Student Stories

Robert Simmons

Closing the Gap: Robert W. Simmons, EdD '07

Robert W. Simmons EdD ’07 understands firsthand how opportunity and access to education can change lives.

Having grown up in a poor, working class neighborhood of Detroit, the son of a single mother and a father who was in prison, Simmons describes coming of age at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic.

If a Jesuit high school hadn’t recruited him, his life might have turned out very different. The wealthy, predominantly white college preparatory school motivated him to pursue a career in education focusing on closing the “achievement gap,” the disparity in test scores and graduation rates between students of color and their white peers. 

Simmons is the new District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) chief of innovation and research. Part of his mission is to improve graduation rates, test scores and the overall educational experience of black and Hispanic boys. The graduation rate for African American boys is 48 percent compared to 66 percent for all students in the district.

Simmons, who earned his doctorate in education (EdD) at Hamline in 2007, was a tenured professor of urban education and founding director of the Center for Innovation in Urban Education at Loyola University Maryland prior to joining DCPS to work with the 47,000 students and 4,000 teachers in the public school district serving the nation’s capital.

He earned his bachelor’s degree from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and became an elementary school teacher in predominantly black schools. It was when he walked into a Minnesota classroom that he first encountered the “gap.” Minnesota has one of the worst gaps between white and minority student performance in the nation.

“I just had never considered the achievement gap until I moved to Minnesota,” Simmons said. “I just wanted my students to be proficient in math and reading.”

Simmons earned his doctorate in education at Hamline while teaching in Rochester, Minnesota, and Osseo Public Schools in the Twin Cities, focusing on the issues of equity and access in education.

“Hamline gave me the opportunity to think deeply about education,” Simmons said. “They gave me the freedom to understand and examine education as a teacher and a citizen in our democracy. They encouraged that free speech.”

Simmons said he and his staff are evaluating what is currently working in the district and determining ways to improve African American student participation and performance. The district is also planning to open an all-male college preparatory high school in the fall of 2016 with an emphasis on graduating boys of color.

Find out more about the Hamline School of Education's doctorate in education, or contact Hamline's Graduate Admission Office to learn more about joining the Hamline community.