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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: Alan Richard (DC EPFP '00-01)

Posted By Shaina Cook, Wednesday, February 11, 2015

 

Cross-Boundary Leader: Alan Richard
(DC EPFP '00-01)

Alan Richard has had a long career in communications, writing, and journalism in the education sector. Before his current role as Chair of the Rural School and Community Trust, Richard spent the past three years at public relations and communications agencies in Washington and was the Communications Director at the Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) in Atlanta. He has also worked as a journalist at Education Week and The State newspaper in Columbia, SC. We asked him about his EPFP experience, challenges he’s faced during his career, and cross-boundary leadership.

EPFP Experience

I participated in EPFP while worked at Education Week and was the first working journalist to go through the program. I was new in town some colleagues encouraged me to apply to the program to learn more about how Washington and federal policy worked. Some other Fellows in my cohort worked at the U.S. Department of Education, and others were teachers and principals, and I felt their responses to our discussions were very powerful. It was great for me, as a journalist, to learn about the importance of policy and guiding educational practices and opportunities and “lifted the veil” of how Washington works to help me better understand ESEA, what the U.S. Department of Education actually did, and the importance of policymaking. I was also able to meet some interesting people and I’m still in touch with a few Fellows today.

My year in EPFP (2000-2001) was exciting because that was when No Child Left Behind was taking place, and we actually had advisors to Sen. Joe Lieberman and the White House come in and debate some of the points discussed in Congress at the time. I was especially interested to learn about the development of NCLB because it represented a united front between President Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy, although Kennedy later became a critic of the implementation.

Not long after my year in EPFP, Hunter Moorman, who was the DC site coordinator at the time, and I drove from DC to Columbia, SC, and brought the idea of starting an EPFP site to several education organizations there. We were able to meet with the SEA, school board, education oversight committee, and other groups, and these conversations eventually led to the launch of the South Carolina EPFP site, which was an exciting thing to be a part of.



Cross-Boundary Leadership

Cross-boundary leadership is at the heart of what I do and have done in my career. As a journalist, you have to really try to set aside biases because you are telling other people’s stories. Issues can be quite complex and have lots of nuances, so working with a wide variety of sources and getting the right information is important. At SREB, we worked with political stakeholders from all sides, including governors, higher education officials, superintendents, and legislators on both sides of the aisle. Now, as a communications consultant, I’ve realized that no one has a monopoly on good ideas—everyone has a role.

Challenges

One of the most challenging things I’ve had to do is to stay above the fray. At times I fear that a lot of education policy debates happening now are not particularly useful. The biggest challenges that remain to improve education are important because they affect students, such as preparing students for learning and work after high school, and they deserve great attention from all of us regardless of political views. We should be working to solve these challenges together, such as making school more appealing to all students and providing quality early education that all students deserve.

Lessons Learned

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is to figure out what matters most to you and to the debate and take focus off of the most immediate political argument. Take Common Core for example. The main issue there is the need to work together to agree on the proper role of education and raising academic standards, but many people are stuck on the political aspect of the issue. Instead, we should be focusing on implementing standards the right way and creating more opportunities for students to attend postsecondary education and be successful in college and technical training. That’s what will make a difference.


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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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Cross-Boundary Leader: Dr. Steven R. Staples (VA EPFP ’89-90)

Posted By Jennifer Masutani, Monday, November 10, 2014

 

Cross-Boundary Leader: Dr. Steven R. Staples
(VA EPFP ’89-90)

The new State Education Chief of Virginia, Dr. Steven R. Staples (VA EPFP ’89-90), is IEL Education Policy Fellowship Program alum. When we asked Dr. Staples about his EPFP experience, this is what he told us:

“EPFP experience exceeded my expectations. It allowed me to associate with folks I wouldn’t have otherwise met. It shaped my perspectives and views on the world and on education and opened my horizons on diverse issues, at both the state and national levels. It also informed my career choices to pursue the superintendency.” 

Dr. Staples also shared with us how he leads across boundaries, what are some challenges he has faced during his illustrious career, and what lessons he has learned.

 

Cross-boundary Leadership

The key is to look for a common problem that has no simple solution, but whose responsibility is embedded across many sectors. Think about the K-12 system and the phrase “college readiness”… Each agency defines “college readiness” in a different way. If we are to create a seamless system from K-12 to postsecondary education, we need to listen to each other and understand each other’s perspectives. This means engaging critical stakeholders with different perspectives to share their views. Creating a trusting, safe space and giving people permission to step outside their comfort zone is critical in leading across boundaries and problem solving across sectors. As education leaders, we have limited authority outside of K-12 space to use the bully pulpit. Thus, it is important to continuously initiate outreach to others.



Challenges
In the era of accountability, the State Departments of Education (SEAs) are perceived as the big brother, an oversight group that is not willing to encourage real partnerships. But, that is not the case. State DOEs are working to change that culture by working with local educational agencies (LEAs) to help support underperforming districts. This year, Virginia is working with districts on final accreditation decisions. When schools do not make accreditation, we work to create a customized memorandum of understanding that will encourage close collaboration and support between SEA and LEAs.

Lessons Learned
Given the importance of reaching across systems and sectors to create positive change, networks become critical. Never stop networking! There are stakeholders who are working on similar problems and facing similar circumstances. Social issues in particular, fall into this category – they are cross system, cross sector, and complex. Creating a culture that encourages networking and incentivizes a collective reexamination of how and why we do things is critical. Such culture allows us to be flexible and adaptable.

Dr. Steven R. Staples (VA EPFP ’89-90) is the 24th Superintendent of Public Instruction for Virginia. As Superintendent, he serves as the Chief Executive Officer of the Virginia Department of Education and Secretary of the Board of Education. Prior to his appointment, Dr. Staples served as the Executive Director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, was a faculty member at the College of William & Mary and completed a 33 year career in local K-12 positions, from classroom teacher to school superintendent.

Tags:  alumni  cross-boundary leader  virginia 

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