Skip to content Skip to navigation

Ting Lan Sun

Ting Lan Sun, smiling, in the media center of a school with a row of computers in the background
"The sense I got from the STEP program was that you could create your own curriculum. I never felt like I needed to go into a traditional setting."

Ting Lan Sun,
MA '88 Stanford Teacher Education Program

A pioneer in the charter school movement

Ting Lan Sun moved with her parents from Taiwan to the United States when she was five. Speaking no English, she languished in the back of her Houston elementary school classroom; she didn’t learn to read until third grade. 

The few teachers who supported her stand out in her mind today. “I remember writing a poem, which I thought was pretty good,” Sun says. “I just got a C on it from one teacher, but another teacher looked at it and started asking me questions.” Sun also remembers a middle school teacher who encouraged her to take accelerated college-prep courses in high school. 

That early support boosted Sun’s confidence – and shaped her career choice. Sun has made education her life’s work: She co-founded one of California’s first charter schools and has helped reform education to better serve diverse populations. She will receive the GSE’s 2022 Alumni Excellence in Education Award at a ceremony on October 20.

Sun earned her master’s in the Stanford Teacher Education Program (STEP), where she fell in love with teaching middle school. She also learned to be comfortable navigating unknown territory. “The sense I got from the STEP program was that you could create your own curriculum,” she says. “I never felt like I needed to go into a traditional setting.” And so, after teaching at a middle school for five years, she co-founded Natomas Charter School in Sacramento. The school started in 1993 with 80 eighth graders; today, it has 1,800 students spanning transitional kindergarten through 12th grade. 

Sun spent 29 years at Natomas in various roles: teacher, educational programs director, and executive director. She also helped influence policy at the state level, serving on the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and the California State Board of Education. Along the way she also earned a PhD in education from UC Davis.

Today she does consulting and provides mentoring to school leaders throughout the state. The one-on-one work appeals to her: After more than three decades of trying to change the education system as a whole, which she likens to “pushing a boulder up a very steep hill,” she’s enjoying a smaller sphere of influence – one leader at a time.

Register online for the October 20 awards presentation, or RSVP to Tiffany Ah Tye at

October 7, 2022
Photo courtesy of Ting Lan Sun

More Community stories

Hannah D'Apice is a PhD students at the GSE. (Photo: Joleen Richards)
Hannah D'Apice, MA ’17 International Comparative Education, PHD ’24
Disrupting systems of inequality in education
Read this story
Maya Green is getting her minor in education from the GSE.
Maya Green, BA '24, undergrad minor
A commitment to lifelong learning
Read this story
Photo of Larry Cuban
Larry Cuban, PhD '74
Viewing education’s future through the lens of history
Read this story
Back to the Top