This is the fourth story in a series titled “Pandemic on the Mind” where we explore the experiences of our staff during the coronavirus pandemic through a professional and personal lens.
Role: Senior Vice President of Strategic Alignment & Operations
Joined The Mind Trust: July 2015
With four kids under the age of ten, two of them engaged in eLearning, and Lauren Rush and her husband both working from home, two problems Lauren says she has not experienced during the pandemic are boredom and loneliness. “The pandemic has required me to be more flexible in supporting on the kid front, helping them maintain their sanity alongside getting my work done, often at different times.”
As our Senior Vice President of Strategic Alignment & Operations, boredom certainly hasn’t crept into her work life either. A cornerstone of her role is to foster a culture and environment across the organization that ensures everyone is equipped to do their best work on behalf of students. “We have a high-capacity, talented team. Everybody perceives their work as more than just work, as mission. Everyone works really intensely and I’ve wanted to ensure we took all the steps we could to send the message that people should prioritize self-care.”
While instilling and nurturing that type of collaborative, people-first culture has always been a cornerstone of Lauren’s work, the how of making that happen changed because of the pandemic. It has involved making sure staff feel the freedom to work from home without any pressure to return to in-office work before it’s safe, giving staff the flexibility to procure supplies and resources to facilitate remote work, and making sure the leadership team models a healthy work/life balance on and off of Zoom.
“Kids and pets are welcome on Zoom screens and our lives outside work are normalized as part of the grind. I think it sends a positive message when the CEO’s kids make an appearance on Zoom.” Lauren also spearheaded moves to redesign The Mind Trust’s employee benefits package and organizational holidays calendar to be more inclusive and tailored to staff needs. For example, recognized holidays now include Juneteenth, September 15 in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, and Native American Heritage Day in addition to a floating holiday that employees can leverage on a day of their choice.
Throughout the year, our Team core value stood out to Lauren. She maintains the organization’s strong foundations prior to the pandemic have led to our staff not missing a beat when it comes to pursuing our mission. She also sees our new Monday Morning Meetings—weekly Zoom meetings that replaced the previous monthly all-staff meeting structure—as a critical component that allow our staff to come together regarding work and life.
Lauren’s passion for The Mind Trust’s mission is rooted in her experience as a classroom teacher in the Mississippi Delta with Teach For America. Time and again she witnessed students and families who were unable to fulfill their potential based on barriers that were beyond their control inside and outside of the classroom. Originally, she anticipated pursuing youth ministry when she finished her teaching commitment, yet “after having an experience teaching, I found it hard to imagine not impacting education with my career.” And while she knows education isn’t the silver bullet to solving inequity it can often be held up as, she believes, “[Education] is still pretty darn clutch.”
Having four children of her own, two of whom are school-aged, has only solidified her passion for eliminating educational inequity. “I want my kids and their peers and their friends to grow up in a more just society. That’s at the core of why I do what I do even though most of my days are spent in front of a computer now.”
Lauren has pushed herself this year to integrate more fully her commitment to racial equity beyond her work, specifically as it relates to her Catholic faith. “I have been disappointed in my faith community’s response to our nation’s racial reckoning over the summer. The pandemic gave me time to grapple with that and I’ve prioritized trying to learn more and listen to more Black Catholic voices.” She has also begun organizing an affinity group of white members of her faith community who are collectively committed to figuring out how they can play a role in holding themselves and their community accountable to living out principals of racial justice.
Her job, her faith, her family: for Lauren, it all connects to her hope that Indianapolis can be, “A truly just city where everybody has the opportunity to fulfill their potential and where everyone is treated with dignity. I hope The Mind Trust can play a role in achieving that with a focus on our city’s schools.”