Co-Production & Co-Creation Part 2: Traditional & Open Authorizing Environments

In Denver Public Schools, I had the opportunity to work with a tremendous set of folks to “break the cycle” on turnaround.  DPS has identified previous turnaround efforts as stalled or challenged due to three factors: planning/lead time, community involvement and strong designs.

In three schools, we hired two principals.  One was the interim principal, hired to lead the school through the first year of the turnaround process.  The other leader, dubbed the “Year 0 Leader”, was to be the new permanent principal of the school. Over the course of the first year the leader was charged with building community design team for a new model, engaging families and community and hiring a new staff.  

In each of the cases, formal and informal authorizing was needed.  The school board and DPS central administration had to formally approve the process and final plans.  The Teacher’s Association had to be notified in advance.  External stakeholders with informal authority were informed through multiple meetings to explain the process.  A group of concerned community advocacy groups were brought in early and often to appraise them throughout.

How did we manage the external environment to authorize these two turnaround schools? How did we build a bigger group of co-constructors and co-creators? This post is about how to think about these concepts in the broader frame.

Read More

Peter Cunningham - Diversity & Families in the Education Movement

Yesterday, Peter Cunningham, editor-in-chief of Education Post, posted an article entitled: "Education Reform in 2018 Is Going to Need a Parent Seal of Approval."

It's a great piece that combines two very important ideas in education these days.  First, he rightly notes the important shift in the education reform space to diversify across all lines of difference and also share power with community voices. Second, he makes a strong and clear case for parent voice & parent work in the education community.  The first is an important observation and the second is an clarion call for education advocates going forward.

Read More

Authorizing Schools in the Open System

“Authorizing” is the set of processes by which new schools are evaluated according to standardized criteria and eventually approved or denied by the Board of Education.  (The specifics vary a bit from state to state and authorizer to authorizer, but the process is essentially the same.)  In DPS, the same criteria and evaluation process is used for both charter and district-run schools.

I oversaw this process for three years until June 2017.  Our work was based mostly on a publicly available rubric to establish a standard “Quality Bar”— if an applicant can meet or exceed the quality bar, the theory goes, it will be most likely be a high quality school.

One benefit to having a centrally-determined rubric and rigorous review process for determining school quality, authorizers can be relatively confident that new schools will be high quality options for families once they open.

However, far from creating an Open System, our strategies to engage with community members to see first hand what individuals directly impacted by new schools wanted, often regrettably served a compliance function rather than lead to any shared power.

Read More

3 Truths & Unwinding Our Definition of "Community"

If we are going to build the open system, then we must be grounded in the complexity and challenges of defining community. We need to know how to be open, to whom we should be open, and to be aware of the perils of labeling community as “the other” in hopes of engaging them.

The reality is simply this - if you're an Opener charged with opening some part of a system, you're gonna have to wrestle with these truths and definitional dynamics.  All Openers need to reconcile the system's need for feedback, the dynamic nature of community itself and the imperfections of any process designed to "talk to the community."

Read More