Empowering education equality Husband and wife share passion for improving Arizona's education system By MADISON ARNOLD
appily married for six years and counting, this husband and wife pair have a great time together doing just about anything. Whether it's cooking great food, finding good happy hours, skiing, watching football, hiking with their dogs, gardening or volunteering at a local nonprofit, it doesn’t take much for this duo to have a good time. By day, Jerry Barnier is the founder and principal at Suntec Concrete, one of the premier concrete contractors in the Southwest, and his wife, Julie Johnson is a principal for Avison Young, working with healthcare real estate leasing and sales. After hours, they dedicate their time to improving the lives of youth through Teach for America (TFA), a nonprofit organization that recruits and sponsors individuals to help bridge the education gap and work towards equality and excellence in public schools. Barnier became hooked on TFA about 15 years ago after being introduced to it by Bob Hardison of Hardison Downey Construction who hosted a “meatball party” for about 20 contractors to raise awareness. “It was the first time that I heard how underfunded, and how short of great teachers Arizona schools were,” he explains. “But the closer was seeing the passion that they had for making a difference for their kids. It was impossible not to get on board.”
12 | May-June 2017
Johnson got on board with TFA after meeting Barnier 11 years ago. Since then, Barnier and Johnson have sponsored on average of five teachers every year through TFA. Q: What is your favorite part of TFA? Jerry: It’s just fun being around inspired people and when you know that energy is making a difference for our youth - it’s a game changer. Julie: Meeting and hanging out with our corps members! They are so special and unique, from all over the country, and graduates from every major that I can imagine, who all have the common purpose of bridging the education gap. Q: Why did you choose to become involved with TFA? Jerry: I was fortunate to get a great diverse public K-12 education in Washington State that provided me so much opportunity. That education opportunity for everyone is what TFA is about and as an employer, we want to do our part in this community to continue that. Julie: Because the mission of TFA is needed now more than ever. Arizona needs to increase the efficacy of its education system and get more resources to its students. Q: What is one experience through your time with the organization that resonates with you?
FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Lindsay Wheeler DeFrancisco, executive director of Teach For America-Phoenix in 2016; Jerry Barnier, founder and principal at Suntec Concrete; Julie Johnson, principal at Avison Young.
Jerry: Our employees have great stories about the extra classroom time that teachers at North High School and Metro Tech put in for them. And I was a believer when one of their kids told me, ‘at North, you can be anything you want to, if you want to work that hard.’ Julie: Almost every year we have pizza parties for our corps members and invite others who might be interested in learning more about TFA. The one on one times with our corps members are times that we really enjoy! Q: How would you describe your partner’s involvement with TFA? Jerry: Julie is just great at reaching out to people and making good stuff happen for the people around her. So TFA is really a natural fit for her, and we are a great team together. Julie: Jerry wants to make an impact on education in our community and the TFA program has proven to be very effective but needs to be broader and deeper with more corps members.