Executive Director

Chelsea Crawford is the Executive Director of TennesseeCAN. In her prior role, she served for more than four years as chief of staff at the Tennessee Department of Education, where she led the commissioner’s office under two commissioners and through the COVID-19 pandemic. Her role spanned overseeing the communications, stakeholder engagement, policy and legislative affairs, and performance and evaluation teams. Her leadership contributed to the passage and implementation of several key administration bills, including early literacy, learning loss interventions, tutoring, and funding reform policies that are positively changing the trajectory for Tennessee’s students.

Before joining the department in 2020, Chelsea spent 10 years in the private sector, including serving as vice president for a public affairs firm that supported corporate, government, political, and non-profit clients.

A proud native Tennessean, she holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and serves on various boards for organizations that support education and communities across her home state.

I aspire to be like Wonder Woman. Here’s why:

Wonder Woman, for most folks, is a comic book character–and one I admire for her resolve, tenacity and strength. But for me personally, I have had the great fortune to know and work with several women in my life who I would dub to be a “wonder woman”–breaking boundaries and stereotypes to accomplish incredible things in both their professional and personal lives. No easy feat!

Why I love my job:

I am a Tennessee girl through and through, and as Executive Director at TennesseeCAN, I have a unique opportunity and ability to combine my passion, skill and the experiences of my career to drive lasting, positive change to benefit our students and our state.

My connection to public schools:

My mother was a public school teacher for her entire 30+ year career, and that side of my family is rich with passionate, effective, life-changers of public school educators. Growing up, whenever I was with my mom in the grocery store or post office, we would often run into her former students– full grown adults who would stop us and talk about the positive impacts she had on their lives.

But when I was in high school and thinking about what I wanted to do for my career, I told my mother that I thought I may want to be a teacher. Her words back to me: “Baby, do anything but that. It is a hard, low-paying job and I want more for you.” She said this to me then, even as she continued for years to tirelessly pour her heart and life’s work into every one of her kids, every day.

Now, as one of those full grown adults myself, I look back on that moment and imagine: if I knew then what I know now, what would I have said back to her?

“That ain’t right. This should not be. This cannot stand.”

If you’re reading this, chances are high that you agree that teachers change lives for the better every day. In Tennessee, nearly one million children are in public schools every day relying on their teachers to pour into them– to help them learn to read, write, do math, and realize their dreams. I believe that supporting effective educators in every classroom will lead to success for every student is what drives me in this work.

What I’m bad at:

I have a bad habit of working too much. I bring a lot of energy, passion, and ideas to the work I do because I believe in it deeply, but I’m getting better at personal accountability and work life balance.

This image represents why I work at 50CAN:

If you’ve met me, you’ve probably heard me say “team work makes the dream work,” because that has truly been my lived experience.

A sailboat setting out on a bold course towards a better, brighter tomorrow is a great representation for the work we do in education, as well as a great representation for working at 50CAN. It takes a strong team of sailors, a captain, a navigator, engineers, deckhands and more– each fulfilling different yet important roles, in a coordinated, collaborative way– to reach the destination. This approach is evident in our everyday activities and in the mission, vision and values that we as a 50CAN family pursue.