Tag Archives: Leadership

Bellwether is Growing: New Hires and Promotions

One of the best things about working at Bellwether is the diverse, passionate, mission-driven, brilliant people that work alongside me. I am delighted to welcome several new leaders into our organization. They will play vital roles in expanding our capacity and deepening our expertise.

  • Tom Gold joined Bellwether in April as a senior associate partner in our Policy and Evaluation practice area. For the past two decades, Tom’s work has been driven by the urgency to utilize research and evidence to advance social change and greater equity in education. He brings extensive experience as an independent consultant and education leader, including within the New York City Department of Education directing its external research team and as adjunct associate professor of education studies at New York University. His work will deepen Bellwether’s evaluative field impact.

 

  • Anson Jackson joined Bellwether in May as a senior adviser in our Academic and Program Strategy practice area. A seasoned educator and school and instructional leader, he was recently the deputy chief of schools for Uplift Education and the superintendent of Summit Public Schools in the Bay Area. In his education career, Anson has also overseen innovative school design, school turnaround, leadership development initiatives, and leading systems with an emphasis on equity. He brings an unparalleled insight into the inner workings of school systems to our Academic and Program Strategy team. 

 

  • DaWana Williamson joined Bellwether in June as a partner and chief operating officer. A chemical engineer and an MBA by trade, she has spent the past 15 years working for nonprofits in the education and technology sectors honing her operations and change management skills. Most recently, DaWana served as senior vice president of youth development operations for the YMCA of Metro Chicago. She currently serves on the Advisory Board of the David Lynch Foundation, Chicago, an organization dedicated to bringing the practice of transcendental meditation to at-risk populations. As Bellwether continues to grow, DaWana will play a critical role in supporting the evolving needs of our team.

 

  • Daniela Torre Gibney joined Bellwether in July as a senior associate partner in our Policy and Evaluation practice area. Daniela has extensive experience designing and implementing complex mixed-methods evaluations and research projects, and providing technical assistance to organizational leaders focused on using data for continuous improvement. Prior to Bellwether, she led foundation- and federally-funded evaluations at SRI International. Daniela’s work focuses on supporting programs and informing policies that improve teaching and school quality, particularly for multilingual learners and marginalized students. She will further enhance Bellwether’s evaluative expertise and field impact.

 

  • Alex Cortez joined Bellwether in September as a partner in our Strategic Advising practice area. He brings an extensive range of experiences, including as an operator, a consultant, a funder, and in nonprofit board governance. His most recent work, as a managing partner at New Profit, focused on parent power and systems change, scaling the direct and widespread impact of K-12 models and postsecondary success. He also previously served in multiple roles within KIPP, including with KIPP Houston Public Schools and with the KIPP Foundation. Alex sits on multiple nonprofit boards and the Massachusetts State Board of Higher Education. He will bring an operator’s sensibility to our work, a strong lens around inclusion of stakeholder voice, and an extraordinary level of strategic acumen to guide and shape our Strategic Advising work. 

 

I am equally delighted to celebrate recent leadership promotions of incredible team members who have raised the bar, every day, and who have been a critical part of Bellwether’s growth in recent years.

  • Melissa Steel King has been promoted to partner. She leads our Evaluation practice area and has been a key team member since joining Bellwether in 2015. Her leadership has grown Bellwether’s expertise in program evaluation, teacher preparation and training, whole child development, and evaluation capacity building. In addition to her expertise in conducting evaluations on behalf of client organizations, Melissa is particularly skilled in working with clients in building their internal capacity to measure impact, inform growth and improvement, and ultimately to drive outcomes for the communities they serve. Melissa’s deep expertise and dedicated focus on equity are evident both in her work with clients and in her many contributions to Bellwether as an organization.

 

  • Evan Coughenour has been promoted to senior associate partner in our Strategic Advising practice area. Since joining Bellwether in 2014, he has advised a diverse range of projects, building deep expertise in charter and parochial school growth and sustainability planning, long-term financial planning and analysis, and postsecondary access and success efforts. Evan is an exceptional leader of projects and teams and a skilled mentor to newer team members. His leadership will continue to be instrumental to the ongoing impact of our Strategic Advising team.

I hope you will join me in welcoming our new Bellwarians and congratulating senior team members who continue to grow and advance here on their new roles. Through client and field-facing work, our entire team is approaching this school year with a renewed focus and energy around helping the sector accelerate its impact for students who need it the most at this critical moment. 

We are also still growing and hiring, check out our open roles here.

Supporting Teachers and Leaders in Minnesota and Beyond

UPDATE: The website referenced below has been archived as of February 2020. For more information about this work, contact Jennifer O’Neal Schiess.

Minnesota is a fascinating place when it comes to education. Student populations are increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse, especially in the Twin Cities. Overall child outcomes have been historically high relative to national averages, but wide and persistent achievement gaps reveal unacceptable disparities by race, ethnicity, immigration status, and income. Local education leaders, funders, and advocates are increasingly seeking change in policy and educational programs. In this environment, it’s interesting to zoom in on work happening at a local level, to identify lessons that can be applied elsewhere in Minnesota, and in other schools, states, and cities.

Today we release Supporting Minnesota Educators, a new website from Bellwether Education Partners. This project began by looking at the McKnight Foundation Pathway Schools Initiative, which aimed to improve pre-K to third grade reading outcomes in seven schools in Minnesota’s Twin Cities via formative assessments, educator professional development, and leadership supports for principals. McKnight and its partners began with bold ambitions to support significant improvements in student learning, but those gains haven’t materialized in most participating schools. These results show how complicated school improvement work can be, and also point to how policymakers can better set schools and principals up for success.

In examining evaluation results and speaking with initiative stakeholders, we found three key lessons that can inform future efforts:

  1. Foster stability among educators and leaders to allow for instructional and school culture changes to take hold
  2. Build leadership teams in schools focused on improving teaching and learning
  3. Improve training for educators so they have the knowledge and skills to provide excellent instruction for all students

Supporting Minnesota Educators expands on all three of these lessons, and brings together results from the Initiative with national research and resources. The website will also serve as a home for more resources to come on these topics in the year ahead – you can sign up for updates here. I hope this website will be a helpful resource for leaders, teachers, and advocates and generate conversation about pre-K to third grade and school improvement in Minnesota and elsewhere.

Looking at Leadership to Combat Teacher Turnover and Sustain School Improvement

This is the third in a series of blog posts and resources to offer lessons and reflections for school leaders, district officials, and education policymakers using data and stories from the McKnight Foundation Pathway Schools Initiative. The series is supported by a grant from the McKnight Foundation.

Photo by Eric E. Castro via Flickr

In recent blog posts, I’ve been looking at the impact of teacher turnover on school improvement efforts and ways schools, states, and districts can address this challenge. But what about turnover in leaders, such as principals, district leaders, and superintendents? Leaders can have a huge impact on the culture, priorities, and strategies of their schools and districts. Recent studies have found that principals had a significant effect on teachers’ overall job satisfaction, and that the quality of administrative support could strongly influence teachers’ decisions to leave or stay. Given this reality, efforts to address teacher turnover should not overlook leaders.

Despite the demonstrated importance of strong, stable leadership, leaders in urban schools and districts continue to turn over at high rates. Leadership turnover can be caused by some of the same factors as teacher turnover, such as retirement, performance issues, or competitive offers elsewhere. A single change in leadership can reverberate through a school or district, for better or worse.

Principals in the Pathway Schools Initiative were fairly stable over the course of the Initiative. Of seven schools participating in the Initiative, three retained the same principal throughout all five years of the initiative, and two experienced only one change in principal leadership. This is unusual for high-poverty, urban schools, where principals turn over even faster than teachers. Nationally, 22 percent of public school principals and 27 percent of principals in high-poverty public schools leave annually. Two schools in the initiative, however, experienced more frequent leadership transitions — including one elementary school that had a new principal almost every year of the initiative.

Even when principals stayed the same, changes in district leadership had an impact on schools. All three of the traditional school districts in the Initiative changed superintendents and reorganized district leadership at least once. This is not surprising based on national trends: The average urban superintendent lasts barely three years, and the role of an urban superintendent is increasingly high pressure and politicized. These people were key liaisons between the Initiative partners, schools, and districts, and every time a district leader changed, it took time for their successors to build working relationships and learn about the Initiative.

Churn in district leadership is also frequently accompanied by changes in district strategies, and teachers and principals in Pathway Schools reported to SRI International evaluators that this sometimes hindered progress at the schools. Especially in the larger districts involved in the Initiative, Pathway Schools had to negotiate for the flexibility to pursue their goals differently from what other elementary schools in their districts were doing. With changes in leadership and accompanying changes in district strategies, this process had to be repeated, creating potential uncertainty and mixed messages for principals and teachers.

A change is leadership isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a district or a school — like teachers, leaders change for all kinds of reasons. Still, districts should take every possible step to retain high-performing and high-potential leaders where they can, and to simultaneously plan for succession and create a pipeline of new leaders from within their staff. Potential solutions to consider include: building a complete district framework for principal talent management, instituting school leader residencies to create effective new leaders, and facilitating smooth transitions with extra support for new leaders. Schools and students shouldn’t start from scratch when leadership changes occur.

What’s Really Driving Leadership Turnover in Education?

Image by Alachua County via Flickr

Image by Alachua County via Flickr

When DC Mayor Muriel Bowser recently announced she was nominating Oakland, CA Superintendent Antwan Wilson to succeed Kaya Henderson as DC Public Schools’ Chancellor (after an anxious public search), the San Francisco Chronicle responded with a scathing op-ed accusing Wilson of disloyalty and self-serving ambition. The Chronicle also took a few shots at San Francisco’s former superintendent Richard Carranza, now working in Houston, and generally railed against urban superintendents who “come in, do enough to raise hopes, then move on to a higher paying job.”

High turnover in educational leadership is alarming, but to paraphrase the advice columnist Dan Savage, if you have a long string of dramatic, failed relationships, the common denominator is you. I’m not just picking on the Bay Area — the average urban superintendent stays in his or her role just 3.2 years, and state education chiefs turn over at an even faster rate. These dismal numbers are likely not the sole product of individual ambition, but it remains unclear what actually drives this churn. When experienced, qualified school system leaders across the country leave their posts much earlier than expected, should we blame the individuals, or take a closer look at the jobs?

What is clear is that state and district executive leadership roles have become more challenging in recent years. Federal education policies put myriad new responsibilities and choices in the hands of state and district central offices to measure teacher and school performance, increase student achievement, and close achievement gaps for disadvantaged  groups of students. For example, a new publication on teacher evaluation by my colleagues Kaitlin Pennington and Sara Mead uncovers a minefield of choices facing state and district leaders — and that is just one policy area out of many. Leaders are figuring out these new responsibilities in an increasingly polarized and politicized educational environment.

Holding our school systems and their leaders accountable for providing an excellent education to every student is absolutely the right thing to do, but we also should recognize that educational bureaucracies were not designed to be agile performance managers orchestrating school turnarounds. They were mostly built to disburse various funding streams down to schools, and collect documentation that the conditions of that funding and other legislative mandates have been met. Those compliance responsibilities remain in place even as new performance goals are added, and on top of that, many agency budgets are being slashed by their state legislatures. Untangling the messes of red tape, budgetary crises, and misaligned priorities takes time and support that most superintendents are not afforded by their school boards or by their communities.

Even the best leaders can be hamstrung by the political, legal, and bureaucratic contexts in which they operate. Instead of looking for more selfless miracle workers to lead dysfunctional systems, envision a school system where great leaders (or maybe good-enough leaders!) could do their best work. How would it be organized? How would it be accountable to the community and work in the best interests of students? What are the conditions that enable that kind of school system to exist and succeed? I don’t have all the answers, but legislators, governors, mayors, and school boards will need to think bigger to disrupt the current cycle of leadership churn, and these big questions are one place to start.

Progress Not Perfection: Overcoming Your Hesitation to Talk about Race and Equity at Work

The Shaman by Pedro Paricio via Halcyon Gallery

Is it a prerequisite that you feel fluent in the language of race, inclusion, and equity before tackling such issues in your organization?

This is a question I’ve been working through myself. Acting to resolve a sensitive issue we may be met with silence, confusion, denial, or resistance. If not communicated tactfully, we might unintentionally offend colleagues. In the worst case scenario, we might encounter marginalization, reprimand, or even termination. Scary stuff. So, initially, my intuition said that we should get good at talking about sensitive topics before launching into action to avoid complicating an already complex situation. Reaching a level of conversational proficiency where we feel confident to handle any situation before intervening in an equity issue seemed like a logical pursuit.

More recently, I’ve come to think that this is a recipe for delay, paralysis, and, ultimately, the perpetuation of the status quo. Waiting for everyone to reach proficiency won’t work because everyone’s starting from a different place. More importantly, as a sector and as leaders, we’re late to the game on this and it’s time to report for duty.

As an education leader, you have two roles: lead and provide space and support for others to grow. The same is true when making equity part of your daily dialogue. It’s important to acknowledge that people all have different levels of comfort and sophistication with discussions about race and equity. For instance, when we talk about race, there are often stark differences between people of color and whites. Continue reading