Press Release

For Immediate Release
July 14, 2021


The Education Trust Names Dr. Christopher J. Nellum as the Executive Director
for The Education Trust–West

Nellum will continue to prioritize community voice to advocate for educational justice from early childhood through higher education

Oakland, CA – The Education Trust has announced Christopher J. Nellum, Ph.D. as the next Executive Director for The Education Trust-West. Dr. Nellum, formerly interim executive director, succeeded Elisha Smith Arrillaga, Ph.D.

Dr. Nellum joined The Education Trust–West, a California-based educational justice advocacy organization, in October of 2017. As the deputy director of research and policy, Dr. Nellum worked alongside Dr. Smith Arrillaga on deepening the organization’s expertise in early childhood education, K-12, and higher education, and creating a three-year strategic plan. He has led advocacy efforts to develop a statewide Cradle-to-Career data system and ensure every high school senior completes a financial aid application or California Dream Act Application before they graduate — both measures are likely to be passed in the final 2021-22 state budget. He has also pushed for local and statewide solutions in response to COVID-19 and the shift to distance learning, expanded the organization’s early childhood education profile, and spearheaded educator listening sessions and K-12 parent polls.

“Long before I joined the team at Ed Trust–West, I admired their groundbreaking research and fierce advocacy. The last three and a half years have only confirmed that there’s no smarter, harder working, or more passionate group of advocates for educational equity anywhere in the country,” said Dr. Nellum. “I’m honored and humbled by the opportunity to build on the organization’s incredible work and to continue fighting for educational justice alongside my colleagues and our partners.”
“With Chris at the helm, The Education Trust–West’s 20-year legacy of fierce advocacy will only grow mightier,” said former executive director Dr. Smith-Arrillaga. “Chris trusts students, families, and educators and works alongside them to move equity-centered change.”

“I am pleased to name Dr. Christopher Nellum as the executive director of The Education Trust–West,” said Dr. John B. King Jr., president of The Education Trust. “Dr. Nellum brings to this work and to this role the dedication to community-informed advocacy that California’s students and families deserve. His commitment to uplifting the lived experience of students and ensuring advocates and educators are provided with actionable research will be a huge asset for the state of California as a whole.”

“I am thrilled to see Dr. Christopher Nellum appointed as the executive director of The Education Trust—West,” said Eleni Kounalakis, California’s Lieutenant Governor. “I’ve been able to work with Chris on educational justice issues over the past two years and have seen first-hand how deeply he cares about students of color and students from lower-income communities. That passion, combined with his impressive policy expertise, lived experience, and personal integrity make him a remarkable leader.”

On transitioning into the role of executive director during the biggest education equity crisis in memory, Dr. Nellum added, “This mission is personal for me, and I can’t imagine anywhere I’d rather be at this critical moment. We have a rare opportunity to rebuild and reimagine our systems — from pre-K through college — around the needs of the very same students who have been shut out for centuries.”

Dr. Nellum previously served as the Deputy Director, Research and Policy, where he managed a team that created high-impact research and reports, including Hidden Figures: A Framework to Increase Access to Financial Aid and Hear My Voice II: Supporting Success for Parenting and Unhoused Women of Color, the first K-12 parent poll in California in response to COVID-19 and distance learning, and the launch of the organization’s Research in Brief Series. He has also served as spokesperson for The Education Trust–West and has been featured in PBS NewsHour, EdSource, Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, and NBC News reporting.

Prior to joining The Education Trust–West, Dr. Nellum was at the National Center for Institutional Diversity, Young Invincibles, and the American Council on Education. He cut his teeth in education equity working directly with students on college campuses. Nellum was raised in California’s Imperial Valley and credits a counselor at Brawley Union High School for opening doors of opportunity for him to go to college as a first-generation student and Pell and Cal Grant recipient. He has a bachelor’s degree in political science from UC Santa Barbara, a master’s degree from CSU Long Beach, and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan. Nellum and his wife welcomed a baby daughter to their family earlier this spring.


About The Education Trust–West

The Education Trust–West works for educational justice and the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-K through college, in the state of California. We expose opportunity and achievement gaps that separate students of color and low-income students from other youth, and we identify and advocate for the strategies that will forever close those gaps.