As we think about education reform, do we authentically take the time to contemplate the roadblocks and hurdles that must be overcome in order to fully realize the initiatives that could ultimately transform the landscape of learning, leading, and thriving? I frequently listen to my colleagues, frustrated and somewhat disillusioned by those unavoidable barriers that thwart, or at the least significantly limit, one’s ability to maximize the impact of the work for learners. When all of the reasons have dissipated, and all voices have grown weary of the chatter, regardless of our biases, backgrounds and personal beliefs, we must forge ahead and discover the most effective method of a creating a collective shift in this moment for these students.
For each precious life is counting on public education to deliver a springboard that affords him/her the chance to experience a multi-faceted, inspiring, and meaningful future – complete with a skill set grounded in the life lessons of tenacity, resilience, empathy, and accountability. When an organization is stymied by politics or a maze of red tape, reformers, change agents, innovators are handcuffed by systemic, stagnant thought processes and protocols that keep the status quo protected and the underserved at a safe distance. Poverty and disconnect share the powerful chokehold that rarely releases it’s relentless grasp on those who see minimal options and know only the bleak, colorless day-to-day that is too often their familial, generational reality. This cannot be the future of any of our students – we must demand rapid, rugged, and unapologetic transformation.
One example of a non-traditional framework that could potentially drive meaningful change is the concept of Zones, establishing a collection of schools within the larger district structure. We can no longer focus on the battle that finds traditional schools in continuous conflict with their charter neighbors. Conversely, we need to somehow marry these two independent entities and promote a collaborative approach that offers each learner an individualized, preparatory journey that culminates with a variety of viable options and a limitless future. Accountability and autonomy are mandatory cornerstones of today’s highly effective, versatile, and fluid learning environment.
The formation of the Beacon Zone Board was an intentional, strategic maneuver to further expand our innovative lens with these guideposts in mind. Through the leadership and expertise of (as well as an interactive partnership with) a group of intellectually savvy, community-focused, dedicated individuals, schools would be prompted to flourish through constant questioning as well as the creation, evaluation and recreation of practices and systems that seek and celebrate measurable and noteworthy growth and achievement. The Zone allows for shared resources, additional supports for both students and staff, and an anchor to secure the unorthodox methods of reaching those traditionally labeled as incapable or incompetent and propelling them to new heights. The umbrella of the Zone, held firmly in the hands of the Board, provides shelter from the endless ebb and flow of the district’s ever changing expectations and protocols. In this win-win situation, schools are able to garner buy-in from current staff, attract new team members whose vision and mentality reflect the Zone’s priorities and goals, and invite communities to actively participate in the educational experiences of our students. This opportunity becomes one that is coveted. Demand increases and eventually, we open yet another Beacon school, driven by our conviction to drive powerful, undeniable change in the educational arena. Our the model includes the following:
- Advocacy- our board members and community naturally become enthusiastic advocates of our work and simultaneously, hold our Zone schools accountable. This prevents sudden changes at the district or even national level from impacting what we have planned for and promised to our learners.
- Funding – Without question, schools are under-funded and educators are not adequately compensated for their unparalleled impact on students today and tomorrow. Therefore, working with constituents that are interested in collective outcomes (to generate ongoing think-tanks, write grants, and raise capital to offset the ever-increasing costs of quality programming) allows us to provide the high-level, comprehensive experience our learners need and deserve.
- Promotion- We know that one-size does not fit all, so why do so many schools and districts insist on homogeneous, linear structures at all sites? The Zone’s independent governing board holds the school(s) to the model identified as transformative allowing more students to experience meaningful, successful educational options.
If differences cannot be diluted in an effort to create a more unified force, we will continue to battle moving education in a direction that focuses first and foremost on students as tomorrow’s answer. We will be embroiled in tension and division that only allows the unacceptable outcomes too many know to continue as the norm. Zones minimize destructive competition, maximize resources and ultimately, results. We must demand change that elevates the student, the classroom, schools, and in the end, the health and well-being of humanity.