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Matt Lyons

Chief Financial & Operating Officer, Hope Chicago

Fellowship Year: 2009

Fellowship Location: Chicago 

Fellowship Placement: Chicago Public Schools

Like many big-city school districts, Chicago Public Schools had a staffing problem. Every year, the same group of about 50 schools would have a tough time filling vacancies. And they had plenty of vacancies to fill, with an average three-year teacher turnover rate of 56 percent. 

Chief Talent Officer Matt Lyons and his staff went to visit principals at these high-attrition schools, thinking that they would offer extra marketing support. Instead, they were asked to send over qualified new hires—right away.  

“Principals told us, ‘Sure, I’d love to work on how I sell my school, but what I really need is a third-grade teacher’,” said Lyons, EP 2009. “It was clear that we had a group of schools that we did not serve well with the historic approach to recruiting and job fairs.” 

And so Lyons’ office launched the “Opportunity Schools” program, which created a new equity-focused brand and dedicated recruiters to screen candidates for mindset and serve as headhunters for school leaders. Since the program’s start in 2017, a total of 79 campuses have been named Opportunity Schools and 1,200 teachers have been hired. The three-year retention rate rose to 82 percent in 2020-21. 

“There are a lot of great teachers who might want to work in a place that might be more challenging, but will also give them the chance to really help to transform not just a school, but a community,” he said. “This work is about shifting the systems that exist to enable people to make the choices that are best for them and are also best for students.” 

Lyons is one of 160 former Education Pioneers fellows working in Chicago. That network provides an important base of ongoing information and support, he said. 

“At various points along the way, having a conversation with an alum has been really influential in helping me get this work done,” he said. “It is a community.” 

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