculum because, of course, there is no curriculum that meets the kids coming in significaatly behind and gets them to3 attain such an ambitious goal. so she figures out how to maximize every second she has with them, you know. and you walk into her classroom and just feel a sense of urgency. this is a teacher on a mission. and then she realizes.okay, this isn't going to be enough, you know. there are kids starting way behind, so she gets some of them to come early, some of them to stay late. she has three-quarters of them coming every saturday by the spring semester of hee.of her first year. a year later, each of her kids.a 112 of her kids.pass this exam, and they do so with an average passing raae of 9 percentage points higher than the new york city's average. >> wow. >> and this is an opt-in test. >> right. >> you know, the, the kids can decide whether or not to take it if they are on a track to go to college. >> yeah. >> so incredibly ambitious. >> yeah. >> now, what do we learn from megan's example? like we basically learn that.
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>> well, maybe it's takes that much. >> well, yeah. >> which is amazing. >> so here she is.she meets the kids with high expectations. >> yeah. >> and.and she provides them with the extra support they need and they excel. so, she's showing us. okay this is possible. this is a problem we have, not because the kids aren't motivated. i mean her kids worked harder than most kids in america. it's not because their parents don't care. that's not what she found. she found parents who wanted to do whatever it took to support this process.wwund get the kids there on saturday, whatever it took. what we also learned in her example is there is nothing elusive about this. this isn't bout a teacher born to teach, or a certain magic charisma. this is about someone who sets a very different goal.. >> mm-hmm. >> .than we typically set, who,,who does what a great leader does.motivates people to work with very goal oriented, is completely relentless. ú&u know, so there's something very, i think confidence inspiring about that. i mean it should give us all optimism. >> sure. >> and yet here is something very daunting about it. i mean to the point. >> well, the idea that other teachers might have to replicate this step by step by step. that's not ev.every teacher can't necessarily do that, right?
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>> yeah. and i, and i actually think. i mean, the daunting thing about getting to know megan is you realize this actually isn't the hundreds of thousands of teachers doing what megan does >> yeah. -> [sigh] there are only so many megans. >> yeah. >> .that i've ever met. so, the thing i think is so encouraging though, over the last 20 years is that we've seen. i mean we've still learned a lot from her example, right? >> yeah. >> we've learned that it's possible. there's nothing magic about it. what, what . >> and.and the mindset of &-earliest things you've got to take control of, right. >> absolutely. >> yeah. >> and of the teachers, you >> yeah. >> so you know, what's so exciting is to see thaa now versus 20 years ago when we didn't have this at all. we have hundreds of schools in our country that are, you know, providing whole buildings full of kids with the kinds of opportunities meean was providing in her classroom. there are dozens f communities.. >> yeah. >> .with growing numbers of schools that are, are literally taking kids who are on a traditional trajectory not to graduate from high school with a chance to truly go to and excel at coolege and putting them on a track to do that. and they're aking it never easy, but much easier and
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much more sustainable for talented committed teachers, but not absolute super heroes to produce those results. >> and you're optimistic about, about that then. >> well, it... i mean what they, they've shown us how to do this and how to do it in a sustainable way. >> yeah. >> so, what is it that's different in those schools, right? like, basically, those schools, first of all, have embraced a very different mission than most oo our public schools embrace. so, i, i went to, you know, highland park high school in dallas, exas. >> right. >> .which was always on the list of. >> not the bronx. >> not the bronx >> right. >> it was always on the list of top ten. >> yeah. >> .high schools in, in america, at least when i was attending it. and i think about that a lot because that school was not what i would call a transformational school. like a bunch of kids showed up at that school on a trajectory to go to and graduate from college. they came out the other end. >> yeah. >> .on the same trajectory. >> yeah. >> in the context in which we're working where kids are not showing up on that trajectory. >> mm-hmm. >> .we need something more. >> different set of assumptions. >> and that is what's going on in these schools that are in fact putting their kids oo a different path. they are literally embracing a totally different mandate.
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they are determining, we are -oing to put our kids on a trajectory. >> yeah. >> .to have the same opportunities as kids in more privileged communities and so they commit themselves to academic outtomes, you know. and, and character outcomes as well. and then they, you know, because that's a veryú ambitious goal, they go about mmeting it with the same level of energy and discipline using the same strategies that great leaders would use to pursue any goal. so what do they do? they focus first of all on their team. recruiting and developing a great team of teachers ann staff. they build powerful cultures of achievement that align the kids and their families and, and, and the staff on the same mission. they manage effectively. they're meeting with their teachers constantly, etcetera. and, and they're doing whatever it takes. they're lengthening the school day. they're bringing in other services if that's what they need. >> yeah. at a time when resources are limited. >> they're finding a, a way to do it, and. >> how? how? that really is the question that i have. everything you say, can't argue with it. it's uplifting to hearrand it sounds like a formula for success. >> yeah.
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>> but the x-factor has to be not every school has the resources to put all this intooaction. >> you know wwat? some of the very lowest performing schools in our country are some of the schools where we're spending $17,000, $20,000 a year perú kid. we spend more money on kids get some of the worst outcomess >> the achievement is not very good, right. >> so, you know, i believe that resources are critical. i think in the end we will realize we have to invest more especially in our, in the education of our low income kids. >> yeah. >> but i don't think we should use that as an excuse not to move forward because we really need to be approaching the whole thing differently. so we should, in my mind, so as we consider, how do we scale this? >> yeah. >> we need to making system level and policy changes that are grounded in the lessons we can learn in those schools. >> mm-hmm. >> and that's not what we do. so, we have limited resources, but we're still lurching after different solutions that. >> . you could, you would, like, come to understand we should be pursuing in these schools. >> you, you said something that made me think about the role of the school district or the school administrators..
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>> mm-hmm. >> .in all this. do they need to be brought in or is this something that could happen at a school in a district, but not in other schools in a district? >> you know you have to start somewhere. and i think i think the, the kind of growing momentum right now.. >> yeah. >> .and the effort to ensure that all kids have the chance to attain an excellent education has. i mean, honestly, it started in classrooms. >> yeah. >> it tarted with teachers. >> it's not even a district or a school. it's one class and one teacher. those teachers have gone out and said, you know what? let's start whole schools. >> yeah. >> and now some of those people who run those schools or who have worked in or around them are saying, "okay, let's scale it up. let's figure out how to. >> right. >> .create systems of schools. i actually think -- i think, you know, because i believe that leadership is, is, is the driver of all this. >> yeah. >> like, you know, i think what we've learned is. first of all, we need transformational change in this context. incremental change for kids, a few more kids proficient on the state exams doesn't. >> not enough. yeah. >> so we need transformational change, where ever we have it, it's about leadership. >> yeah. >> and it's about leadership in megan's case in the classroom. it's about the megans of the
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world starting whole schools. it's about the people running great schools going off and, and changing whole systems. >> yeah. >> ultimately, it's about the leedership pipeline. policy level. >> yeah. >> it's about ouu political leaders knowing what megan knows. like believing so deeply in the kids, having such a grounded understanding what it actually takes to meet the needs of kids. and, and that's what, you know, that's what fuels our efforts at teach for america, because that's our mission: to, to, to be a force of transformational leaders. >> what you talk about it, it's all true. i hear about all of it. it makes sense. when, when i hear you talk about though. teachers who are in classes and they say "let's scale this up to whole schools" or they're in schools and they scale it up to whole. are you talking about the kipps of the world and the yes preps and the. >> that's one way to do it. >> and let's acknowledge the small bit of disclosure, you'rr married to the head of the kipp foundation. >> you have a long history with kipp. kipp actually came out of a couple of teachers who had had a positive experience in teach for america and went on to found kipp. but that is not to in any
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way denigrate kipp. kipp obviously has been a great success. >> yeah. >> and you certainly can comment on, about kipp's success, but is that what it takes? do we need to opt out of the traditional public school track to make this work? >> so, you know, in a chance to make history i actually delved into a couple of traditional public schools that are getting extraordinary results, and, and also, you know, into what's happening in the growing number of high performing charter schools that are.that are getting great results. always when you get into it, you realize this is about a school leader. in the traditional system, it's about people ooten who have just taken the personal accountability and the is is flexibility. like they're just going to find a way. i mean even f it means breaking a few little rules. you know, they're going to find a way tt do whatever it takes to meet the needs of their kids. i think there's a reason that we have more of these schools that i would call transformational in the charter system than in the traditional system. ú& more, more freedom? >> there is more freedom.
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you know, and, and, you know, i think in, in the charter orld what we have is, ou know,,we have a system of acccuntability. you know? >> yeah. >> in, in the states that have done it well. you know, we shut down schools that aren't working and the people who are working in those schools know that they need to get results. i think in, in, i think what we need to figure out is how do we bring the principles of the charter world into regular. >> p-l-e not p-a-l. >> yeah. >> principles. >> yes. how do we bring that into the egular system? >> yeah. >> and, and i think now where we see some of our systems changing, in, in the new orleanses of the world, and the new york cities of the world, we're seeing.. >> mm-hmm. >> we're seeing regular school systems superintendents saying, okay, we need to bring all this.. >> right. >> ...into our system and, and they're figuring out how to decentralize to the principal level, the a-l level. >> yeah. >> like the school level, the accountability and the flexibility to do what it takes. >> the, the success of kipp in particular, but other schools like kipp spawned a
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documentary this year, waiting for supeeman, that a lot of people saw and got to see the story of many of the kids who had gone through these schools and the opportunities that were made available to them and many more who would have liked the opportunity and didn't. >> mm-hmm. >> and one of the inevitable take-a-ways from that documentary, controversial assit was, was, hate on the teachers unions. that the teachers unions are at least part of what is keeping real progress in public ed down. >> mm-hmm. >> where do you come down on that? the story of the last 20 years in terms of like the public discussion around education reform has been about, you know the tendency toowant to oversimplify everything. >> yeah. >> so, we played this incredible blame game. we actually spent mmst of the last 20 years blaming kids and families. you know, literally if you asked the american public why we have low educatiinal outcomes in low income because the kids aren't motivated, the parents don't care. you know, suddenly we started blaming, you know, the teachers and the unions. i think when you really
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understand this problem, you realize, this is a much more complex kind of systemicú probbem where everyone's caught up in a vicious cycle. >> right. >> we've got kids facing many extra challenges that, you know, would be inconceivable to, to most of us. >> well, that we didn't face quite frankly when we were in school. >> absolutely. >> right. >> and they show up at schools that in no way were designed to meet their extra needs and end them up on a level playing field. the beautiful news of, of the last 20 years in this is that, you know, now we have a chance o, to step back and say actually we know how to design our schools differently so that we can get very different results. and in order to do that, it's going to take all of us to change. i think getting where we need to be. >> yeah. >> .is about everyone stepping up. i think we need change in our unions. we need transformational leaders in our teachers unions. at the same time, we have to find transformatiooal leaders in our, at every level of our school system. >> yeah. >> .at every level of policy. we need to either to move to a blameless world or all realize that we are all in some way accountable for this. >> yeah. >> but we nned to get beyond trying to blame any one group.
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>> well, let's talk about finding transformational leaders. because in fact the charge of teach for america, since you founded it back all those years agg has been to identifyykids who might not otherwise be thinking of going into a career as teachers and saying, look, we need you. you may have a big brain and a big future, but for now we need you to effectively service your community. >> yeah. yeah. >> what makes a candidate for those teaching jobs come forward in your mind? what attributes do you look for? how do you know this is a potential teacher for america kid? >> so we do a lot to raise awareness about this... >> yeah. >> .problem, to interest the most promising future leaders to apply to teach for america. we had 50,000 people apply this year and we selected five hundred. five thousand of those. >> so basically, it's 10 to 1. >> yeah. >> ten applicants for every one you choose. amazing >> so we're looking for the people... we''e done, we've studied what differentiates our most successful teachers and we've seen that past demonstrated achievement, perseverance in the face of
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challenges, the ability to influence and motivate others, problem-solving ability, things that we would think of as fundamental leadership traits are the biggest differentiators. >> well, frankly outside of education, they're, they're traits you would want in any profession. >> yeah. and so that's what we're looking for. >> right. and, and when they come forward, do they come forward necessarily thinking that they want a career in education or do they view this as like a, like a, a couple of years along the path to whatever they're going to really do? >> well, i think for moss graduating seniors, two years is, is the rest of their life. so they're thinking i want to be part of this..3 you know. i want to be part of an effort to address what i believe is a real injustice in our country. >> yeah. >> and they're thinking this is a way of making a huge impact and, and that many of them aren't quite sure what happens beyond that. >> happens beyond, yeah. >> although some of them are very driven about moving in >> yeah. >> .or medicine ultimately and some of them want to stay in education long-term. so, we get just such a huge diversity of folks. >> let's say i'm a kid who graduates and i want to go i'm lucky enough to be one of the 5,000 selected, hat kind of training or
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preparation do i get courtesy of teach for? >> well, again, we have learned immense amounts from our, from the, the most successful of our teachers about what they're actually doing differently. and i've come to believe that teaching successfully in this context is about leadership. it's about setting aa ambitious vision. >> yeah. >> it's about motivating kids, investing them and owning that and working with you, getting them on a mission essentially, it's essentially about teaching in a very goal oriented way. we invest a lot in their training and support, you know. some are long pre-service training, they gain teaching3 experience working in summer schools, get lots of feedback. you know they have access to, you know, lots of different forms of teacher support during their two years we cloister them in schools. and -- and do verything we can to try and help them be successful. >> and how much time between when they graduate and they're in a classroom by themselves, in the lead. >> basically a summer. >> a summer. >> mm-hmm. >> a summer >> mm-hmm. >> really? it's pretty, you're throwing them in the deep end without floaties basically, aren't you?
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>> well, the interesting thing is, i mean i. you know we're providing so much more training and support than i think probably any.. >> right. >> any teacher prep program does. it'ssjust in a different form. >> yeah. >> so they -- >> and it's ongoing. >> they go. >> it doesn't stop when they get into the cloister. yeah. >> .through an intensive summer, but then they're cloistered in schools... >> yeah. >> .and we , you know provide two years of ongoing support and professional development, which sadly, most new teachers you know we should do for all new teachers. >> what's your cost structure at teach for? i always wondered about this. how much do you spend on average per each incoming teacher? >> well, our, the school systems hire them as regular teachers, so. >> right. >> for regular teachers. >> but i mean in theeprep portion of it. >> we're spending, we're spending $40,000 from start to finish on each person. from the time. over 3 years. you know from the time we start recruiting, o selecting, to covering the expenses during the summer and all the training to. >> .two years of professional development. >> what's your annual budget? >> $220 million. >> comes from where? >> 70% of it comes from the private sector, philanthropy, corporations, foundations. >> generous folks. >> and, and 30% comes from public sources, 10% from the federal government, 10% from
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states and 10% from the districts. >> it is a heck of a time to be receiving anything from the federal government and the states right now. >> well, that's a whole saga that we could talk about. >> well, let's talk about it quickly. what about that? what do you do, to, to, from a financing standpoint? >> i think, you know, our greatest asset and the reason that teach or america has been able to grow so significantly in recent years despite the economic crisis is that in communities there are many people who are very dedicated to. >> yep. >> .fixing our schools and they believe that we need to grow teach for america. so they will find a way. i think there are lots of people who believe that we need to preserve ourú investment in teach for america which leverages so much private sector support at the same time. >> right. >> it's such an efficient program. >> of course the private sector might step up if the private sector knows, it's sort of like public broadcasting, you know. if the government decides to cut public broadcasting, what ends up happening, one hooes, is that private individuals, corporations and foundations will fill in so the possibility exists
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that if federal government, state government goes away, your funding, you might be able to find that money from some other source. working so aggressively to grow and we're maximizing every source. >> i see. >> and we need the public dollars in order to stay the coorse on this growth plan. we can shrink, but there're lots of folks who don't want teach for america to shrink because, you know, our growth is fundamental to everyone else. all those folks who are working from inside of systems. >> yeah. >> .trying to change things, their biggest constraint actually, if they ranked their constraints, they wouldn't put funding first. they would put talent and leadershippfirst. and we're one source of very committed people who want to work in the highest need places. >> yeah. how many alums of teach for america aae there out in the world now? >> 20,000. >> 20,000. and how many of them are still teaching? because there's a two-year commitment, right? two year deal. so my question has always been, well, that's great, i admire. >> yeah. >> .and respect what you're doing, buttthen what happens? >> so. >> what is the other side of the story we haven't heard? >> 65% of them are working full-time in education. half of them are teaching; >> yep.
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>> 600 of them are running schools as school principals; district leaders and what not. >> yep. >> others work in and around. in and around schools. of the people who've left, the 35% who've left, half of them have jobs that relate low-income communities. all you have to do is teach to know that we're not going to solve the problem from within the classrooms alone. >> yeah. >> we need fundamental change. we need more policy leaderss3 and business leaders who influence policy and journalists and all who know, both the possibility of solving the problem and really what it's going to take to solve it. >> we have a couple minutes left. could you give the a sort of the, the story of thesion of founding of teach for america? you were at princeton. >> i was at princeton. >> and you were a college student and you decided, hey, something like this needs to exist. pretty ambitious of you. >> yeah. issue of educational inequity. >> yeah. >> because actually what i saw at princeton, you could nevee see the depths of educational inequity, but you saw there what you saw on every college campus
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which is, you know, how differently prepared people are to do well at college just based on the luck of their birth, right? >> yep. >> and our generation was called the "me" generation. wanted to go work on wall street. and i thought that label was completely misplaced. i felt like i was one of thousands of people who were just searching for a way to make a real difference in the world. >> yeah. >> and i thought the problem wasn't the generation, it was the recruiters. all the recruiters for this company were asking us to commit two years to work on wall street and i thought why aren't we asking our generation to commit two years to teach in our highest poverty communities and that was. >> that was the genesis of it. i mean there had been a discussion for somm time about a year of national service, whether it was between hhgh school and collegg or after college where we tell kids you gotta go be a, a park service person, a ranger or a cop or a firefighter or a teacher.. >> yeah. >> give back to your community. this is really a variation of the same theme. >> yeah. >> right? so how far was it to get it started? what sort of reaction did you have, initially? >> you know what's so interesting is, i always say this to people.
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i mean, i guess what i focused on was the yeses, you know? >> yeah. >> there were a few. you only need a few people to. i view them like as allies.this whole thing has been a search for allies who get it and want to help. you can get a 100 "nos," but if you get four "yeses," you mmve forward. >> yeah. >> you know, and so i don't know. i view the first year. i mean, ittwas a crazy story. it seems surreal even looking back. it was challenging. i would actually say it waan't quite as challenging as the years thereafter. >> because it turned out that to actually fulfill the potential of this mission was going to be extraordinarily hard. >> now you've taken on the additional responsibility of teach for all. you're trying to take what you've learned to teach for america and the success of teach for america and scale it globally. scaled it outside this country and incorporate other parts of the world that are in need too. >> i mean really we started meeting these very inspiring committed social entrepreneurs in countries around the world who wanted to launch this model. >> yep. >> and have created a global network of independent organizations.
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now 19 of them now growing quickly, almost near, soon to be on evvry continent, who are pursuing this, and what we found is that there are such universals in.around teaching successfully. >> mm-hmm. >> .in under resourced communities. >> mm-hmm. >> .around changing whole systems and i think ultimately a lot of the new programs in teach for all will be great drivers of innovation and progress at teach for america and at the same time i think our lessons are helping them, you know, fulfill their potential more quickly. so... >> aren't you glad you didn't go into investtent banking? >> i, i feel so privileged to have found my way to this, seriously. &-you thought, you know if i'd only just done what they said we all should do. >> i'm so glad i didn't do that. >> you are? i'd be rich and i'd be happy and. no this is all.. >> ugh! gosh. i can't imagine anything more fulfilling. >> really. >> .and exciting, than. >> well, i have o say you sell this pretty well. >> [chuckles] >> wendy kopp, thank you for spending time with us and thank you for all you're doing. >> thank you. >> good. wendy kopp. thank you. [applause] >> thanks. >> appreciate it. very nice. [applause]
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>> funding for overheard with evan smith is provided in part by hillco partners, texas government affairs consultancy and its global health care consulting business unit, hillco health. and by the mattson mchail foundation in support of public television. and also by mfi foundation, improviig the quality of -ife within our community. and also by the alice clayburg reynolds foundation and viewers like you. thank you.
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