Monthly Feature: Get to Know... Kirsten J. Barclay

December 1, 2023

It could be said that a person choosing a career is not unlike the shiny, silver ball careening around a pinball machine. And each time it ricochets off a bumper represents a vocational option attempted, and then rejected.

Kirsten Barclay studied political science in college and began working immediately after graduation as a special education teacher at a private school for students with disabilities. She found the work worthwhile but, after three years, not sufficiently challenging. So she decided to steal a page from her younger sister’s book and go to law school at the University of Buffalo.


She spent her final year in law school as a visiting student at New York University. Law degree in hand, she was offered a job at a Manhattan law firm – and a coveted clerkship at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. She deferred the law firm position for one year and began the clerkship, excited about the prospect of building a life and career in the Big Apple.

Then she watched a jetliner zoom past her office window on Sept. 11, 2001, and struggled in the days that followed as the federal courts transformed into high-security, high-risk areas. Her next stop, she decided, would not be a major metropolitan area.

“I finished my clerkship and wanted to leave New York,” Kirsten says.


She persuaded her husband to leave a job he loved with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and the couple relocated to Rochester, where Kirsten was hired as in-house counsel for the Rochester City School District (RCSD).

At the time, the district was one of the lowest-performing in the country and reeling from one scandal after another. Eager to assume a role where she could proactively inspire academic reform, rather than help the district simply react to bad press, she eventually removed her in-house counsel hat and became chief of student support services for the district. In that non-legal role, she oversaw special education and student support services, and worked to improve educational outcomes for students, the vast majority of whom live below the poverty line.


“As a teacher, I taught at private schools designed for special education students, and the kids were really successful,” she says. “Then I got to RCSD, where the graduation rate for special ed students was 11%. I had no idea there were these systems that were failing generation after generation of kids. That was formative for me, and I decided to stay focused on urban education and special ed.”

After several years at the city school district, Kirsten decided to go into nonprofit work,  where she could broaden her focus on improving the educational ecosystem in Rochester. Over the next several years, she served as the senior program officer for a private charitable foundation, where she worked to increase access to high quality education, particularly for low-income students, students of color and students with disabilities, through investments and project management. She also served as the lead education researcher and consultant at the Center for Governmental Research and worked to develop operating systems for new charter schools and community schools models. 

Then, in 2019, an opportunity arose in Bond’s Rochester office to return to the legal world, to represent charter schools, as well as district and nonpublic school clients.


The pinball finally appears to be at permanent rest.

“I like to try different things,” she says. “I am privileged to have had the opportunities I’ve had, and I bring all of those experiences to leverage my work at Bond.”

Her husband, Brett, works as an attorney in Rochester, where the couple live with their two teenage daughters, a high school junior and college freshman.

“This is the first job I have ever had where I’m not thinking about what my next job is going to be. I have no interest in doing anything else. I really like to help prevent problems before they start and I’m really kid-centered. And I love to work with clients who share that philosophy. I’m so privileged to have found a role that lets me do just that.” 

“Kirsten is extremely knowledgeable and thoughtful,” says Rosemary Hodges, director of education at the Norman Howard School. “She is a fierce advocate for students, especially those who may not have equitable access to educational resources. And she  is dedicated to system change while keeping individuals’ needs in mind.”