Earlier this month I attended the NewSchools Summit, an invite-only annual conference held by the New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) in San Francisco. Of the many and varied national conferences that I’ve attended, this gathering of entrepreneurs, funders, philanthropists, policy makers, and school operators was certainly one of my favorites. The centering of students, the incorporation of equity into each component of the event’s activities, and the authentic engagement of participants were all refreshing to see at a meeting of some of education reform’s most well-known individuals. I hope these discussions of equity and identity are picked up in other spaces of influence within the education sector as we work to create an inclusive movement around education reform. Here I’ll focus on the overall conference experience, saving the workshops for a future post. Hopefully this can inform the work we do in Edumatch as we collectively seek to improve our learning communities.
I attended the summit as a board member of EdSpeakers. With their new Diverse Leaders investment area NSVF is prioritizing the cultivation of diverse senior leaders in the K-12 space; as we create more opportunities for entrepreneurship and thought leadership, my hope is that EdSpeakers will be able to collaborate with many of the people and institutions that were represented. I love when conferences are considerate of the financial constraints of prospective attendees and I appreciated the scholarship I was offered by NSVF to subsidize the cost of attendance. I was excited to learn early on that this progressive mindset yielded measurable results: black and Latinx participants made up over 30% and 40% of attendees and speakers respectively. Not only were people of color in the room, but our many voices and perspectives were welcomed.
If it’s not being led by those who are most affected then it’s not a movement. – Brittany Packnett
Our first voices of the conference were Re’Chelle and Celeste, both young women from the coasts. Re’Chelle attends an alternative high school in DC, and we could plainly see that she was unaccustomed to speaking in front of such a large audience. Celeste is from East Los Angeles, and she spoke on the need for a collective reimagining of education and the role we must take as adults: “be who you needed when you were younger.” They were followed by Dr. Manuel Pastor; he spoke about the Next America which will be more black and brown than any previous generation, and how we must build ecosystems that can create change through projects, policy, and power.
Dr. Pastor was a perfect lead-in to a panel discussion with educator activists Brittany Packnett and Jose Patiño, moderated by Mark Fraley of Leadership for Educational Equity. All of these individuals are connected to TFA, which I found to be an interesting reminder of how specific voices are prioritized in ed reform as well as how valuable an organization like TFA can be in raising awareness. Patiño spoke openly about the urgency of immigration reform: “if we lose, our parents get deported. If we lose, our friends are gone.” Packnett spoke frankly about the problems of top-down reform and how movement work must not be reduced to bringing marginalized people in to implement a predetermined agenda. Her rousing words were completely in line with her “Stay Woke” badge, a tchotchke proudly worn a select few attendees that day.
This movie isn’t about slavery, it’s about revolution. – Nate Parker
The lunch plenary featured a discussion between Carlos Watson of OZY Media and Nate Parker, the actor and director behind the upcoming film Birth of a Nation. For many of us, that title evokes thoughts of the pioneering (and incredibly racist) 1915 film by D.W. Griffith but Parker has claimed it for a depiction of Nat Turner’s 1831 slave rebellion in Virginia. After quick introductions around my table, there was a moment where I realized that I sat next to a billionaire as we watched a trailer for a film about Black revolution. Generational wealth and white supremacy are inextricably linked in our nation’s history; to see my neighbor taking notes and listening as earnestly as myself while Parker outlined an argument for an honest accounting of our collective history was inspiring in itself. Parker shared the external struggle he faced to make this film and ongoing internal conflict regarding how he must use his own privilege.
I got to Harvard because of the investment a few remarkable teachers made in me. – Priscilla Chan
Speaking of billionaires, I enjoyed hearing Dr. Priscilla Chan speak about the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative (CZI). I often think about the role that wealthy individuals play in education, with their funding priorities often wielding a disproportionate amount of influence when placed within the context of the $500 billion spent annually on K-12 education. Even so, I thought Chan’s remarks were perfectly in line with the overall tone of the summit. Her experience as a first-generation college student and child of immigrants seems to strongly inform how she thinks about education reform.
As her husband Mark Zuckerberg watched from the audience, the pediatrician shared CZI’s priorities, which include an exciting new school model that seeks to break down siloes by partnering with a federally qualified health center (FQHC) to comprehensively address the needs of children. The private school’s student body will be selected through lottery but children who are FQHC patients will receive selection priority. The lessons learned and strategies developed through this school will be shared with the education community similar to the Highlander Institute in Providence, RI and Houston A+ Challenge. Awesome!
Transparency, accountability, and consistent community conversations with stakeholders are needed to restore trust in teachers. – Arne Duncan
As we talk about power and policy the federal government must be included in the discussion. Fortunately, we had two recent Department of Ed officials present who took the stage for an accounting of Arne Duncan’s legacy as Secretary of Education. As he spoke with his former deputy Jim Shelton, Duncan voiced his sincere pride at the gains in student achievement as well as his regrets regarding the lack of progress in supporting both early childhood education and undocumented students. I was surprised to hear a former politician speak so openly on how resilient the gun lobby proved in the wake of Newtown, stating “we as a nation just don’t value our children as much other nations do.”
We need at least a few students/parents in inner circle who are relatively sure we are wrong on everything. – Xian Barrett
As I think more about those three elements necessary for change: projects, policy, and power, I also reflect on the grassroots work being done in Houston by organizations like the Texas Organizing Project, ACLU of Texas, and ONE Houston pictured above. I’m inspired by the ways in which Project Row Houses is blurring the lines between art and activism; how the University of Houston Women’s, Gender, & Sexuality Studies program is engaging with the broader community to develop a common narrative around equity. This narrative can’t be limited to sessions at annual summits; it must affect our daily interactions as we return to our positions of influence back home. For dedicated and innovative educators such as those of us in Edumatch, our conversations must be informed by and included in discussions happening at these national convenings. Recordings of the summit are freely accessible on Vimeo, but I look forward to seeing more of us represented in person at the NewSchools Summit in future years!