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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: SHITAL SHAH (DC EPFP 08-09)

Posted By Jennifer Masutani, Monday, September 12, 2016
Updated: Saturday, September 10, 2016
  Cross-Boundary Leader

Shital C. Shah 
DC EPFP 08-09 

Shital C. Shah is the assistant director of educational issues at the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). In this role, she works across AFT departments to help examine and develop policy for and to support implementation of AFT’s community schools area of work around whole school reform and provides support and training to state and local affiliates around the community school strategy and extended learning time. Previously, Shah served as the manager of policy and partnerships at the Coalition for Community Schools at the Institute for Educational Leadership; a consultant at Innovation Network, Inc.; and the director of an East Harlem out-of-school time program with the New York Road Runners Foundation. She also was a Peace Corps volunteer in Honduras. Shah holds a master’s degree from the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at The New School, and a bachelor’s degree from George Washington University.

Community Schools and the AFT

At the AFT, I work with national partners and local affiliates to develop community schools policy at the local, state, and federal levels. Community schools has become a big focus of the AFT, especially since Randi Weingarten became president in 2008. She saw the community schools strategy as one that the union could utilize for education reform, and later she institutionalized community schools work within the AFT. My position was created as an opportunity to work at the local, state, and national levels with different stakeholders—from teachers and union leaders to districts and school boards and community partners to help bring labor management and community partners together to create structures that can support and grow community schools. It’s also a great opportunity to bring teacher voice into the conversation and process of developing community schools.

As a union, we are in a unique position in that we have the ability to engage our members across the country around community schools. Some things that makes us different than other organizations is that we have the power of organizing and advocacy to push policy, we can affect change in behavior at the local level, and union leadership at all levels can play a strong role in both of these. Many leaders are convening community coalitions with other groups to bring them and other folks who might not normally be a part of the education conversation into the fold.

Engaging families is another focus of our community schools work because parent and family involvement in education makes such a big difference for students, schools, and the community. We work to tie together the instructional component and family and community engagement component of academic success.

In the last year, we’ve been able to help our members work with community partners to create deeper instruction. Many educators do this through comprehensive project-based learning. An example might be bringing students into a community garden not just to show how vegetables grow but also using it as an opportunity for math lessons or instruction in other subject areas. The key piece to this is reminding educators that they aren’t the ones having to go out into the community and find partners, but it’s about building a strong relationship with community school resource coordinators, who can leverage existing and burgeoning relationships to support educators and instruction.

Cross-Boundary Collaboration and Education Policy

Working with federal and state policymakers and leaders can be challenging, but I think the key to effectively working with them is informing them of best practices. It’s important to start at the local level to connect the policy to educators on the ground, because showing local support for a policy and having educators share their stories about a policy is crucial at the statehouse. In fact, many state-level policy proposals are built on local practices.

The big gap in almost any policy is not having enough local voices making the case for it. I think the advantage for us at AFT is having educators provide that voice to policymakers, especially around the community schools strategy. It can be easy to forget that, in community school efforts, instruction is still a key component, and educators can provide valuable insight about the impact and changing conditions that come with community schools.

Cross-Boundary Leadership

One of the benefits of being part of a national organization is that we have to mirror what we ask local communities to do—collaborative across boundaries. This is a huge part of community schools work on the ground as well as at the state and federal levels. Our collective work involves different stakeholders across multiple systems, and the union recognizes that in order to be effective, there has to be a collaborative voice speaking for the community schools movement.

Leadership Lessons Learned

One challenge with community schools is that places need to figure out how to bring all partners, including local unions, to the table from the beginning so there is a complete vision. The main takeaway from this work is that a vision can’t be created in a silo and then have expectations that people will just buy into it. Everyone involved needs an authentic voice from the beginning.

EPFP Experience and Value

Before I became an EPFP Fellow, I was working at the Coalition for Community Schools and meeting with different partners around community schools. EPFP allowed me to connect with national organizations in a different way and on other issues like superintendent leadership and Title I funding formulas. It allowed me to see different layers of the organizations I was already working with in order to deepen my own work in community schools and get closer to the whole education field.

I think the biggest value of EPFP is the connections that you make during your Fellowship year. The DC cohort is a little different because many of us are connected through our work outside of EPFP, but the program is great because you get to know people at a deeper level. It’s also a great networking opportunity. In many of the state sites, I think the value is that you have practitioners at the school and district and state levels in one place—and those are all of the people you need to create policy and change. EPFP gives these people a place to see different perspectives to change and improve local and state policy.

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Cross-Boundary Leader: Bela Shah Spooner (NY EPFP 99-00)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Thursday, July 21, 2016
Updated: Thursday, July 07, 2016

 

Cross-Boundary Leader

Bela Shah Spooner 
NY EPFP 99-00

Bela Shah Spooner is the program manager for expanded learning in the Institute for Youth, Education, and Families at the National League of Cities (NLC). For over a decade, she has been at NLC helping to inform municipal officials about the importance of afterschool and summer learning opportunities. She launched NLC’s Afterschool Policy Advisors Network (APAN) in 2005, which has grown to include more than 400 cities, and has provided technical assistance to more than 40 cities focusing on building citywide systems of afterschool programs. She has also authored Cities and Statewide Afterschool Networks Partnering to Support Afterschool Programs and NLC’s 2011 report, Municipal Leadership Afterschool: Citywide Approaches Spreading across the Country.

Prior to NLC, Spooner worked for the Coalition for Community Schools at the Institute for Educational Leadership and co-wrote the Coalition report, Making the Difference: Research and Practice in Community Schools.


Why Afterschool Programs are Important to City Leaders

A huge part of our work at NLC is to not only help our members—elected city officials and senior city staff—understand their role in creating more afterschool programs, but also to help other partners like school districts better understand the role that cities can play in these efforts. We know that kids spend only a fraction of their time in school, so we use that message to communicate how they can use the rest of the hours of the day to support students.

Many city leaders have become champions for afterschool and summer learning programs because they understand that they’re also responsible for the children and youth in their city in the out-of-school time hours and it’s a great opportunity for city leaders to get involved and support young people. One of the major factors that has led to greater involvement of city leaders is public safety. Data shows that between 3 and 6 pm, there are higher levels of crime committed to and by kids. City leaders recognize that quality afterschool programs can keep kids safe and engaged in learning, and reduce crime in the community. They also understand the broader implications that afterschool programs bring, academic and otherwise, to their cities. Local leaders are particularly supportive of increasing academic achievement because of the great impact it has on communities around jobs and economic development, and supporting working families.

City leaders are also becoming more aware of the resources that are available to support kids in their communities. Many cities are already investing in infrastructure and programming to support youth in multiple ways, such as libraries and parks and recreation, so it’s not a far reach to get them more involved in supporting afterschool learning initiatives. A challenge we see is that departments and activities within city governments are often siloed, so efforts that touch young people are happening but are not coordinated in a streamlined way to maximize impact.

Serving Young People in Different Areas

We know there are a lot of afterschool and youth-focused programs in communities but they are not necessarily distributed in a way that is accessible to young people. In many cases, demographics and income distribution in cities shift over time and change to the point where the existing infrastructure is no longer as effective as it once was. To address these challenges, we work with cities to begin with a mapping process to get a visual of where programs, schools, and kids are located, as well as where there are areas of high poverty, crime, and teen pregnancy. This allows cities to identify barriers, such as public transportation gaps or new highways that have made it difficult for young people to access different parts of town. Mapping helps to clarify the misconception of why needs aren’t being met when there may be services available in the community—sometimes, they just aren’t accessible to the people who need them and honestly, many parents don’t even have access to the information of where those programs may be. When more resources and partners come together during the mapping process, it helps provide a better sense of where to target resources and efforts to fill the gaps.

The Role of Students, Families, and Communities in Expanding Afterschool

One way for students, families, and community members to be involved is to track the campaigns and priority issues of elected city officials to better understand where they are coming from—figure out how to talk about the issue in a way that will resonate for them. In our case, we’ve found success in approaching it from a public safety and economic development lens. We also encourage mayors to use their convening authority to bring together community stakeholders to keep them informed on what is happening in their city.

Providers and their supporters have a unique role in that they can present information on their programs and develop relationships with the mayor’s office and city council in a number of ways. In addition to participating in community meetings and spreading the word about their work among community members, one of the best ways they can engage city leaders is to simply invite them to their program. Mayors and city councilmembers enjoy opportunities to engage with their community members, especially young people. Providing them with photo opportunities and positive press, and getting them to your program to interact with young people is a great way to showcase their work and give credit to elected officials for supporting what they do. In short, it’s all about relationship building. If afterschool is important to you or you’re a provider, you can position yourself as the mayor’s go-to person for that type of work.

Cross-Boundary Leadership and Challenges

So many stakeholders in the community have their own interests in supporting young people, from public safety to economic development to quality of life, but they all have the same broad focus: helping kids be successful. When you’re building a citywide or county-wide system, you have to think about the unlikely or unusual players that you want to bring into the conversation to make sure it’s comprehensive and representative of key voices and include people with influenceOne way to bring those people together is to speak their language to get your message across. Use their focus and interests to build the message that you share to get them involved in your cause. The mayor’s bully pulpit is a powerful tool for this, so bringing in city leaders can help bring in even more diverse resources and supports. The goal is to galvanize folks to invest time and money in your cause by building and leveraging relationships within your community.

Cross-boundary leadership can be challenging in a number of ways. Limited funding and resources is a challenge in many respects, from potential partners seeing each other as competition for competitive grants and organizations working on their priorities with limited resources to few funding streams available to allow good ideas to be carried out. Loss of autonomy over an area of work is another challenge, and providers and organizations can be hesitant to partner up because they will lose that control over their work and how it is carried out.

The important thing to remember when facing these challenges is that we’re all in this work for the same reason, and working together helps to create a stronger system to serve more kids. It communicates the collective benefit of everyone’s work and inspires people to come together for the greater good.

Leadership Lessons Learned

The biggest leadership lesson I’ve learned is to be confident in the knowledge and expertise you bring to the table. It can be intimidating to talk with mayors and other leaders who you see on TV or read about in the news, but it’s important to remember that you’re talking to someone who ran for office to represent their city and the people in it… and the youth are an essential part of the success and appeal of that city. Remember that you have direct knowledge and first-hand information (and perhaps even good data!) about the needs and challenges that a subsection of youth face in the city. What you know may be very valuable for a city official to hear and understand. Instead of getting caught up with titles and who someone is, you have to focus on the fact that you know what you’re talking about and it’s important for them to know about it as well if you’re trying to improve the odds for the children you work with. Present yourself as a partner to help and bring additional data and information if they request more and see where the conversation may go.

EPFP Experience

EPFP had a big influence on my professional career. When I was a graduate student at Teachers College, Columbia University I got pulled in to help run the New York site. It was so interesting to watch the process that the next year I asked if I could be a Fellow. The EPFP experience enhanced my graduate education experience, augmented the policy work I was interested in, and completely redirected my path. It was through EPFP that I met Mike Usdan, President of IEL at the time and now a senior fellow there . He saw the spark I had for federal education policy, and every time he saw me he encouraged me to move to DC and gave me opportunities to connect with people here.  That’s when I met Marty Blank and took an opportunity to support the Coalition for Community Schools. And many years later, I’m proud to now serve on its Steering Committee. EPFP gave me a basic framework of education policy but also exposure to a new world and potential job opportunities. It helped me look at issues from different angles and perspectives, and was a great way to start my professional career.


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Cross-Boundary Leader: Gay Kingman (DC EPFP 79-80)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Wednesday, July 20, 2016
Updated: Thursday, July 07, 2016

 

Cross-Boundary Leader

Gay Kingman (DC EPFP 79-80)

Gay Kingman (DC EPFP 79-80) is the executive director of the Great Plains Tribal Chairman’s Association (GPTCA) and the Coalition of Large Tribes. GPTCA—which is made up of tribal leaders from 16 sovereign nations from Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota—meets regularly to make administrative decisions and review legislation affecting all Tribal Governments. As the executive director, Gay manages GPTCA’s affairs, works with members of Congress, develops position papers and resolutions, works with the Administration, and coordinates with other tribes. As the leader of the Coalition of Large Tribes, she advocates for and protects the unique land, economic, jurisdictional, and funding issues faced by tribes with large land bases and populations.






Prior to her current roles, she served as a consultant for the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and for the Tribal Leaders Project at Portland State University’s Hatfield School of Government. Gay’s previous roles include co-founder of Kingman-Wapato & Associates, associate at the International Institute for Indigenous Resource Management, director of public relations and director of the Seminar Institute at the National Indian Gaming Association, and executive director of the National Congress of American Indians. She spent 25 years in the education field as a teacher and administrator, and was elected as president of the National Indian Education Association. During her time as an EPFP Fellow in Washington, DC, Gay was on the transition team that created the U.S. Department of Education under President Carter. She currently serves on the board of directors for the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University’s Hatfield School of Government.

Education in the GPTCA

The GPTCA addresses everything from health care to law enforcement to education for the member tribes. On the education front, we’re working on legislation with the Bureau of Indian Education, which manages tribal schools on reservations, where a majority of Indian students are enrolled in public school. We’ve taken official action that tribes will be in charge of their own schools and will determine their own accreditation and teacher education processes. Historically, the education system has not been the best for Indian students, so tribes are moving toward developing their own standards and practices for educating their students.

Tribal Government Leadership

In the Great Plains, our tribes have huge areas of land; in some cases, they’re bigger than Rhode Island or Connecticut. Tribal governments are full-service operations with their own health care, transportation, and education systems, and leadership is very important in all of those areas. Leadership styles may differ between tribes—some are small, some are big, and they all have their own unique needs and strengths—but leadership is critical to all of them. Tribal governments depend on strong leaders in order to run effectively, and government officials need to trust each other and work together in order to manage all of their systems.

In an effort to show the importance of leadership in tribal governments, I worked with the Institute for Tribal Government at Portland State University to develop a course in leadership with an emphasis on tribal leaders. Students viewed videos of tribal leaders talking about their experiences and then were able to pull out the leadership qualities that the tribal leaders exemplified. We wanted to show students how tribal governments worked and what was important to tribal leaders.

Cross-Boundary Leadership

Cross-boundary leadership is a big part of my role as executive director of GPTCA. We’re made up of 16 member tribes of different sizes, and part of my responsibilities is to bring them together and work with the tribal leaders on policies and legislation that are important to the member tribes. It involves working across different sectors that interact with each other, either directly or indirectly, to get the solutions that we need.

For example, my reservation is 180 miles long and many of our roads are poor, especially in inclement weather. This transportation issue affects many other sectors, including education, as school buses need to travel on our roads to get students to and from school. Leaders from both transportation and education have to work together in order to determine the best policy changes to improve our roads to make them safe and to allow our students to get to school throughout the year.

Leading across boundaries comes with its own set of challenges as well. A big part of my work involves working with members of Congress and other policymakers to share with them our perspective and encourage them to pass legislation that affects our tribes. It can sometimes be challenging to inform them about what life is like for us on reservations, or to educate them about common Native American stereotypes and help them to see beyond those. But working together to improve policies that impact our tribes is critical and I continue to create and build those relationships with leaders in Washington, DC.

Leadership Lessons Learned

One major thing that I gained from my participation in EPFP that it opened up a whole new world to me in Washington. I was able to better understand how the government worked and build paths that led to the Administration and Congress and the judiciary branch. Now that I’m in South Dakota, I know who to call and where to go to get assistance or create policy. It helped me understand the importance of a network and how all of the people and parts fit together.

Another leadership lesson I’ve learned is that you don’t always have to take what is first presented to you. If something doesn’t feel quite right, or you think it can be better, it’s worth it to speak up and make changes where they are necessary.

EPFP Experience

In addition to providing me with a better understanding of how the federal government worked, EPFP gave me the knowledge and foundation to interact with others in a policy setting. My career has changed drastically in many ways over the years—I spent 25 years in education before becoming a leader in Native American policy—and throughout all of it, I was able to build upon what I learned in EPFP to inform my work.


 


 


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Cross-Boundary Leader: M. Rene Islas (DC EPFP 01-02)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Tuesday, June 28, 2016

 

Cross-Boundary Leader

M. René Islas (DC EPFP 01-02)

M. René Islas (DC EPFP 01-02) is the executive director of the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), an organization that supports and develops policies and practices that encourage and respond to the diverse expressions of gifts and talents in children and youth from all cultures, racial and ethnic backgrounds, and socioeconomic groups. Prior to joining NAGC, Islas served as senior vice president of Learning Forward, where he launched the Center for Results to support leaders in education in developing systems to improve teacher effectiveness.

Islas has had a long career in education policy at the federal, state, and local levels, and has served as senior vice president of B&D Consulting, where he launched their K-12 education practice, and as special assistant to the U.S. Secretary of Education and chief of staff to the Assistant Secretary of Education in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the U.S. Department of Education.






Working with Gifted Children

My organization, the National Association for Gifted Children, supports and celebrates the gifts and talents of children and youth, but there are many misconceptions and stereotypes out there about these students. A common one is that gifted children can do everything on their own because they have above-average skills or ability in different areas, and many people assume that they will achieve their full potential just by being in a classroom. This isn’t the case; gifted children need to be supported, taught, and challenged to achieve, and not just left alone to do their work.

People also sometimes assume that giftedness doesn’t exist among every population of students, which leads to a lack of diversity among those that identified as gifted and participate in gifted and talented programs. There are many factors that play a part in some students not being identified as gifted: being overlooked by teachers and parents, cultural and linguistic barriers, and even assessment instruments that can sometimes not be 100 percent valid or reliable in identifying gifted students. To overcome this, we’re looking harder across the landscape to find talent among all populations through universal screenings and increased rigor for all students.

Improving Teacher Preparation and Professional Learning

In my role at the Learning Forward Center for Results, I focused on improving teacher preparation and professional learning and supports for effective instruction. Hands down, the most important factor in increasing student achievement is the teacher, so ensuring they are well prepared and have the supports they need to be successful will lead to the success of their students. My mentor, former Secretary of Education Rod Paige, said that student success is all about the interaction between students and their teachers. In fact, the job of everyone at a school, from bus drivers to janitors to attendance officers, is to make sure that interaction is optimal. And when teachers are at the top of their game in terms of content knowledge, preparation, and professional development, students will respond to that and grow in terms of their own learning and understanding of subjects.

The Policymaking Process

In my time at the U.S. Department of Education, I was able to experience the policymaking process firsthand. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that when you set high goals and expectations, you’ll get so much further than you expected. For example, when we set out to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the early 2000s, we focused on the line that ended up becoming the name of the law: No Child Left Behind. Some would argue that is unattainable—to ensure that no child is left behind academically—but we started out with that mission and let it guide us through the policymaking process.

Cross-Boundary Leadership and Challenges

Whenever we’re talking about equity in service of children, regardless of their backgrounds, we have to look at all of the various factors in their lives that influence success, whether that’s school, home life, their communities, or their health and well-being. Because those factors are in different areas, you have to be willing to work across those different sectors—education, social work, health—to truly make a difference. The principle of cross-boundary leadership that EPFP has always focused on is something that we as advocates and policymakers need to be sure we are doing every day.

That being said, there can be many challenges to leading across boundaries. One of the biggest barriers can be people’s beliefs. Individuals come to the table with their own beliefs that aren’t necessarily negative or intentionally hurtful, but by being kind and not addressing those differences, you can limit the potential or opportunities that children have. That’s why it’s important for us to work together across boundaries to find solutions to these institutional and cultural challenges that do exist. Leading across boundaries can help to change people’s beliefs or open their eyes to new ideas that can help to overcome these challenges.

Leadership Lessons Learned

A big blessing in my career has been having great mentors. I don’t think I could have progressed through my early career and had the opportunities that I did without those mentors. One of my mentors, Christopher Cross, sponsored me to participate in EPFP when he was CEO of the Center for Basic Education. He encouraged and believed in me and knew what I could accomplish, and he wanted to support the type of learning and development that EPFP provided. That experience led me to finding others who have been important parts of my career, like Henry Johnson, who is a North Carolina EPFP alum and still a close friend a mentor. EPFP, like many of my other roles, has allowed me to find mentors who have similar values as me, but who are also willing to challenge what I know and encourage me to do more.

EPFP Experience

When I was an EPFP Fellow, I was focusing on teacher effectiveness. EPFP gave me the opportunity to test my knowledge and thoughts about policy in a safe environment that encouraged me to explore and develop my opinions on a given topic with my cohort. EPFP also helped me create lasting relationships both in the general education space and in my area of interest. I can think of many friends I made through EPFP with whom I’ve stayed connected, whether it’s walking around town or speaking on a panel together.

I think EPFP really does achieve its objectives to help Fellows develop their understanding, knowledge, and expertise in policy, leadership, and networking. The program is especially great for those who want to get into education policy early in their career, because it gives them a strong base in those three areas and allows them to grow during the Fellowship but also flourish beyond it.


 


 


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Cross-Boundary Leader: Lars Johnson (MN EPFP 14-15)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Wednesday, February 17, 2016

 

Cross-Boundary Leader

Lars Johnson (MN EPFP 14-15)

Lars Johnson is a strategy fellow at Education Evolving and program director at the Labrador Foundation. At Education Evolving, his research is currently focused on identifying policy barriers to school innovation. At the Labrador Foundation, Lars leads a grantmaking program targeted at advancing innovative school designs and teacher leadership. Johnson attended the Minnesota New Country School, a teacher-powered charter school in rural Minnesota, and the experience inspired him to pursue a career in education policy. Prior to his education policy pursuits, Lars founded and led a software development consultancy, where he built apps and websites for think tanks, foundations, and government agencies.






Inspired by Teacher-Powered Schools

My own experiences in school had a huge influence on my life and my career. I attended a very traditional middle school, but the environment wasn’t good for me academically or socially. For high school, I attended a project-based, teacher-powered school, the Minnesota New Country School, where I was allowed and encouraged to direct my energy into the interests I had, which at the time were largely around music and computer programming. In retrospect, I see that the school model that worked so well for me had emerged because a group of teachers came together to figure out how to best serve their students. There was a direct link between the teacher-powered decision making at the school and the pedagogical experience that kept me so engaged.

A teacher-powered school is one where a collective group of teachers has real decision-making authority in at least one area of autonomy. At Education Evolving, we’ve identified 15 areas of autonomy, such as budget, curriculum, pedagogy, and recruitment, that educators at teacher-powered schools have a say in. This doesn’t mean these schools are big, unruly “autonomous collectives” where teachers reject leadership and principals altogether; it’s more of a shift in where the ultimate decision-making authority lies. In practice, many teacher-powered schools choose to have a principal or co-school leaders, similar to the way a law firm is led by a group of partners who choose a managing partner. Teacher-powered schools can be either charter or district schools—we see about a fifty-fifty split between the two—and teachers can gain and hold their collective autonomy in a number of ways, such as through a collective bargaining agreement or through a contract with their charter authorizer or district central office. We believe that groups of teachers should be the ultimate decision-making authority in schools because they’re in classrooms with students every day and understand students’ unique needs.

Improving the Quality of the Teaching Profession

I believe the most important issue in education policy today is the quality of the job of teaching, and whether talented young people perceive it as a potential career. Many leaders and policymakers are preoccupied with the “quality of teachers” but not the quality of teaching as a career, which has been a huge detriment to the profession. If teaching is seen as a scripted, assembly-line job (as it often is, especially in large urban districts), it will be difficult to recruit and retain the top-notch educators that students deserve. We need to raise the status of the profession as a whole and give educators more freedom to engage their students in the classroom.

We recently presented an award for advancements in research on teacher-powered schools to Richard Ingersoll at the University of Pennsylvania, who’s a leading expert on teacher retention and recruitment. His research identified the number one reason why teachers leave the classroom as the lack of professional autonomy over their roles and schools. We see this lack of power in data and our interactions with teachers quite often. Teacher-powered schools address this by giving teachers real authority; in turn, the teachers facilitate better learning for students. I think this is a big reason why we’ve seen this movement grow: teachers are fed up with accountability models where they are responsible for what they can’t control.

Federal Education Policy in Rural America

In 2015, I co-wrote a report on federal education policy in rural America. Implementing policy effectively in rural districts can be a challenge in a number of ways. For example, rural districts are often held to the same program application and reporting requirements as large urban districts, but they may have only one or two administrators in the office to handle all of the paperwork burdens of state and federal programs. In the report, we make the recommendation that rural districts be given consolidated reporting processes in which they can submit reports on multiple programs and grants through a central template. Another way to ease the administrative burden on rural districts would be to allow several to apply for competitive grants together as a team and share the reporting responsibilities among them.

Technology also has a special and important role to play in rural America. It can be difficult to recruit teachers and administrators or offer a diverse array of course options in more remote areas. One solution would be to offer more project-based learning or online learning opportunities when remote geographies make it difficult to bring in specialists in certain subject area. However, this is made difficult by the lack of broadband internet access in rural areas. This has improved over the last few years, but the lack of technology infrastructure still poses a challenge to providing diverse educational opportunities to rural students.

Cross-Boundary Leadership and Challenges

I think an important part of cross-boundary leadership is staying focused on the objectives at hand and setting aside labels and preconceived notions. For example, at Education Evolving, we work with teacher leaders from both the charter and district sectors of public education. Sometimes they carry negative narratives about each other, but we try to get everyone to focus on the end goal: giving teachers decision-making authority in schools so they can meet the unique needs of the students they serve. When teachers see that the sector in which a school lies doesn’t imply anything about teacher roles, or the school’s learning program, or the extent of positive student-teacher relationships, those borders and stereotypes seem to dissolve.

This example demonstrates some of the challenges presented in cross-boundary leadership. Working with a wide spectrum of stakeholders in the education sector has shown me how deeply ideological convictions are held by some individuals. Even in a field like public education, where positions don’t divide as neatly along party lines, convictions run deep, from the need for innovation versus the need to replicate what works to the importance of math and science versus the importance of the arts. Managing these different beliefs and finding a common ground can be challenging.

Leadership Lessons Learned

I think leadership is largely about associating with talented people who are pulling in the same direction as you are—and then knowing when to stay quiet and let work continue on its present course and when to speak up and nudge the wheel in a new direction. Leadership is less about being consistently active and more about knowing when to speak up. Ideally, every member of a team would possess leadership qualities, not just a single person.

EPFP Experience

My time as an EPFP Fellow was a wonderful opportunity to look into the work lives of people from all corners of the K-12 policy world. I think EPFP provides Fellows and alumni with exposure to new ideas, as well as networking opportunities with new people. In a world where so many of us get deep into particular tasks or issue areas in our jobs, it’s nice to step back and discuss K-12 at a more macro level with other invested, intelligent folks.

 


 


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