The situation at many of the nation’s secondary schools and school districts can be compared to purchasing a home in an older neighborhood. Sometimes all that is needed to make the space appropriate and usable is a fresh coat of paint and new carpeting. In other instances, faulty infrastructure of the home requires tearing it down to the studs and starting from scratch.
The same decisions hold true in the case of school improvement. In many cases, school districts are preparing the next generation of school leaders to run learning institutions that aren’t serving the unique and evolving needs of our nation’s students.
Instead of putting the emphasis on the creation of innovative new schools or redesigning existing school systems, many educational leadership programs use the band-aid approach, focusing training on what’s generally observed as the status quo while doing little to improve professional development of school teachers and the administrators who support them.
Enter the Puget Sound Consortium for School Innovation (an initiative of Big Picture Learning), along with Eagle Rock School and Professional Development Center. Our two organizations have joined forces to shake things up. Together, we believe that — much like a dilapidated ranch-style home — the nation’s education system should be revamped. What’s needed is a complete facelift, if you will, along with a deep dive to understand what is chronically failing our children in every region of the country.
Jeff Petty, the consortium’s director, and his colleagues are hard at work addressing two related problems:
- Problem No. 1: Most schools are designed around the wrong priorities.
- Problem No. 2: The quality of adult learning in and around schools is dismal.
What Petty is attempting to do is support aspiring school principals (five per year from the Pacific Northwest) who wish to participate in a deep incubation period that results in designing and launching innovative and equity-driven public schools.
Petty’s vision is playing out through a new organization called School Foundry, which is best described as a leadership incubator for public school leaders. A partnership between Big Picture Learning and Gonzaga University’s Principal Certification Program, School Foundry provides design support, mentorship, and leadership development to equity-driven school leaders designing district and charter public schools to launch the following year.
Moreover, it aims to decouple principal leadership development and certification from dis-equitable systems.
Eagle Rock’s associate director of professional development, Dan Condon, was in Seattle last week to help Petty announce and then convene School Foundry’s launch and first official gathering of Fellows — a cohort of five aspiring school principals that Eagle Rock will support throughout the 2017-18 academic year.
The intent is to launch new or transformed schools in the fall of 2018 or beyond. Supporting the effort is Impact Hub Seattle, a local co-working space with global connections, educational resources for entrepreneurs, and public gatherings of support for both for profit and nonprofit startups.
A highlight of the kickoff event was a panel discussion on equity and school innovation led by Lindsay Hill, the program officer for education at the Raikes Foundation. Also joining Jeff and Dan at the kickoff were personnel from the School Foundry’s funder ECMC Foundation (a Los Angeles-based foundation that aims to inspire and facilitate improvements that affect educational outcomes through funding evidence-based innovations), along with the program’s first fellows.
These included Angela Bogan, the planning principal of Sartori Elementary in the Renton School District; Sara Mounsey, teacher leader at the Methow Valley Independent Learning Center; and Marcus Harden, a principal intern at Seattle Public Schools’ Interagency Academy. Also participating in the cohort are Jen Wickens who, along with Baionne Coleman, share one fellowship between them. Jen is Impact Public Schools’ founding director, while Baionne is a new administrator at Impact Public Schools.
The fellows — under Petty’s tutelage and with support from Eagle Rock’s Professional Development Center — will take part in the leadership incubator aimed at helping generate ideas and plans for new schools that are:
- Equity driven: Leading a school in the context of dis-equitable social constructs.
- Learning organizations: Establishing, leading, and sustaining a community of adult learners.
- Offering breakthrough leadership opportunities: Skillfully breaking rules and positively disrupting the status quo; shifting the systems around you.
- School design-centric: Designing and implementing schools where the learning is real, personal, and lasting.
In addition, these and future School Foundry fellows will learn “design thinking/doing” based on the Design Studios approach used in the New Urban High Schools Initiative that catalyzed Big Picture Learning and High Tech High, as well as other approaches to design and innovation.
The fellows’ challenge will be to develop breakthrough schools and programs to engage the most marginalized students in learning that prepares them for success in college, careers, and as citizens.
Through the consortium’s partnership with Impact Hub Seattle, and through selected members of the consortium’s advisory team, the cohort also will have access to design consultation with leading innovators from non-education sectors, with the intent to bring fresh perspectives and strategies to bear on intransigent public education dilemmas.
Because the consortium frequently incorporates students as consultants in its school design work, current students from partner schools will consult on the design of new and transformed schools. And the ongoing consortium partnership with Eagle Rock will provide additional support for the cohort through virtual and in-person gatherings.
To learn more about School Foundry and Jeff Petty’s vision, visit the organization’s website.