Alumna helps transform educators and educational organizations

By

Meghan Krein

“I have always seen education as a key to moving our society move forward,” alumna Angel Jannasch-Pennell (PhD '96) says of earning her degree in Curriculum and Instruction, Special Education. And moving forward is just what Jannasch-Pennell helps educators and educational organizations do.

Angel Jannasch-Pennell

Angel Jannasch-Pennell 

She and two co-founders, also MLFTC alumni, Yadira Flores (PhD '08) and Daniel Gulchak (PhD '08), launched Phoenix-based company, KOI Education in 2011. KOI partners with educators and educational organizations to deliver practices and solutions that result in positive academic, behavioral and social achievement in the K–12 arena.

Knowledge that results in Outcomes that Impact Society

The acronym KOI comes from the founding principles and business philosophy: “Our passion is to share Knowledge that results in Outcomes that Impact society.” KOI’s roots are based at the ASU SkySong Innovation Center — it began as a grant project and took off from there.

KOI aims to transform the culture of schools and impact student achievement through research-based, interdisciplinary professional development training and instruction, Jannasch-Pennell says.

KOI works with schools across the country, as well as in Australia, to focus not only on specific practices and interventions to change student behavior, but also on systems to sustain those changes and use data to make decisions efficiently and effectively. “Our goal is to deliver high-quality professional development training using research-based practices that result in positive academic, behavioral and social achievements in the education community,” says Jannasch-Pennell.

“Student safety and a positive school climate are a prerequisite to learning,” Jannasch-Pennell says. KOI’s training includes topics such as Positive Behavior and Supports, Multi-tiered Systems of Supports, bus safety, classroom management, behavior management, crisis de-escalation, threat assessment, trauma-informed care, culturally responsive practices, equity in schools, closing the discipline and achievement gap and mental health support. “All can be addressed from a schoolwide perspective, for targeted groups of students or on an individual student basis.”

Many schools measure only effort, Jannasch-Pennell says, expressing how much time, effort or money was spent on an initiative. “Our philosophy is to assist schools to measure outcomes.”

KOI works with schools to sustain a positive climate, culture and student outcomes. “We share the research we lead at ASU and our expertise in applying these practices in real school environments in order to measure student outcomes, implementation fidelity and school climate,” she says. “At KOI, we believe all students deserve a quality education. Our priority is to partner with educators and organizations dedicated to that same belief,” Jannasch-Pennell says.

Family matters

"We know that when parents and families are involved in their children's schools, their children do better,” says Jannasch-Pennell, adding, “We also know that no matter race, ethnicity, culture or income, most families have high aspirations and concerns for their children’s success.” She says several studies suggest that, in seeking to close the achievement gap, it’s necessary to address the complex interactions among family, community and school. “To do this, we must engage all of the members of a community in the education of our children.”

Local community members include not only schools and families with children, Jannasch-Pennell says, but also politicians, business owners, nonprofits, churches and anyone else who makes up the community. “When local community members become involved with schools they can act as role models, mentors and support systems — of all means,” says Jannasch-Pennell.

Angel Jannasch-Pennell in community
Jannasch-Pennell reviewing math with 
Ahuitzilin Enrique, grade 6.

The struggle is real

“New teachers, especially, often struggle to meet all of their students’ individual needs, combined with needing to have a culturally responsive approach,” Jannasch-Pennell says. There is a big cultural gap in education, which feeds directly into our discipline gap, she says. “We need to look at how we can meet students’ needs, and recruit and retain more teachers of color so our teaching force is more reflective of our current student population,” says Jannasch-Pennell. If kids aren’t in the classroom because they’re being referred out due to power struggles, misunderstandings, escalations and other behavior issues, then absolutely no education is happening, let alone individualized education, she says.

The greatest challenge — thus far

In the recent past, Jannasch-Pennell served four years as an elected school board member in an urban school district. “It was one of the greatest honors and privileges of my life,” she says. But as she was approaching her tenure, Jannasch-Pennell was hit with a realization, “I could not solve all of the issues facing public education. Primarily the underfunding and lack of equity to resources faced by students and educators every day, across school districts who primarily serve at-risk children and their families.”

The real challenge is equity, says Jannasch-Pennell. “All students deserve an education that allows them the real opportunity to achieve their full potential regardless of gender, race or economic status.” And as educators, Jannasch-Pennell says, the responsibility “lies on us to make sure every student has the chance to be successful.” That said, she says the greatest challenge for her was to “keep fighting the good fight while doing good along the way and not burning out or succumbing to the belief that this problem isn’t fixable.”

In her free time

Along with spending time with her husband and two daughters, Jannasch-Pennell serves as the vice chair of the NAU Arizona K–12 Center board of directors, as well as secretary of the governing board for the Children’s Museum of Phoenix. She is a founding board member for the Southwest Kids Cancer Foundation, serves on the advisory board for Triple P of AZ Parenting Advisory Group (which focuses on childhood trauma) and is on the leadership team for PBISaz.