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Welcome to the EPFP Alumni Blog! Here we highlight the work of EPFP alumni around the country by featuring guest blog posts about our three pillars: Policy, Leadership, and Networking. For more information or to report abuse of this feature, please contact the EPFP national program staff at epfp@iel.org.

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Sarita Brown (TX EPFP 83-84)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Friday, September 18, 2015

 

Cross-Boundary Leader: Sarita Brown
(TX EPFP 83-84)


Sarita Brown is president of Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit organization that accelerates Latino success in higher education by linking research, policy, and practice to serve Latino students. Prior to co-founding Excelencia in Education in 2004, Brown was appointed as executive director of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans under President Bill Clinton and Secretary of Education Richard Riley. She began her career at the University of Texas at Austin building a national model promoting minority success in graduate education. Brown is on the board of directors for ACT, Catch the Next, and Editorial Projects in Education.

Supporting Latino Student Success in Higher Education

The biggest change I’ve seen in the support for Latino students’ success in higher education over the last decade has been the growth of the number of education leaders, policymakers, and investors who understand the importance of addressing this topic. In the last 10 years, it has become much more common for people to talk about the Latino community and make the point that they are our future workforce and contributors to civic leadership. This has been great—but it’s still just people talking and not doing much about it. I want to see more of this conversation being translated into action.





Another big change in the last decade has been the dominance of the linking of immigration and Latinos. Understanding of who immigrants are, the impact of immigration in American society, and the proportion of America’s Latino community that are recent immigrants has become increasingly distorted. I don’t believe this is intentional by the media or advocates, but many people who don’t think about immigration much or don’t work on the issue on a daily basis seem to believe all Latinos are immigrants and undocumented, which is inaccurate. Over 90 percent of today’s Latino students in K-12 and postsecondary education are U.S. citizens or permanent residents. When I speak publicly, I’m assertive about this point and try to help people realize there are so many things that higher education and public education can do to better respond to Latino students and families that have nothing to do with changes to the country’s immigration policies or to students’ immigration status.

What Policymakers and Higher Education Leaders Should Know

Since launching Excelencia in Education in 2004, we’ve worked to demystify who the Latino population is, where Latino students are located, what institutions are graduating larger numbers of Latino students, and the practices and factors of these institutions that are helping Latino students thrive. Our research covers the state of Latinos in education from early childhood all the way through professional education. It’s all data-driven so policymakers and higher education leaders can find that helpful to gain a better understanding of who these students are and what they need to succeed.

Our goal is to inform policymakers and higher education leaders. We advocate but do not lobby. Through our research, we can highlight the nexus of where higher education and policymakers need to intervene to ensure Latino student success. By presenting this information, we work to connect policymakers to the institutions that have used effective and innovative strategies to help Latino students graduate and build significant skills.

Another issue we try to bring to the attention of policymakers is the challenge of meeting the financial needs of low-income students attending college. Financial aid and the fact that the current model of aid does not reach all high school students who need it is a focus of ours. This was actually how we put Excelencia in Education on the map in 2005, with our report, How Latino Students Pay for College. We found that while Latinos were applying for financial aid, they were receiving the least amount of aid, regardless of need. So we asked policymakers why is this is happening, what do we do about it, and what does this mean for Latino students? Latino students need support while they are enrolled in a college or university, but they also need the appropriate financial resources to be able to get there.

Leading Across Sectors

Working across sectors gives you the opportunity to have a more significant impact. Each sector has its own language and perspective, and it’s challenging to find people who are “multilingual” in that they are proficient across multiple sectors, so it is important for leaders to be able to have knowledge about sectors other than their own. If you’re trying to make change happen, you have to have people in different sectors be willing to reach across, build bridges, learn together, and develop functional relationships so things get done. Ten years ago this was seen as a really innovative, novel idea, but now it’s a required skill set.

However, that doesn’t make it any less challenging, especially since change happens so quickly today. Leaders need to be able to prioritize, and know what the next important issue is and which individuals can be connected to work together toward a common goal—all at the same time. We used to talk about a year-long program being fast, and now projects are happening in 3-6 months. This means leaders need to be forward-thinking, adaptable, and open to making connections.

Leadership Lessons Learned

I’ve learned that it’s important to stay true to yourself. I was very lucky to find a cause early in my career that became a life calling. Staying true isn’t about being dogmatic or unwilling to learn from ideas and challenges—you definitely still have to adapt to new and sometimes difficult environments and situations—but it’s about understanding what you want to change and staying on the path to continue doing that.

Another lesson I’ve learned is that leadership is fundamentally about how effectively you engage and inspire other people to share your vision. Clear articulation about what you want to accomplish is key. Sometimes it seems that only the one in front and the great speaker are recognized as leaders. I think true leadership is demonstrated by the capacity to bring others along and reach your goal together. A quieter, humbler kind of leadership that moves people to act is valuable. Leadership is about inspiring, catalyzing, and bringing others along.

EPFP Experience

My experience in EPFP was very significant to my career. Because it was early in my career, I was introduced to leaders across the country that I wouldn’t have otherwise met at that time. I still have friends and colleagues from my program who I’ve kept in touch with through all these years. For me, EPFP was a systematic way to go through the skill sets, issues, and opportunities that were important to education and to my work. It also gave me the opportunity to learn about myself as a professional and part of a community wanting to affect change, which was quite significant. Because of EPFP, I came to better understand my role and future opportunities as I decided what I wanted to accomplish in the big picture of national and regional education issues.

EPFP’s Value Today and in the Future

I’m a big believer in intentionality—having something like EPFP, particularly with its history, is very intentional. It adapts and grows while asserting a view that education is a worthy calling, an enterprise based on human experiences, and that leaders are people who are connecting with each other to make it happen. You learn from different components of EPFP and what makes the program so significant is that it offers them all together and provides a community that IEL has systematically maintained. To me, all of that is intentionality—beginning with an idea and committing to cultivate and sustain it even as education changes.


 

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Dr. June Atkinson (NC EPFP 84-85)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Monday, August 31, 2015

 

Cross-Boundary Leader: Dr. June Atkinson
(NC EPFP 84-85)

Dr. June Atkinson is the State Superintendent of the Public Schools of North Carolina as well as the President of the Council of Chief State School Officers. As state superintendent, she heads the Department of Public Instruction (DPI), oversees reform initiatives such as the Accountability and Curriculum Reform Effort (ACRE), and strives to increase the opportunities and success of the nearly 1.5 million students in North Carolina’s public schools. Previously, Dr. Atkinson has worked on instruction and curriculum development and has served as a business education teacher, consultant, and director with DPI. For her dedication and service to education, she has been awarded the State Policymaker of the Year Award from the State Educational Technology Directors Association, the Champion of Children Award from the North Carolina Association of School Administrators, and the North Carolina Association of Educators Inclusive Leadership Award. Dr. Atkinson is a current member of the Board for the Institute for Educational Leadership. 

 






EPFP Experience and Value

 

I graduated as a North Carolina EPFP Fellow in 1985, and since I was relatively new in a leadership role, there were many benefits that I gleaned from EPFP. The Fellowship helped me to understand the impact of policy on what happens in the classroom as well as just how complex the public education system is. Furthermore, the network that I developed with the EPFP Fellows in my class and with others who were a part of EPFP was very valuable. I was also able to meet people whom I would have never had the opportunity to meet had I not been involved in EPFP, such as journalists, lobbyists, and others involved in education policy. Not only were the networking opportunities very beneficial, but I believe that EPFP provided a safe environment for Fellows to discuss issues and to get feedback from colleagues. I was able to learn how policy is developed, all of the different players who are involved in the process, and the impact that policy has on public education. I have come to realize that the skills I received from EPFP are still relevant and necessary for those involved in public education today.

The North Carolina EPFP program has become an integral part of education and leadership development throughout the state. Being an EPFP Fellow is a great complement to professional development provided to those who work at DPI, and it gives someone an edge over another person who may be applying for the same job. EPFP has made work on the ground more collaborative and teamwork-based, and it helps some of our mid-level managers see the complexity of the decision-making process of senior leadership. For the most part, anyone who has been in our department for more than four years will have gone through EPFP, and it has helped us to work better with our General Assembly members. EPFP certainly contributes to our leadership development in the state, and without it, it would be difficult for us to have sustained leadership or policy development.

 

The Value of Career and Technical Education

 

As a student, I experienced the benefits of career and technical education (CTE) because I was able to apply the skills I learned in high school to my college work. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t use the skills from my CTE courses, such as accounting and shorthand. CTE is a way for students to see how their education is relevant to potential careers. When students can see the relevance of their education, they are more likely to graduate and to become interested in other subjects. This is why I majored in business education and became a teacher.

 

I have also been able to see firsthand the impact that workforce preparation and career education have had in North Carolina schools. These courses allow students to develop problem solving, teamwork, and creative thinking skills. Not only has CTE positively contributed to graduation rate increases, but students are earning more credentials, such as in information technology and Microsoft. Students are able to earn extra endorsements along with their diplomas—such as “college ready” or “career ready”—and more students are able to get these endorsements through career tech schools. By bringing businesses directly to schools, CTE programs allow schools to involve businesses and industries in meaningful ways while also garnering greater support for public education.

 

Being a Female Leader in Education

 

As the first woman to be elected state superintendent of North Carolina, I believe I can be a role model for women teachers who see themselves in administrative and leadership positions in the future. When I meet fellow women teachers, I like to plant the seed that they should aspire to take leadership positions, whether that’s in a local school district, a public school, or an administrative office. During my time as state superintendent, I have noticed an increase in female leadership in education. For instance, more and more women are being appointed principals of large high schools, which was not the case 15 or 20 years ago. Furthermore, local boards of education are hiring leaders regardless of gender, focusing more on whether the candidates have backgrounds in curricular development and professional development. These issues are becoming more prominent in school and district leadership.

 

Leading Across Boundaries

 

As a state-level leader, I work with every stakeholder in education, from parents and students to teachers and principals to superintendents and policymakers. Through this, I have learned the importance of always listening before talking and creating opportunities in which I demonstrate that I am willing to listen to diverse views. I do my homework before I meet with people, so I understand what issues are important to them. I have established advisory committees for parents, teachers, and principals, and I visit schools often to get every perspective. I make sure that anyone who wants to contact me can do so, and every so often, I will call someone after reading a letter to the editor in a newspaper so I can further discuss an issue. I also host the Teacher of the Year and Principal of the Year summits every year to listen to concerns of teachers and principals. I meet with district superintendents several times every year.

 

Leading across boundaries can often present challenges, and through my work, I have come to understand the importance of legislation, quality policy, and finding a win-win situation in any issue. Above all, it is extremely important to be able to see more than one side of an issue.

 

Leadership Lessons Learned

 

First and foremost, I have learned that all leaders have just one thing in common: followers. You have to support the people who will be delivering what you want to accomplish. If you don’t support them, they won’t support you, and you won’t be effective. It’s also important to have a general concept of where you want to take public education, and it’s your responsibility as a leader to break that vision into smaller steps to carry it out. This requires practice and being strategic in identifying the steps for making change. Eventually, change should become a part of the fabric and culture of your organization so when new leaders step in, things continue to run smoothly.

Another lesson I’ve learned is that sometimes you have to repeat a message over and over in order for it to stick. It has always made me smile inside when staff members, teachers, principals, or superintendents say virtually the same things that I have previously said because it shows me that my message is getting through, and I am being an effective leader.


 

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Dr. Jan Hively (MN EPFP 82-83)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Monday, August 17, 2015

 

Cross-Boundary Leader: Dr. Jan Hively
(MN EPFP 82-83)

Dr. Jan Hively is the co-founder of several advocacy networks for aging adults, including the Pass It On Network, the Vital Aging Network, and SHiFT. She spent much of her career in leadership positions in government, education, and nonprofit sectors, where she served as president and executive director of the Golden Apple Foundation for Excellence in Teaching in Chicago, founder and executive director of the Minneapolis Youth Trust (now AchieveMpls), deputy mayor of Minneapolis, and director of outreach and a faculty member at the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development. Dr. Hively was a congressional appointee to the White House Conference on Aging in 2005, received the Dutch Kastenbaum Award from the Minnesota Gerontological Society, and was named a National Purpose Prize Fellow by Civic Ventures. She received her Ph.D. in education for work and community from the University of Minnesota at age 69.

Cross-Boundary Leadership

I first learned my leadership skills as a volunteer. When I was a homemaker, I was active in the League of Women Voters, where I was able to gain experience in the whole process of community organizing, including group facilitation skills, asking questions, and how to develop decisions by consensus.





There are a lot of different ways to learn valuable leadership skills. I’ve realized over my career that I really enjoy working through peer-to-peer networks rather than hierarchical organizations. I feel that networks are our future; peer-to-peer communication fits the time and capacity of people today, and provides grassroots experience, which is important.

“Meaningful Work Through the Last Breath”

I follow my mantra “meaningful work, paid or unpaid, through the last breath.” I continue to work on projects and issues I care about because they’re important to me and because I feel I can continue to make change happen. I’m an issues person—I do a lot of reading, receive articles about aging from all over the world, and look for upcoming trends and needs related to those trends. Much of the work I do involves connecting people and raising awareness of what is happening and facilitating discussions to gather and share resources to fill those needs. I also try to empower others with advocacy leadership skills and the tools to move ahead on their own. Once that leadership is cultivated, with an action plan and resources to move ahead, I can leave that work in the hands of capable leaders and move on to my next project.

I agree with Freud in that the two most important things in life are work and love. I’ve been a workaholic at times in my life and sometimes felt I’d lost my sense of balance, but I love the work that I do and can find it difficult to pull myself out of it. I’ve recently come to the realization, however, that setting aside time for personal interests, such as writing, is also very important to me, especially as I’m getting older. Although I love my work, I’ve begun to extricate myself from several projects so I’ll have more time to do other meaningful personal work.

Challenges in Leading Across Boundaries

The biggest challenge I’ve come across is shifting people’s attitudes, which I’ve most recently been addressing through my work in aging. Our attitudes are shaped by culture, and changing those attitudes can be extremely difficult when the culture around us still reinforces them. I believe that some changes are very important to make, such as moving from being passive consumers to proactive life planners, from dependency to self-determination, and shifting focus from needs to strengths.

For example, I firmly believe that aging adults need to be included in decisions made about their lives; one of the sayings I impress upon older adults is “nothing about me without me.” I want to help people make decisions for themselves for as long as possible, which requires self-advocacy. So I co-created an advocacy leadership development curriculum that is now used by senior service providers across the country and managed by the Life Planning Network.

Leadership Lessons Learned

I think one of the biggest leadership lessons I’ve learned throughout my career is that all of us are lifelong teachers and learners. Leadership is something you must consistently develop and work on, and as a leader, you are always passing along knowledge to others. In order to be an effective leader, you must understand how people learn and how you can help them grow. Workplace learning is not much different than school learning. In elementary school, educators teach students so they can do things on their own successfully. Similarly, in the workplace, leaders are successful when they are able to help their colleagues do something on their own and do it well. It’s important for leaders to help others understand this and to get everyone on the same page in knowing that by sharing our strengths, we help ourselves, each other, and our communities.

EPFP Experience

I really enjoyed my time as a Fellow, especially our cohort dinners. I loved the format of these dinners—conversational but informative—and have been actively involved in them as both a participant and as a presenter. What I particularly found to be great about EPFP was the network it introduced me to. I regularly reached out to EPFP contacts in my work on youth projects at the mayor’s office and while working at the University of Minnesota, and found the access to fellow leaders to be very helpful in advancing my work and projects. And, I always thought that the continuity of leadership from IEL and EPFP from Betty Hale, Mike Usdan, Van Mueller, and Marty Blank has been central to the quality of the EPFP experience.

EPFP is valuable because leadership development is so important. Everyone is a leader; we just need to learn and develop those skills, and EPFP does that. The program also provides continuity and clarity in a fragmented, complex world. It serves as a place within education to talk about important issues and share and experience different perspectives.

I think an interesting theme that EPFP might emphasize is the cradle-to-grave continuity of lifelong teaching and learning. With a large percentage of our population entering into their senior years, continuing to engage them in learning and teaching experiences is very important.

 

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Virginia B. "Ginny" Edwards (NJ EPFP 87-88)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Monday, August 3, 2015

 

Cross-Boundary Leader: Virginia B. "Ginny" Edwards
(NJ EPFP 87-88)

Virginia B. “Ginny” Edwards is the president of Editorial Projects in Education and the editor-in-chief of Education Week and edweek.org. Before joining EPE, she worked at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and was an editor and reporter at The Courier-Journal in Louisville, KY. Edwards is a board member at the Center for Teaching Quality and a member of the advisory board of TeachingWorks at the University of Michigan.

Cross-Boundary Leadership

Education is all about working and leading across boundaries; it equally involves policymakers, practitioners, funders, and thought leaders. We sometimes think that one specific thing is the “essential ingredient” that will change everything, but all of these pieces work together so it’s important to be able to work with these different groups.






Data and Information Challenges

People often talk about wanting good information, research, and data to do their work better, but there is a lot of evidence that, even when it is available, they do not use it. I feel that the supply side of that is well-attended-to; there is a lot of good information out there about what works, as well as research and data to inform policymaking and practice. I think the real challenge is whetting the appetite of the demand side so that people use good information grounded in research and data.

Another challenge regarding data is that many people use biased data and self-select the information they want to use and that aligns with what they are trying to do. This self-selected information doesn’t just pertain to research data—it includes news and opinion journalism. We tend to default to following information that we believe in or agree with and this creates an echo chamber, calcifying what we think and why we think that way. It can be disheartening to see situations where honest conversation is encouraged, but people talk past each other and are sometimes disrespectful because there is a difference of opinion.

This is also related to the notion of media and digital literacy. Everyone—both kids and adults—need to be able to discern and make sense of what they’re reading, whether it’s in school or out of school, and judge it as an opinion or straight reporting.

Social Media

One of my clichés here at Education Week is “get hip or die.” Over the past 10-15 years, newspapers and magazines have been completely disrupted by the internet, just like music and TV and movies have been. Ed Week specifically was incredibly upended at the beginning of the 21st century, and so we worked to reimagine what we could do to remain relevant and useful. Now a majority of our business is digital, in addition to our print editions and live events.

We see ourselves as students of new-media opportunities and how to use such new approaches as social media to further promote the work we are trying to do. We still believe in improving schools and outcomes for kids, families, and communities, and we are just now doing the work with different tools, like social media and digital storytelling. One benefit of social media that we don’t have with print is that it’s an interactive two-way street and allows us to connect with each other and with our readers and users. Social media has also become a strategy for disseminating news. People don’t go to news website homepages as much as they used to; they prefer to sample and scan their news via social media, blogs, and email. This change in how our audience receives their news led us to change how we share it with them.

Education Media Changing Over the Years

Education Week launched in the early 1980s, when I was in Louisville covering education for the local newspaper. Back then, people didn’t know what was going on in other parts of their state, much less across the country; education news tended to be very locally focused, except for occasional association magazines and newsletters.

When Ed Week came along, it changed that dynamic pretty quickly. Before it launched, the initial market research indicated that no one cared about national education news and only wanted to know what was happening at the local level. Ron Wolk, our founder and first editor, ignored that research and saw the potential for Ed Week, particularly after major national education policy work like the A Nation at Risk report. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, it became much clearer that education was a national conversation and that states could learn from each other, and it was during this time period – in 1997, actually – that we launched Quality Counts to help provide that state information.

Now, largely because of the internet, education media is much more widespread and typically of high quality. There’s more competition in the niche education market and capacity in daily markets is increasing again, although unevenly, around the country. The downside to having such a large media market is that users need to have media literacy to differentiate between factual news and opinion because it tends to all be out there together.

Leadership Lessons Learned

As a leader, it’s important to be intentional about having a vision and building capacity around that vision. Leadership is an everyday activity—it is part of how you run meetings, how you create culture, and how you interact with your colleagues. Creating an organizational culture that you want to be a part of is a big part of this. I often say that our organization is an extremely humane place to work because we care about and support each other and our work. When colleagues care about each other and feel that they matter, work will be better and employees will be more productive and creative.

EPFP Experience

My experience as an EPFP Fellow was very significant for me and my career. At the time, I was working at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching on early childhood issues, and EPFP helped me be able to connect the dots and think about it in the context of what we were all doing across sectors and inside and outside of schools. It was a great opportunity to step away from my day-to-day responsibilities and think with others about our work in different ways. For me, it reinforced the importance of context and remembering that issues are not just black and white. Instead, we need to celebrate the messiness and cross-sector nature of our work.


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Cross-Boundary Leader: Dr. Robert Barr (DC EPFP 69-70)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Thursday, July 16, 2015

 

Cross-Boundary Leader: Dr. Robert Barr
(DC EPFP 69-70)

Dr. Robert Barr is an author and education consultant for Boise State University, and is one of the nation’s leading experts on teaching minority and low-income students and improving high-poverty schools. He has served as dean of the Boise State University College of Education and the Oregon State University College of Education, and professor and Director of Teacher Education at Indiana University. Dr. Barr has authored or co-authored 12 books, including Building a Culture of Hope: Enriching Schools with Optimism and Opportunity, which he co-wrote with Emily Gibson and was selected as Learning Magazine’s 2015 Teacher’s Choice Award for Professional Development and as a finalist for the REVERE Distinguished Book Award.

Career Challenges

My entire career has been in colleges of education at universities, and throughout the decades I’ve been working in this area, not much has changed in our teacher education programs. This is a great disappointment. I spent a lot of my time trying to make teacher education more effective, and I found working with state legislators had the greatest positive impact. I think that the most effective way to change teacher education is to change policy. For example, a simple but powerful idea I support is that no one should be certified as a teacher who has not worked in a classroom with a teacher and students over a period of time and document their impact on student achievement.





When I was dean of the Oregon State University College of Education, I went about trying to improve teacher education in a different way. In an effort to ensure our graduates would be effective teachers, we introduced a value-added teaching program. With the help of the Teaching Research Development at Western Oregon University, we developed a list of knowledge and skills that were essential to effective teaching. We developed this checklist of outcomes as a quality assurance component: We promised schools that, if you hire our graduates, we guarantee they can do what is on the checklist. This “warranty program” gained us national attention and led to important transformations in our programs. It became clear to our faculty that there wasn’t a way to offer that guarantee for all of the students in their classes, so we raised the admission standards for teacher education programs. The end result was stronger students coming into our programs, a stronger instructional program, and better screening of students as they passed through the programs.

Leadership Lessons

The biggest leadership lesson I learned was from my experience as an EPFP Fellow. While in the program, a group of us were traveling in San Antonio, Texas, and heard about the need for poll workers at a school board election in a nearby city. There was a slate of Latino candidates in a small community who were trying to make positive changes, but they were met with a lot of resistance from their neighbors: a candidate’s home was burned, families and voters were threatened, and federal marshals were at voting locations for fear of further violence. The Latino candidates won the election, but when asked what they planned to do, they had goals like paving school parking lots. They had gained power but had limited knowledge about what they could do in their new roles. Later they secured funding to visit effective schools and school districts to learn what their potential for improvement could be. The lesson I took from the experience was that it is critically important to see the context of people across all agencies, organizations, and communities—public and private—and use those experiences to expand our perspective.

EPFP Experience

My year in EPFP changed my life and my family’s life. When I participated, it was called Washington Internships in Education (WIE) and Fellows from across the country would move to Washington, DC, for a year and intern at an education organization or agency. I had started my career as a high school teacher in Fort Worth, Texas, and loved it, and after five years I thought the natural progression was to become a school administrator, but I was then offered a fellowship at Purdue University, which I took and moved there to finish my doctorate. I focused on social studies education and was considering a career in teacher education when I saw an advertisement for the WIE program and sent in a form for more information. Soon after a rigorous interview progress, I was selected as one of 20 Fellows in the program.

Being a Fellow changed my cultural world. Our cohort included an incredible, diverse group from all around the country, and many became my closest friends. The program was a transforming experience for all of us, and we were able to travel around the country visiting schools and talking to policy makers.

For me, my EPFP network remained strong after my year in Washington. I maintained contact with a number of Fellows for several years, and after I moved out of Washington, I relied on my contacts at the U.S. Department of Education to stay informed of federal policy.

Leading Across Boundaries

It’s important to work across boundaries and engage multiple groups to affect change. My work has focused on supporting low-income students and a big part of helping them is involving the community to better understand poverty. Poverty doesn’t only exist in urban cities; it is present in places we wouldn’t think of, like Boise and Salt Lake City. Harnessing the power of the neighborhood school and the involvement of parents and the community is key to helping low-income students. You have to realize that public education is not an island and that you have to reach out to different audiences and groups to make a positive change.

 
 
 

School Culture

Early in my career, I did research on alternative schools and why students and teachers were so committed to them. We interviewed thousands of students about why they liked these smaller alternative schools more than big schools with lots of amenities. They said that at larger schools, they felt like no one cared about them and they felt invisible. At the alternative schools, they said, they felt that people really cared for each other and were like a family. The single concept that seemed to emerge out of these schools where poor students succeeded was the idea of a surrogate family. Many of these students live in rough neighborhoods with struggling families, and the concept of a school where teachers and students care about each other makes a huge difference to them.

Developing a school culture focused on caring also changes the sense of helplessness many poor students seem to acquire. They often feel that no matter how hard they work in life, things won’t get better, and they enter school far behind their peers and believe they cannot learn. Schools that foster a strong, positive culture understand that high-poverty schools can also be high-performing schools when they build a family atmosphere, and support and high expectations can have a transformative effect on kids. Effective school culture can transform despair into hope and have a powerful positive impact on our schools’ neediest students.

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