Updates from Mom Congress 2011

Mom Congress 2011 started last night — meeting the new mom delegates and re-connecting with the mom mentors from last year was great.   We also had a chance to hear from Dr. Metzler at Georgetown about data and advocacy and Marguirite Roza from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.


Collective Impact – Cradle to Career

Check out this article in the NY Times about what’s possible when organizations and individuals work together in comprehensive coordination.

“Since the launch of the network, the partners have reported gains in several areas on Strive’s annual “report cards”. Among students in the Cincinnati Public Schools, for example, over the past three years, kindergarten readiness has jumped 9 percent; fourth grade reading and math have increased 7 percent and 14 percent, respectively; and the high school graduation rate is up 11 percent. At the University of Cincinnati graduation rates for students from local urban high schools jumped by 7 percent; at Northern Kentucky University, by 10 percent.

What distinguishes collective impact from run-of-the-mill collaboration is the quality of the partnership and the nature of the problem being addressed. Mark Kramer and John Kania, managing directors of a nonprofit consulting organization called FSG, which coined the term “collective impact,” identified five conditions for “collective success” in a recent essay in the Stanford Social Innovation Review. Above all, they say, partners must come together and agree not just on common goals, but shared ways to measure success towards those goals. They must communicate on a regular basis. And there must be a “backbone” organization that is focused full-time on managing the partnership.

NY Times Article – Coming Together to Give Schools  A Boost

Strive Together

Stive’s Annual “Report Card” (how they are measuring what matters…)

Collective Impact Essay

Race To Nowhere…what now?

Last week I had a chance to see the film “Race to Nowhere” and to participate in a dialogue with high school students in Burlington, Vermont.  While I think the film represented a particularly affluent, suburban phenomenon (with an attempt to identify similar issues in urban areas with less economic resources), it raised some interesting issues and questions.

I was happy to see the film in Burlington, where I feel like I have already been part of an ongoing conversation about our values and goals for kids in our community.   The issues most resonant with me are examining how and why kids are being “pushed” to “achieve” and how much of our children’s energy goes into being “producers” and “performers.”   The benefits of providing kids with unstructured time, meaningful opportunities to connect to people and projects they care about, time to be creative and explore the natural world are part of the Vermont conversation. It was interesting to hear our high school students reflect that they did not feel like “too much homework” was a pressing issue, but that the relevance of what they are learning and the quality of relationships with teachers is of great importance.  They also clearly expressed the sense that the “pressure” comes from what it takes to get into a good college.

Many of the students I had a chance to speak with also were both motivated and trapped by our societies’ culture around sports.  Students spoke of wanting more free time, but also the need to play and practice one sport year round, six days a week, if you (and your school) are going to be competitive and match your “rivals.”

One thing that I walked away with was the importance of reflecting on these issues as a community.  If we are going to create a healthy environment for our kids to learn and grow,we have to really get clear about what that looks like and pursue it together.

Family-School Partnerships

The last few months have been a whirlwind.  Much of my energy has gone into creating family-school partnership teams at our 9 schools.  We joined the National Network of Partnership Schools (NNPS), and, together with PIRC-VT (Parent Information Resource Center) I have been responsible for helping to create teams of diverse family leaders, teachers and the principal at each school.   We pulled our teams together and after the biggest snowstorm on record in March, we held an all-day orientation for our teams to build relationships, learn about the “Six Keys to Successful Partnerships”, and start working on their shared goals and partnership plan.  We had over 100 participants.  Our efforts began with providing everyone with access to the same information and research, so we begin from the same starting points.  Our goal is successfully supporting every student to achieve at high levels.  You can read more at http://www.bsdvt.org

We are learning together as we are doing this work.  This is an important step to bring families, teachers and administrators together around the same table and to develop really clear shared goals for our students!

Developing Parent Leadership

What does it mean to be a parent leader?  And how do parent leaders help our schools develop clear, shared priorities that serve all students well?  So often, parents seem to effectively advocate for a specific more narrow goal.

I’d suggest that too many competing goals is one of the major challenges that limit our schools ability to serve all of our kids well.  In a world of trying to do too many things and moving in too many different directions, how do we clarify what matters most?  What does it look like to really build a group of engaged, diverse parent leaders to advocate and support ONE vision?  I’m trying to learn more about several groups that are working in this area:

Parents for Public Schools

Commonwealth Institute for Parent Leadership

Parent Institute for Quality Education

Parent Academy

Parents Supporting Educational Excellence


If you’ve had an experience working with these groups, or participating in these programs, please share!

I continue to rely on several key sources (with some great e-newsletters and facebook pages) as a helpful way to gather information on my learning journey —  Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Public Education Network National PTA, Harvard Family Research Project, Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA), National Network of Partnership Schools and GreatSchools.org.

Pre-K Now!

I haven’t been that involved in advocacy for Pre-Kindergarten.  A few years ago, when I helped organize a coalition to constructively respond to local school improvement proposals, our group fervently agreed that “Universal Pre-K” was a critical priority to improve educational opportunities for all kids.  There were some interesting discussions about what that might look like and how expansion doesn’t necessarily mean adding Pre-K to our public schools but supporting and building on existing high quality independent pre-school programs.

In an article earlier this month in the Washington Post, Marci Young of Pre-K Now lays out why this education reform strategy should be put into place without further delay.  Pre-K has “50 years of solid research behind it” and “proven results that demonstrate how to improve student achievement. It’s a solution backed by both political parties to help narrow the achievement gap, increase high school graduation rates and reduce crime and delinquency. It’s an investment proven to yield up to $7 for every public dollar invested, paying dividends to families, school districts and taxpayers.”

Here in Vermont, the Kids are Priority One Coalition does excellent work to advance this critical goal.  I’m excited that Governor-Elect Shumlin has articulated early education as one of his top priorities.

Working Together to Create a School Reform Agenda

Pedro Noguero’s recent article in The Nation eloquently describes a “Campaign for Public Education” that I’d like to help make a reality.

“We need to organize parents, teacher unions, school board members, and others around a reform agenda that calls for protecting public education while also calling for its renewal.” In the vacuum created by a divided government, parents and educators must hold politicians accountable for fair school funding, adequate facilities, and reasonable class size. Moreover, complex and controversial issues like charter schools, teacher tenure, and merit pay shouldn’t be framed as either/or propositions. A campaign for support and change in public education can be successful, but it will take work to bring a progressive vision from the margins to the center of political discourse.”

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