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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: Ellie Wilson (MN EPFP '13-14)

Posted By Sarah McCann, Monday, October 9, 2017
Updated: Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Ellie Wilson is an Education Specialist and Research Coordinator at the Institute on Community Integration located in the University of Minnesota. In this role she works on policy and program initiatives that support people with disabilities. She previously served as the Director of Education for the Autism Society of Minnesota, a state-based nonprofit organization committed to education, support, and advocacy designed to enhance the lives of those affected by autism from birth through retirement. She oversaw programming, training, and general education for individuals with special needs, their families, and community members. Wilson has more than ten years of experience working with children with special needs in various settings.

 

Disability and Quality of Services

At the Institute on Community Integration we’re thinking about the quality of life and therefore the quality of services that people receive in the community. Within ICI, the Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Home and Community Based Services Outcome Measurement (RRTC-OM) focuses on how we think about the quality of services that are provided to people with disabilities, in their homes and in their work places. Many of these services are funded by government dollars, so there is a lot of public interest in the quality of their life. Past measures tended to focus on money spent on services, staffing ratio, and the movement of people from institutions to the community. It has become increasingly important to demonstrate the effectiveness of the services for persons with disabilities. You do think about personal outcomes, but the other part of quality is what happens in the aggregate and how we look at the quality of systems. There are a lot of issues that we talk about in disability policy that exactly mirror issues that we addressed in EPFP. For example, equity, policy transparency, and allocation of services. At ICI we talk a lot about system performance, such as funding and how we use data and data management to support policy.

RRTC-OM is funded by the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitative Research. Over the next five years the center’s job is to think about how we as a broad community define quality of life and then how we measure it. Even though I live in Minnesota and think about local issues, the center works nationally. Measuring quality is an interesting field that was new to me, but ties to my EPFP experience.

I jumped from a small but well-respected nonprofit organization to ICI. I loved that job and I continue to support their work, but I couldn’t turn down this opportunity to work with different leaders in the field of disability policy – whether that’s education, legal, human rights, or health policy. I’m still at the beginning of my career, so to work with these colleagues and develop a national network means a lot. EPFP had that same interdisciplinary and national lens so I think about it all the time.  

 

EPFP Experience

I came into EPFP because of another alum who went through the Minnesota program a few years before me. She described the program as being a place to surround yourself with intellectual conversation with well-rounded individuals. I felt that being involved in this type of group would inform the type of impact I wanted to make on the policy and communities I work with. It was a privilege to sit around a table with people who have such thoughtful perspectives and intelligence to contribute to the conversation.

What is so valuable about the EPFP process is that even though the core and fundamental ideas of the program were in education policies (which is important and tied to disability policy), when we were having our sessions in MN and in DC, we didn’t only approach a single policy but an approach to highly networked interdisciplinary collaborative efforts to all types of policy change. The natural effect is that even as you work in different areas, you can apply those experiences and lessons very broadly and I think that is unique to the professional programs out there.

Networking was also a big part of my EPFP experience. The Minnesota coordinators do an excellent job of connecting Fellows to people with all kinds of perspectives and careers, and it’s really inspiring to recognize all of those important players in your field. I come to DC all the time and I feel there are EPFP graduates everywhere.

 

Leadership Lessons Learned

The deeper I get into this work, the more I realize that leadership doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Instead, it’s more about effective coordination of the teams around you. I also think networking is one of the most important skills of a good leader. Successful leaders need to be inclined toward connecting and cooperating with as many potential or realized stakeholders as possible. While working among multiple stakeholders can also pose its own challenges, it leads to slow and steady progress and sustainability.

The most important lesson is the importance of laying groundwork early for strong relationships with those that could be allies in policy improvement and reform. Having the strong relationships early will make it a lot easier to try to plan out partnerships in the future. Sometimes you realize part way into a project or research that you can bring on a partner that would be effective or engage a new stakeholder. One thing I love about ICI is they’ve done a great job of creating a national advisory team before the research even began. It is the smartest way to do it, I can’t imagine doing it another way.

 

Cross-Boundary Leadership and Challenges

There is no single context in which policy is important to individuals and families with autism or other disabilities; they must navigate through housing, law enforcement, education, and employment sectors as does everyone. This naturally makes my work cross-boundary because we’re always working in so many contexts. The disability sector is unique because it crosses both disciplinary and partisan lines, which allows us the opportunity to engage people from across all spectrums who have a stake in this work.

The more work that I do advocating for local, state, and federal policy, one thing has become crystal clear to me. It is important and necessary to look at policy from an interdisciplinary, cross-leadership perspective. There is no way the hard work people do can advance to policy improvement and reform without the cooperation of folks from all types of fields. Even the work I am doing now, I am regularly in contact with all kinds of supporters who come from all kinds of fields. It is a challenge and a privilege to be able to work across that many disciplines with the same policy goal, but it is imperative to our success for anything we want to promote as our research progresses.

One of the biggest challenges is the juggling that comes with interdisciplinary cooperation and collaboration. Though that’s the way to succeed it also sometimes means that you have to consider the priorities and needs of people who are coming from different policy angles – for example, budgets, unifying message, infrastructure concerns. It can be difficult to create something that captures the priorities across all of those disciplines. But when you can do it effectively and collaboratively, even in the toughest political climate, you have a shot at making positive change. 

Tags:  alumni  disability  leadership  research 

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Larry Leverett (NJ EPFP 88-89)

Posted By Sarah McCann, Monday, June 5, 2017

 Cross-Boundary Leader:
Larry Leverett
(NJ EPFP 88-89)

 

Dr. Larry Leverett served as the Executive Director of the Panasonic Foundation, a corporate foundation with a mission to help public school systems with high percentages of children in poverty to improve learning for all students. Although recently retired, he maintains the passion and expertise he brought to the role, along with a deep commitment to improving teaching and learning for all students.

Prior to joining Panasonic Foundation, he spent 16 years serving as a superintendent in three school districts:  Greenwich, Connecticut, Plainfield, New Jersey, and Englewood, New Jersey. His career in education included urban and suburban experiences as a classroom teacher, elementary principal, assistant superintendent, school board member, and Assistant State Commissioner of Education.  Dr. Larry Leverett is at present supporting school district leadership and superintendent teams with governance effectiveness, team alignment, and equity strategies.

Career: Why Cross-Boundary Collaboration is Important in Education

“This is what I believe I am here to do.” 

From early on in my career to the last day as Executive Director for the Panasonic Foundation, my focus has been to advance educational equity and a commitment to ensuring every child has what they need to be successful. It was a career-long journey to advance the focus on children with the greatest need. I served as a Superintendent for three school districts over a total of 16 years. I loved my work and the help I was offering my districts. My work in education follows the mission statement of The Plainfield Public Schools closely: “In partnership with its community, shall do whatever it takes for every student to achieve high academic standards. No alibis, no excuses, no exceptions!”

There are tremendous disparities in society that play out in our schools, mainly with children of color and those with special needs. They are not provided with the resources they need to disrupt the challenges presented by institutional barriers associated with race and class. The general issues in our education system have not been addressed because of our failure to address structural barriers that constrain access to opportunities supportive of student success. Cross-boundary leadership focused on collaboration across education, health, family wellness, and human service-oriented educational, governmental and non-profit organizations opens lines of collaboration necessary to provide comprehensive supports to children and families impacted by multiple risk factors.

As a cross-boundary leader you must build relationships inside your agency and outside, to ensure that the broad spectrum of available resources is effectively used. Partnerships and collaborations must be a core leadership value to provide the wrap-around services required to meet the diverse needs of children and their families. This is no time for “lone rangers” or heroes who rely upon silo-based approached to address the complex issues that influence student and family success.  School and district leadership that systematically works across institutional boundaries is essential to provide a diverse array of supports in and outside the schools.  

During my time as the Superintendent for Plainfield Public Schools, one of New Jersey’s 30 poorest school districts, I was faced with the loss of millions of dollars in state funding that would have eradicated a comprehensive community schools strategy that involved education and human service supports for our children and families. Fortunately, our efforts to provide comprehensive wrap-around services evolved through several years of work to build relationships across sector boundaries.  The history of collaboration resulted in shared ownership of the community school approach and provided the relationship trust necessary to challenge legislative decisions that would have negatively impacted collaborative investments to build student and family support systems.   Fortunately, we invested in building community leadership and had the relationship trust to tackle a significant negative impact on inter-agency/inter-governmental efforts to support a system-wide community schools approach. We were successful because of the cross-sector support that included the mayor, elected and appointed officials, health service leaders, clergy leaders, non-profit organizations, and community and parent organizations.  The wisdom of working across boundaries to build shared ownership and responsibility not only helped us to provide comprehensive services for children and families; it proved to be the basis for overcoming significant obstacles that threatened the partnerships we had developed. 

Leadership Lessons Learned

One of the biggest leadership lessons I’ve learned is how crucial it is for leaders to truly know who they are. It is important for a leader to be grounded in a small set of core values that defines their approach to leadership. Leaders must be anchored by a set of deeply embedded core values that informs principled leadership. Core values are important to shaping the leader’s theory of change that outlines the major assumptions on how to move an organization toward its mission. Within education, I carry these values to ensure the success of all learners we are charged to educate.

We must commit to an unshakeable belief in our ability to help all children to succeed in school, family, and community.  The commitment to this belief places that responsibility on leaders and adults interacting with our learners to have high expectation for themselves and the children they serve.  Value each learner and work to release the genius within every child.  

We cannot be successful in our roles as school and district leaders working in isolation of community-based systems and resources.  Cross-boundary leadership is essential to ensuring broad, comprehensive systems of support required to meet student needs. We can’t get the job done for our children working in isolation.

Focus on the classroom and providing school teachers and principals with the supports needed to ensure high quality instruction to all children. Invest in building differential support and capacity building systems to grow and retain leaders in districts, schools, and classrooms.

EPFP Experience and Value

I participated in EPFP as an assistant superintendent and the Fellow experience was a great breakthrough opportunity for my career. EPFP gave me exposure to a network that was not available to me before. For example, it opened the door that allowed me to grow as a leader and gave me the ability to network with policy makers and practitioners across the country. I have a broader network thanks to EPFP and for several decades enjoyed a career supported by EPFP colleagues that I have called upon for advice. EPFP gave me the space and opportunity to discuss my practice confidentially. The biggest value of EPFP was the connections I made. Relationships that I established during my time as a Fellow have been sustained throughout my career as an educational leader. The use of the ever-expanding network has benefited me greatly. Even though I leave formal leadership, this interview is an example of alumni engagement and through this opportunity I can reach out to other Fellows. I value the relationships I have in DC, in my state, and nationally.

Throughout my affiliation with the Institute for Educational Leadership, I believe EPFP has always managed to be at the forefront of providing a space for policy discussions and defining policy for leaders involved in our school systems as well as those in legislature, the press, etc. No matter the agenda change, EPFP is always in the front of learning and teaching, informing others of trends, policies, and developments in the field of education.  

Tags:  alumni  cross-boundary leader  equity  leadership 

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Career Reinvention (It's Better to Wear Out, Not Rust Out)

Posted By Sarah McCann, Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ron Hoekstra
WIE 1973-74

Career Reinvention (It's Better to Wear Out, Not Rust Out)

1973

I met the last member of my class as I returned to my room at Airlie House, an antebellum mansion in Virginia’s hunt country, where WIE hosted our orientation gathering. He snored softly, his beard spread atop his blanket. His unopened backpack rested against a wall. Hello, Bernard Glassman, newly arrived from Thailand. Welcome to our cadre of bright, talented, culturally and lingually diverse, extremely well-educated, and generally personable dewey-eyed change-makers.

By default, most of us aspired to improve public schooling. A few through federal agencies and policies. A couple already knew that the real action occurred at the state level. One or two carried the superintendency bug. We all sought to explore national-level policy making, hone networking skills, and learn how to effectively govern. Nearly everyone agreed that living / working / studying in Washington, DC trumped just about anything.   

1951

My initial leadership training began in second grade. In that classroom of 13, I figured out how to extend and enhance my learning. The local post office connected me to the world beyond the corn and soybean fields of east-central Illinois. The school’s six teachers offered rich resource networks through which I leveraged the content of textbooks and workbooks into nearly limitless inquiry and discovery.

I learned that classmates esteemed me when I invited their questions and shared what I knew. Teachers actively coached and mentored me. Community leaders invested their time and wisdom in me. Donors underwrote the cost of Boy Scout summer camps and the American Legion’s Boys State. Nearly everyone in my home town of 550 helped raise me.

 

1961

As I left for college, I recognized the efficacy of the three fundamentals of successful social and governance paradigms. Articulate policies that always recognize, affirm and empower human potential. Develop safe paths for use of “best practices” and trial and error where those don’t work. Model and practice networking.

A decade of undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate schooling conceptualized and reinforced those three fundamentals. 2 1/2 years of pre- and post-doctoral internships confirmed and deepened their importance. The Ford Foundation’s Washington Internship in Education iced the cake.


1990

Fast-forward through 16 years of public school leadership — always at the district level. About six months into my final superintendency I realized that I no longer sought the next job. My self-diagnosed “restless intellect” prompted me to career shift into the private sector.

 

2007

17 years and three successful non-education related businesses later, I once again career-shifted. This time as a volunteer teacher in developing countries. My wife, Linda and I lived and taught for two years in Honduras and for one year in Indonesia. We returned to the US in 2013.

As expats, we lived in local neighborhoods, shopped in local markets, and ate in local restaurants. We visited cities, small towns and villages. Nearly everywhere we met missionaries and volunteers through whom churches and charitable organizations sought to provide free, in-country medical, dental, child-care, and education services to the poorest and neediest. While we noted the obvious benefits provided, we also witnessed an unexpected result of such well-intended charity — a continuing culture of dependence.

Nearly always missing was the bedrock of successful social and governance paradigms. Few policies recognized, affirmed and empowered human potential. Fewer, if any, safe paths existed for use of “best practices” and trial and error where those didn’t work. Networking mostly promoted and facilitated corruption.


2016 and Beyond

To help reduce cultural and economic dependence, we created The Foundation for Enterprise and Hope, a 501c(3) non-profit corporation, doing business as The Coffee Can Group.

Through no-interest micro-loans, we aim to enable burgeoning entrepreneurs (particularly young women) to start a business, produce a profit, and grow personal wealth. As loan recipients repay their loans, those monies remain in the local community to be reinvested in other proposed businesses. Interrupting debilitating cycles of social and economic dependence begins with enterprise and personal wealth.

The three pillars of policy, networking, and leadership provided us the conceptual framework for fostering economic and social independence. Based on these tenets, we support sustainable economic empowerment through enterprise. Networking generates clients and social investors. We mentor and coach others to lead this effort.

We rooted our social investment model in successful small business structures and practices. The Coffee Can Group’s leadership teams include entrepreneurs who saw opportunities to make money, created businesses, produced profits, and developed personal wealth. Along the way they helped others and had fun.

We envision hundreds, perhaps, thousands of persons contributing fewer than $25 each. Our Coffee Can Connections comprise networks of social investors who form investment groups of five or six, generate a group investment donation, and then reach out to others to form new investment groups.

The Coffee Can Group also intends to engage with public and independent schools and colleges across the US. We seek to network with elementary and high school teachers who wish to integrate our economic and social investment model into their study of languages, cultures, geography, and economics. We plan to network with college and university professors and their undergraduate and graduate students to encourage them to investigate and document the outcomes of growing individual enterprise in developing countries.

Learn more about and with us.

Tags:  alumni  career  leadership  networking  policy  WIE 

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Maurice Sykes

Posted By Jennifer Masutani, Monday, November 24, 2014
Cross-Boundary Leader: Maurice Sykes

(EPFP '78-79)

 

Maurice Sykes is an Education Policy Fellowship (EPFP ’78-79) Alum and Director of the Early Childhood Leadership Institute at the University of the District of Columbia. His book, Doing the Right Thing for Children: Eight Qualities of Leadership, was recently published by Redleaf Press. In his book, he shares stories of his leadership journey sprinkled with personal anecdotes that reflect the challenges and opportunities that he has experienced throughout his professional career. He has organized the book around his prescription for leadership success based on his eight core leadership values: Human Potential, Knowledge, Social Justice, Competence, Fun and Enjoyment, Personal Renewal, Perseverance, and Courage. We asked him about his leadership lessons.

Cross-boundary leadership

Being a well-developed Myers-Briggs extrovert, quite naturally I draw my energy and inspiration from the external world.  I have always possessed a collaborative spirit and I have always believed that the business of education is everybody's business.  Therefore, I operate in multiple spheres of influence within and outside of the educational arena.

 

I view myself as an urban educator whose specialty is early childhood education.  However, my book is aimed at developing cross-boundary, early childhood leaders who view their work as a building block for school readiness, K-12 school reform, workforce development/college readiness and the overall improvement of community economic development.  While situated in the early childhood space, my book is about enrolling the right people and fostering collaboration across organizational boundaries to promote social justice and equality of opportunity for children from under-resourced communities. It is intended to create a compelling context for doing the right thing for children.

Challenge

Some things just come with the territory and challenges and opportunities are a part of the leadership experience.  Some of the challenges are from external forces, some are from internal forces and some of the challenges are self-generated.  In all three instances, the leader must first assess where the challenges and opportunities are coming from and what are the most appropriate set of remedies/responses to "fix" the situation.  The least productive response is to seek to find the "culprit" by blaming everyone except yourself. It has been my experience that when challenges arise it is time to bring vision, voice and visibility to the situation.  This is where you apply your knowledge of you your craft, knowledge of yourself and knowledge of others to the situation.  It is the interaction and the interdependence of these threes spheres of knowledge that enables leaders to overcome challenges and exploit opportunities.


“EPFP was the most powerful professional development I had in my career, in large part due to a meticulous way EPFP created a set of developmental experiences that took people out of their comfort zone and exposed them to different perspectives. EPFP was transformational for me due to people we interacted with. We were taught networking as a science, how to cast and refurbish the net; how to understand networking and self on a deeper level. We had a broad range of opportunities and developmental experiences and interacted with cutting edge thinkers. EPFP was enlightening and transformative.”

 

Lessons Learned

The biggest lesson that I have learned is that sometimes you have to slow down in order to speed up change that is enduring and transformational.  There are two core leadership lessons that emerge from my book:

First, leaders need to be in constant conversation with themselves and their practice. What gets in the way is our biggest blind spot – absence of self-knowledge. Leaders must challenge their own thinking. A strong leader knows him or her self and has the interpersonal power to enter a room and engage in a dialogue with others in a strategic, authentic and purposeful manner.

Second, courageous acts are not always great, but they are courageous nonetheless. For example, it takes courage to confront one's self and others in order to continuously advocate for children.  The quality of a great leader should be measured as much by his or her detractors as it is measured by his or her supporters. I am always somewhat skeptical about leaders who everyone likes. People might not always like your decisions, but if you are guided by your core values you will always do what is in the best interest of children. 

 

Tags:  alumni  leadership  washington dc 

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