Walter Isaacson is the author of the biography on Apple founder Steve Jobs. He's also the Chairman of Teach for America, a non-profit that nurtures the best and most effective educators.
"What Teach for America has done, especially in the Delta country of Mississippi, is bring in the brightest, most energetic, smartest people to be teachers in the schools, then they stay. They tend to want to help form their own schools," he says.
Isaacson says big ideas are needed to transform communities. People may think small class sizes will foster the best education, but he says that's not true.
"What does make a difference is having the right principal, having the right school leader who can hire and fire teachers based on their effectiveness," he told the crowd of about 400.
Isaacson and Alma Powell headlined the discussion Monday at the Jackson Convention Complex. Powell chairs America's Promise Alliance, a child advocacy organization. She's married to former Secretary of State General Colin Powell. Mrs. Powell attended a dropout prevention summit in Jackson back in 2009.
"Mississippi was the first state in the union to require every school to come up with a concrete dropout prevention plan. You led the way," she told the crowd.
Powell says non-profit groups like Operation Shoestring, which empower underprivileged families, can make the biggest difference in educating people in an ever-changing world.
"You have to provide them with supports that strengthen them, give them a foundation to be ready to learn," she says.