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Welcome to the EPFP Alumni Blog! Here we will be highlighting some of the work EPFP alumni have been doing around the country. 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: Rachel Gwaltney (DC EPFP 11-12)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Monday, January 04, 2016

 

Cross-Boundary Leader

Rachel Gwaltney (DC EPFP 11-12)

Rachel Gwaltney is the Director of Policy and Partnerships at the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA), a national nonprofit organization focused on closing the achievement gap through high-quality summer learning for all children and youth. In this role, she leads development and implementation of services, projects, and partnerships that strengthen summer learning policy and build capacity of state and national leaders and organizations. Prior to joining NSLA, Gwaltney served as Chief of Programs for Higher Achievement, an organization that focuses on closing the opportunity gap for middle school youth. She has recently held roles at District of Columbia Public Schools, Data Quality Campaign, and Horizons National.






Summer Learning Awareness and Policy

NSLA encompasses a broad definition of summer learning activities; it can be anything from summer school and library programs to community-based organizations and parks and recreation programs. Our focus has been on improving quality, access, and demand for these programs through advocacy activities at the federal, state, and local levels. We also advance our mission through grassroots efforts, training, and technical assistance with program providers, which elevates the quality of summer learning efforts in the field.

My work centers on advocacy at the state and federal levels: helping policymakers understand the effect of summer learning on student achievement and success. For example, NSLA has developed and shared lots of research on the impact of summer learning programs on low-income students and communities, and how the achievement gap grows when youth don’t have equitable access to these types of programs.

Growing summer learning programs can be difficult because there is only one dedicated federal funding stream for afterschool learning, and it’s shared among multiple types of education providers (the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program). We believe it’s really important to keep investing in that funding stream at the federal level because it is a critical investment in equitable opportunities that schools and communities provide to their students. Even better, community-based entities often leverage that funding into additional private dollars and in-kind resources, all of which are invested into student success. We want policymakers to know that there is a huge demand for summer learning programs and we need more funding to continue working to meet that demand.

Summer Learning Partnerships

Partnerships are also an important part of making summer learning a priority. We’ve been working closely with the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading to advance summer learning as a strategy to help kids stay on track with literacy and to reduce retention of students in third grade. We are seeing more programs incorporate STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) into their activities too, so finding partnerships to enhance quality and bring new resources to the field are important.

The programs and partnerships we represent go beyond just academics. NSLA’s mission is to “ensure that every child is safe, healthy, and engaged in learning during the summer,” so we also support programs in parks and recreation, physical activity and sports, camping, and environmental science and nature learning. There’s great research out there on the positive health outcomes for youth involved in summer activities with structured physical activity and nutrition components, and the negative consequences for children who lack these resources.

Nutrition and summer food service is a big part of NSLA’s work as well. With the reauthorization of the Summer Food Service Program, we hope to ensure that kids have access not only to healthy and consistent meals, but also to learning opportunities during the summer. Many students in low-income communities are eligible for free and reduced-price meals during the school year, but only one-sixth of those same kids receive meals during the summer. We’re working with providers and districts to find additional providers to serve meals when school isn’t in session. It’s also a great opportunity to connect more kids to summer learning programs; kids who are getting summer meals may not be in summer school, but they can still access enrichment opportunities in libraries or through other community organizations.

Opportunities and Challenges for Summer Learning

One of our greatest opportunities is that the summer learning network is becoming savvier about quality. We’re able to highlight many different programs and how they accomplish summer learning and non-academic goals through their quality of service. Higher quality programs allow us to really show positive outcomes, both academic and nonacademic. We have a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the impact of summer learning on closing the opportunity and achievement gaps.

A major challenge to our collective work is the difficult funding environment. Many summer learning programs struggle with sustainability as we see an increased demand for programs but not increased funding. We need to make sure that resources go to the communities and kids who need them most.

Another challenge is reaching kids in rural areas. Even in low-income urban areas, it’s easier to get kids to a central location for programs. This is much harder to do in rural areas, where kids, families, schools, and communities are much more spread out. To meet this need, we’re working with rural leaders and organizations to build an understanding of why summer learning programs are important and determine how to use resources like technology to make programs available to more kids.

Cross-Boundary Leadership

My role at NSLA focuses on connecting our organization to other sectors that are also focused on youth. Part of that effort is finding state and national organizations to partner with in order to advance our work. We try to work broadly and collaboratively with these different sectors, and we work with many different organizations, from the USDA and child hunger groups on the summer meals component, to the afterschool community and national parks and rec associations on physical activity programs. In addition, we look outside education to broaden the summer learning scope, such as working with health and human services programs, and the business sector on summer youth employment.

Leadership Lessons Learned

I’ve always tried to remember that students are at the center of what we do, and everything we do should have an impact on youth. It can be easy to get caught up with the needs of adults or communities or budgets, but kids are still graduating who are not ready for college or the workforce, so we need to take that seriously as leaders.

I’ve also learned that it is important to make the time and space for meaningful collaboration. So many opportunities for collaboration get left on the table because it is hard to do. It takes extra time and effort and we don’t always feel we’re getting the most out of it at the time, but more often than not, it pays off in huge dividends down the road.

EPFP Experience and Value

EPFP was a great turning point in my career. I came into the program after more than 10 years of working on the program side, but I had always been interested in advocacy. I thought EPFP would be a good opportunity to see if I wanted to shift my focus to policy. I really enjoyed our conversations about a variety of issues within the education sector, and the chance to think more broadly about the work I was doing, the students I was serving, and the impact I was making on the education landscape. Hearing the perspectives of the many types of professionals in my cohort—lobbyists, principals, leaders from national organizations—was especially meaningful to me. My time as a Fellow was a great experience that inspired me to get a graduate degree in public policy and join the larger conversation on public education.

I think EPFP is valuable in helping people build a strong network. I’ve kept in touch with many of the people I met through EPFP and have worked with a few of them since our cohort year. The program also gives Fellows a window into what policy looks like on the ground and how it aligns with the work they are doing. Understanding the scope and breadth of education policy and what it really looks like has been useful in my career and EPFP gave me a great background in that.


 

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Cross-Boundary Leader: James Ford (NC EPFP 14-15)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Monday, December 07, 2015

 

Cross-Boundary Leader

James Ford (NC EPFP 14-15)

James Ford is the 2014 North Carolina Teacher of the Year and teaches ninth-grade world history in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. During his year as Teacher of the Year, he traveled around North Carolina as an ambassador for more than 95,000 teachers in the state, and served as an advisor to the State Board of Education and a board member of the North Carolina Public School Forum. He was also named the 2013 Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Teacher of the Year and the 2013 North Carolina Southwest Regional Teacher of the Year. Ford originally intended to pursue a career in journalism, but became a teacher after working as a truancy intervention specialist and the director of a teen center for at-risk youth.

Teacher of the Year Opportunities

The most interesting experience for me as Teacher of the Year was sitting on the State Board of Education. It was fascinating to go from learning about policy as a classroom teacher to advising the state board that helps to create that policy. I enjoyed seeing what these ideas look like and how they change as they go through the pipeline.





Traveling around the state showed me a lot and revealed that teaching looks very different depending on where you are. There are so many moving parts that affect teaching and education, from geography to constituency to district funding levels, and the challenge and opportunity is that there is no one way to do it right. Many teachers across North Carolina are digging deep into their trick bag and pulling out all the stops to make sure their students are achieving, and it was wonderful to have the chance to see the multitude of ways this plays out in different classrooms and schools. The fact that we all do the same job but are able to do it in such different ways is magical.

Working in a Diverse, Urban High School

I think the most surprising thing about the students that I work with is that they are absolutely brilliant. They come to us not being devoid of knowledge, but embodying and exhibiting unique skill sets and talents that are often overlooked in a school setting. Some students may have deficiencies and, in part because they are in an urban school, they often get written off as being behind or not being able to achieve, which affects how they see themselves as students. In reality, they are very gifted and grateful for educators who see the best in them, who challenge them, who care about them, and who really demonstrate true love for them as a person and their well-being.

Working in this environment comes with challenges as well, including the effects of a high concentration of poverty around our school. We also deal with the inherent challenges of educational equity on a daily basis, as many of these students don’t necessarily have the same level of opportunity as their peers. I think we need to collectively do a better job of accounting for what happens outside the classroom and how that impacts what happens inside to ensure these students have the best opportunity to succeed.

Entering the Teaching Profession

Despite all of the baggage that comes with becoming a teacher—low pay, scarce resources, lack of regard and respect—I felt called to it, and it has proven to be one of the best decisions I’ve made. I fell in love with something I didn’t know I had a desire for; it doesn’t feel like work to me. There are a lot of things that might dissuade people from entering the profession, but at the end of the day, it’s about fulfilling your personal calling. If that calling is to serve children through education, then you should chase after it with reckless abandon.

Cross-Boundary Leadership and Challenges

I think leading across boundaries is being able to get along with people from different sectors and remaining focused on your goal. Successful leadership also involves learning how to disagree without being disagreeable or disrespectful and leading by example. I really feel like something I was able to accomplish as Teacher of the Year was to be a connector in a polarizing atmosphere in state politics. I didn’t play into the divisiveness and was able to have candid, friendly, and respectful conversations with people who may not have shared my political beliefs.

A big challenge in leadership is that not everyone is solution-oriented. For some people, their objective is to stick to their position come hell or high water, even if it might not move the conversation forward. For me, the objective is to help kids and entertain ideas of how to do that, even if they might diverge from my own views. Leadership is about give and take, and at the end of the day, we all have to compromise to reach shared goals.

Leadership Lessons Learned

The biggest leadership lesson I’ve learned is to define my principles and live them. In the classroom, I believe this is especially critical when teaching content. It’s important to pull out lessons and highlight the central ideas and principles to students. Outside the classroom, it’s about figuring out how you can fulfill your principles while still being willing to compromise.

EPFP Experience and Value

EPFP totally changed my outlook on education. I quickly realized that it was an excellent opportunity for teachers to better understand what shapes the world we work in. It was great being in the company of the people who made decisions that impacted my work and learning more about the process behind those decisions. From the very first session, I felt empowered because I was able to talk candidly, provide my perspective as a teacher, and ask questions; I felt like I could go into a room with anyone and have a sophisticated conversation about education policy. I know that I’m now a better educator because of the well-rounded knowledge I gained during my experience as an EPFP Fellow.

I truly believe that EPFP has the potential to transform the role of teachers. “Teacher leader” is a buzzword in education, but not many programs adequately prepare teachers for that position. EPFP positions teachers who have ambition to learn, know, and do more to be lifted into the leadership space and to have the opportunity to take on leadership roles. I think if more teachers participated in EPFP, it could become a program that transforms who teachers are and what teaching is.


 

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Aimee Rogstad Guidera (DC EPFP 97-98)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Thursday, November 19, 2015

 

Cross-Boundary Leader

Aimee Rogstad Guidera (DC EPFP 97-98)

Aimee Rogstad Guidera is President and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign (DQC), a national nonprofit organization leading the effort to empower educators, students, parents, and policymakers with the information they need to make the best decisions to improve student outcomes. Prior to founding DQC in 2005, Guidera served as the director of the Washington, DC, office of the National Center for Educational Achievement. She also served as the vice president of programs for the National Alliance of Business, worked in the education division of the National Governors Association’s Center for Best Practices, and taught for the Japanese Ministry of Education. Named one of TIME’s 12 Education Activists of 2012, Guidera is a Pahara-Aspen Education Fellow and serves on the board of directors for the Institute for Educational Leadership and the Friends of the Hennepin County (Minnesota) Library.






The Importance of Data

We believe at the Data Quality Campaign that when students, parents, educators, and policymakers have the right data in the right format at the right time, students achieve their best. We have the data infrastructure in place now to transform education for every child in this country. But there is a lot that needs to happen for this goal to be a reality.

One big misconception is that data is just a test score, but in reality, it is so much more. The richer the information we’re able to access, the more we can use it to improve student and system performance with the goal of boosting student achievement. Data includes everything from course patterns and grades to interventions, attendance, and comprehension to what teachers collect in the moment as students understand content.

Data becomes more powerful when you connect data points together and show a richer picture of how a student is progressing. When used well, it can change decisions and actions and, most importantly, results. Every state now has the ability to collect the data necessary to inform decision-making about the teaching and learning process to positively impact students’ lives, and it’s important that we do this in a way that supports every student. When we empower everyone with a stake in education with the information they need in the format they need it, we get results.

Data doesn’t change anything unless it’s answering a question someone has and is presented in a way that is tailored to people’s needs. At DQC, we’re working with policymakers to help them start conversations around data and frame data to answer questions. The most important thing is to build demand for data and information that is useful. I think the biggest culture change in education is using data not as a compliance or accountability tool but for continuous improvement and answering people’s questions in order to improve decision-making and ideas.

Data Privacy

We collect data to improve our decision-making in every aspect of life, from choosing a restaurant to picking a textbook. The more we use data, the more we wonder who has access to this personal information, how it is maintained, how it is used, and what security measures are in place to protect it.

Three years ago, there was only one piece of state legislation passed regarding student data privacy. This year, 46 states introduced 182 bills on the topic. It’s a very important conversation that we need to have, and I think many of the legitimate concerns emanate from the lack of transparency about what types of data are collected, how it’s collected and stored, and how it will be used to improve schools and benefit students.

The most important thing we can do is build trust among students, parents, educators, and the public that this information is being used well, is kept secure, and adds value to education reform. At DQC, we provide guidance, support, and assistance to policymakers about how to leverage the power of data in the service of student learning. One part of this work is the analysis of state legislation and the increased activity in Congress about student data privacy.

Leadership in Education

Our field needs strong leadership and leaders who aren’t afraid to be creative and innovative. One of the reasons I’m hopeful for the future of the education sector is the quality of individuals who have chosen to enter this field, especially in leadership positions across schools, systems, nonprofits, and the government. The amazing quality of individuals in education has increased over the 25 years I’ve been in this field, and that changes everything. These individuals bring passion, commitment, and laser-like focus on what this conversation needs to be about. They bring the innovation that education needs in order to reflect on what is and isn’t working and to be open to new ideas.

Programs like the Pahara Fellowship and EPFP help to provide forums for leaders to come together and reflect on what the field needs, what it takes to be a strong and successful leader, and to learn what others are doing. These venues not only create vibrancy and help people who want to try new things, but they also encourage leaders to work across traditional silos and collaborate.

Cross-Boundary Leadership and Challenges

One of the big themes of my work at DQC is the need for data to follow individuals wherever they go across systems, state lines, and sectors. For example, if we want to know if a high school is adequately preparing its graduates for adult life, we need feedback from postsecondary and workforce systems about how many graduates go on to get jobs, the wages they earn, and if they need remediation classes.

It’s so important that we break down silos and have conversations across systems and sectors to better understand what we’re all trying to do and how we can help each other help prepare students for life. This effort needs cross-sector leadership, collaboration, and governance so policies are aligned and not duplicative to meet needs at every turning point to prepare students for success. I think we’re getting to this point in policy conversations as we realize that schools can’t do that by themselves. Communities, families, and other partners play a major role and we need to think more holistically about how these sectors can work together as an aligned and integrated system to ensure our fellow citizens are prepared for an increasingly competitive global economy.

Leadership Lessons Learned

I think leadership really boils down to harnessing the power of people to work toward a common goal. Nothing is more rewarding than working collaboratively with a team of talented, committed, passionate individuals on a shared effort that leads to measurable impact. You can have all kinds of systems or management tools in place, but if you don’t have a well-functioning team, then nothing works. The key to having a successful team is not only hiring great people but supporting them as they go along. This includes having transparency around desired goals and expectations, building trust through a strong commitment to openness, and recognizing and celebrating excellence at every point, not just when the results are achieved. Effective leadership is about supporting the team along the journey, not just getting to the destination. It makes the process much more enjoyable for everyone that way!

EPFP Experience and Value

I loved my EPFP experience for many reasons. Many of us are conscious of representing our organizations when we interact with others, so it was liberating to have a space where people could gather, learn, and discuss questions in their own voice. As a fellow, I developed leadership and management skills and tools that I still use today. It really allowed me to build a better understanding of my field, particularly through learning from my peers. The networking opportunities were terrific as well, and I’m still in touch with many of the folks in my cohort. EPFP alumni are a powerful group, and the network is what makes it exciting to join in the program and become close with your cohort.

The program has grown so much over its 52 years, but all of the people who have participated have a shared experience and the opportunity to continue learning from each other. The ability to interact with other leaders and develop your own skills and knowledge is immeasurably important to individuals, and EPFP is integral in ensuring we are able to continue supporting and growing critical talent in the education field. I believe so deeply in the value of the EPFP program that, over the past 15 years and in three organizations, I have made participation in the DC EPFP program part of our professional development strategy.


 

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Jason Smith (DC EPFP 97-98)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Thursday, November 05, 2015

 

Cross-Boundary Leader

Jason Smith (DC EPFP 97-98)

Jason Smith is managing partner at Widmeyer Communications (a Finn Partners Company), where he oversees Widmeyer Education, the agency’s PreK-12 practice. Since joining the company in 1996, Smith has worked with many leading education organizations and foundations, including the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and ExxonMobil’s education initiatives. He also served as the project director for the rollout of the Next Generation Science Standards, and works with several clients to maintain support for Common Core. Prior to joining Widmeyer, Smith worked in the public sector practice group for Towers Perrin, an international management consulting firm, where he worked with school superintendents and state education agencies. He also worked in the offices of Rep. Virginia Smith (R-NE) and Sen. Terry Sanford (D-NC).

The Importance of Communication in Education

In 20 years of working in education communications, one of the biggest changes I’ve seen in the field is how education leaders now recognize the importance of communications in their work. When I started in this field, education issues didn’t play out in the public the way they do now. Relatively few folks thought much about public opinion on education issues. A lot of this changed with curriculum wars in the late 1990s.  They awakened a much broader swath of general population to the idea that public opinion could have influence over what’s going on in public education.





The challenge with this, of course, is how to effectively communicate what the education sector is doing. The education sector has the tendency of being “small-c” conservative, reticent, and reserved about early adoption of strategies. At Widmeyer, we’ve always had to strike a balance between being knowledgeable about the cutting edge communications strategies, but not forcing it upon clients who aren’t ready.

The significant growth of digital communications over the past decade or so has radically changed how people communicate about education. With so much information -- including schools’ performance data -- now available online, the general public knows so much more about education. This has led to the popularization of the public education discussion. Now we are all more aware of global education rankings and there is a more vested interest and opinion in the conversation.

The volatile public reaction to Common Core is without precedent, and is an example of how social media can elevate an otherwise esoteric topic like academic standards into a critical public interest issue. People who have no direct connection to public education have joined the Common Core debate and have taken a stance on the issue. In 2008, the Broad and Gates Foundations spent $60 million to try to make education a core issue in the presidential campaigns. Looking back, it seems like a quaint notion to remember how we used to wish people would talk about education in political campaigns, when Common Core and testing are now major political topics at the national level.

A critical lesson for education leaders emerging from the Common Core fight is the importance of conducting opinion research and testing messages. We learned the hard way that our intuition often leads us astray when we speculate how parents and teachers will respond to what we believe are compelling messages.

Hot Topics in Education

Race is quickly becoming the biggest issue in education today. We are finally no longer afraid to talk about the role race plays in education, and why so many communities of color are forced to attend sub-par schools. We’re now talking about re-segregated schools and about the lack of diversity in the reform community. I really applaud what Secretary Duncan has done to draw more attention to this issue.

Another major issue in education is the growing schism in the Democratic Party between the reformers and those who want to maintain the status quo. The historical alliance between unions and liberals has evaporated. Politically, we now see some extraordinary examples of strange bedfellows, such as far-right populists and far-left progressives both advocating for eliminating annual testing in ESEA reauthorization. Political alliances are in flux, and I think it will be a long time before we see how that settles out.

And of course, the role of technology in schools remains a topic of great interest, primarily because we simply haven’t seen the results we’ve been promised for such a long time. So many initiatives began with fanfare and good intentions. We are working hard to find ways for classrooms to adopt technology to help students, especially students who are struggling. Yet we confront major failures in education technology—like what we’re seeing in Los Angeles right now—that set the movement back. We clearly aren’t going to stop using technology in schools, but its promise proves more elusive than its advocates wish.

Cross-Sector Leadership and Challenges

Cross-sector leadership is important in education because student success often relies on support from the public health and social services sectors as well. They play a big role in the overall equation of what a child needs to succeed—it’s much more than just what happens in a classroom. My team at Widmeyer does a lot of work with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, which approaches child welfare issues through the multi-sector lens of academics, health, and economic security. All three need to be in place for a child to be on a promising path to a productive and rewarding life. In education, we need to remember to look across sectors in order to do what’s in the best interest of a child.

Leadership Lessons Learned

The best leadership lesson I’ve learned is the power of servant leadership. The most important contribution I can make to my organization’s success is make sure each member of my team has the resources and support she needs to be effective. That support takes many forms. Sometimes, it’s simply expressing my faith that a young staffer can handle the job we gave him. Other times, it’s to make sure we’ve provided the necessary professional development, or given a staffer the technology she needs, regardless of whether others think it’s a perk she’s not yet entitled to. But always, it’s working hard to make sure everyone on the team knows I want them to be successful, and believe they will be.

Another critical component of effective leadership is understanding how to encourage the creative conflict that makes us better professionals, and to be OK with being wrong. I insist my team speak up when they disagree with my suggestions, and I change my mind frequently when they push back with points of view I hadn’t considered. I have no use for the so-called “Yes Men” you find in many organizations. 

EPFP Experience and Value

EPFP had a huge influence over my career. As someone who never went back to get an advanced degree, it’s the closest I came to public policy grad school. The relationships I built with the Fellows in my cohort were incredibly important, and I’m close with several of them still today, almost 20 years later. At Widmeyer, we’ve sent half a dozen folks through the program because we know the value of what Fellows learn, and whom they meet.

 


 

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Micah Ann Wixom (CO EPFP 14-15)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Friday, October 23, 2015

 

Cross-Boundary Leader: Micah Ann Wixom
(CO EPFP 14-15)


Micah Ann Wixom is a policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States (ECS), a national nonpartisan organization that tracks state policy trends, provides unbiased advice to state education policymakers, and creates opportunities for state leaders to learn from one another. Prior to joining ECS, she worked for the Constituent Services Unit of the Legislative Counsel Bureau in Nevada, where she helped legislators respond to constituent questions and concerns. Wixom has also worked as a volunteer coordinator for Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada in Las Vegas and as a performance auditor for the Arizona Office of the Auditor General in Phoenix.

State Policy Implementation

As I have worked with legislators and other state-level leaders who make education policies, I have found that they have differing levels of expertise in education policy—some have backgrounds in education or a great deal of experience crafting education policy, while others are new to the area. Regardless of their background, I have seen that these leaders really care about education issues and genuinely want to do what is best for the students in their state . That is why they need to hear from people invested in state education policy—like teachers, parents, and students—because these state leaders are making policies that directly affects these folks. That’s also why there are local, state, and national organizations, like ECS, that can provide help and guidance to legislators.





I think every state legislator and policymaker and every state has different areas of education that are priorities for them. For some leaders and states, achievement gaps are a big deal, while funding is a main issue for others. I think issues around English language learners (ELLs) are also a growing concern nationwide, especially for states that haven’t traditionally had large ELL populations. To meet their needs, many states are looking for innovative ways to serve their students that are a little outside the box, like online schooling, and these new efforts are quietly growing.

Opt-Out Laws in States

One thing we’ve seen in the growing opt-out debate is that situations vary from state to state. In some states, opt-out is a big deal and is gaining statewide attention and traction, while in other states it’s almost a non-issue. I think this variance is really interesting. It’s hard to say what this speaks to and why states differ so much on the topic, and at the end of the day, we’re not entirely sure why so many people in certain places are choosing to opt-out of standardized testing for their children. However, a lot of states are using this debate as an opportunity to rethink their testing strategies and how they are testing kids, what types of assessments they’re using, and if they’re testing too much.

Cross-Boundary Leadership and Challenges

In the ECS mission, we talk about working across the P-20 continuum, and this is built into the work that I do. I think it’s important for us to understand that different phases of education don’t exist independently—for example, what happens in early learning affects kids in the long term. Working across sectors, both within and outside of education, is critical because we’re all connected and involved in the education and well-being of students at some level.

Cross-boundary leadership comes with its own set of challenges, and I think it’s easy for people to get buried in what they’re doing and forget to stick their head up to see what else is going on around them. It’s important in any field, but especially in education, to recognize that issues don’t exist independently from each other. We must be able to involve people from other sectors, like health care and business, which can sometimes be difficult to do.

Leadership Lessons Learned

One of the biggest leadership lessons I’ve learned is how crucial communication is. I’ve seen again and again that if a leader at any level can communicate well, they do a better job of building trust and confidence among their team and those they work with. Sometimes this communication also involves saying things that might be hard for people to hear, but it’s important to be able to do so in a respectful and constructive way.

Some of my favorite leaders I’ve seen and worked with during my career have been those who are able to create a positive and safe environment. Too often we think of leadership as a grand act and leaders as very visible, vocal, and public figures. In my experience,  the most effective leaders quietly create positive environments that help them do the work they believe in and encourage their staff to succeed.

EPFP Experience and Value

When I participated in EPFP, I was relatively new to the education field and to Colorado. It was a great opportunity for me to broaden my knowledge about education policy in a general sense, but also specifically related to what’s going on in my state. This was really important to me because much of the work I do is at a national level and I wanted more exposure to what was happening in the education field in my state and in my community. I really enjoyed being able to interact with all kinds of professionals in education, from teachers to principals to state-level education leaders.

EPFP is valuable because it provides the opportunity for Fellows to connect with people who you might otherwise not be able to work with. I think that’s really important in today’s policy environment. We get so polarized and partisan about issues that it’s more and more difficult to build relationships with people outside of our area of work, but EPFP allows you to learn how to and begin to foster those relationships.


 

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