Monday, February 22, 2010

Geoffrey Canada

On Tuesday, February 9th community members packed Kane Hall at the University of Washington to hear a provocative lecture by Geoffrey Canada. Since 1990, Mr. Canada has been the President and Chief Executive Officer for Harlem Children's Zone, which The New York Times Magazine called "one of the most ambitious social experiments of our time." In October 2005, Mr. Canada was named one of "America's Best Leaders" by U.S. News and World Report. Over the years, the agency introduced several ground-breaking efforts: in 2000, The Baby College® parenting workshops; in 2001, the Harlem Gems® pre-school program; also in 2001, the HCZ Asthma Initiative, which teaches families to better manage the disease; in 2004, the Promise Academy, a high-quality public charter school; and in 2006, an obesity program to help children stay healthy.

His speech was filled with alarming statistics on the state of America’s education system, thoughtful personal stories, proven success, and inspiring recommendations. Below are a few of Mr. Canada's key points:

· If we are going to save our kids, we (the community) have to do it. We can’t wait for our education and government leaders.
· Start early with supports for our students and families – cradle to college.
· We must weave the safety net so tight, that our students cannot fall through the cracks.
· College education should be the benchmark. I have never met a wealthy or successful person who did not value higher education.
· Schools have to be redesigned for success. They are currently designed for the negative results that are getting.
· We have not allowed innovation to take root in education. We have allowed for innovation in other fields such as technology. But If we are going to dramatically affect student success; we must continue to think “outside of the box” and allow for innovation inside and outside the classroom.
· Changing the model of education will cost more money, teachers will have to work harder, and all adults will have to be responsible for student learning. Communities are part of the equation.
· Evaluation has to be a tool that drives student performance.
· Hope [in education] is as infectious as despair.

I think it is safe to say that the majority of attendees left the lecture inspired, renewed, and determined to be bold as we all work toward improving our educational system.

For more information on Geoffrey Canada and the Harlem Children's Zone, please go to

-Solynn McCurdy, AFE

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Alliance for Education announces Sara Morris as new President & CEO

We are excited to share with you that Sara Morris will be the next President and CEO of the Alliance for Education, beginning on March 1, 2010. Sara has been serving as Director of Marketing and Public Relations for OVP Venture Partners.

Sara has a passion for the issues and brings a diverse set of skills to the Alliance from the private and public sectors. We considered many qualified candidates during the search for our organization’s new CEO, but Sara is well positioned to serve as a bridge between private donors and the school district. Equally important, she will continue our work in building a great relationship with Seattle Public Schools and the broader community.

Morris spent 17 years in marketing and communications. She served as a communications aide in the Clinton administration, as Group Marketing Manager at, and Executive Director of Technet Northwest. As an independent consultant for Seattle Public Schools, Morris led large-scale, interdisciplinary projects that moved diverse groups of people toward common objectives. Morris also serves as President of the Board of Directors for the Technology Access Foundation and was named one of Seattle’s “40 under 40” by the Puget Sound Business Journal in 2003.

In her previous work at Seattle Public Schools, Sara served as a strategic advisor to then Superintendant Raj Manhas, and Staff Director to a 14-member commission. Her work led to sweeping reform recommendations aimed at improving academic achievement and reaching fiscal sustainability throughout the system.

Sara has three children, two who are currently attending West Woodland Elementary.

With Sara at the helm, the Alliance looks forward to continuing our work in ensuring that every child in Seattle Public Schools achieve academic success.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Seattle College Access Network (SCAN) Retreat

This past Friday, February 5th, SCAN held its first planning retreat where we discussed our collective agreement on the purpose of the network and started setting clear accountability protocols for priorities in 2010 and beyond. As a reminder, SCAN’s purpose is to increase the college–readiness of students among low income, first-generation, and students of color populations, our target population. The goal of our work is to increase the number of students in these populations who apply for, attend, and graduate from college.

SCAN is a coalition of existing college access providers, including community based organizations, Seattle Public Schools (SPS), funders, and advocacy groups. This coalition is currently building a framework to enable regional groups to connect with each other in order to share best practices, provide college access training, and facilitate a forum for understanding key policy issues that affect college access.

During our retreat, we discussed high priority network tasks and activities critical to member success and we reviewed a draft network agreement and decided how to advance its development.

In a nutshell, we started putting some teeth and claws into our membership duties and agreements. SCAN has grown from seven organizations and 14 members to 20 organizations and 40 members. In addition to the aforementioned groups listed above, we were excited have an active student, teacher, and counselor presence in the dialogue. They’re input is critical to the success of our network since they are in the frontlines of all the college readiness work. We are thrilled to have them at the table.

Throughout our retreat, Paul Vandeventer, author of Networks that Work, provided us with a structure to create and sustain an optimal network. We started breaking down our goals and priorities into four distinct subcommittees:
  • Student access
  • Policy and advocacy
  • Research and data development and
  • Governance
We started laying the foundation for our work and it is clear that there are significant challenges ahead. But it is also evident that all participants in the network appeared excited, engaged, and committed to the work of helping our target populations become college-ready. We realize challenges and conflicts will arise but we are off to an amazing start with all members on the same page. We’ll keep the ball moving forward.

Stay tuned …

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Teacher Focus Groups

This week the Alliance conducted teacher focus groups. As you likely know, we've been participating in a conversation about how to best ensure a strong teacher in every classroom.

The purpose of this effort was to to hear what teachers are experiencing in the classroom, and collect feedback and responses to the larger teacher quality discussion. As a parent, I hear pieces of it, but getting to the big picture requires hearing different perspectives from teachers across the district.

We are just starting to analyze the information, but a few things are clear. There is no single voice for how teachers feel about particular issues. The priorities vary. The experiences vary. There appears to be a deep desire to do the work in a respected and autonomous way. These are perspectives that should be heard as we look for solutions in serving all students.

We will share the results of these focus groups with the public in the near future.

In all of our areas of work, we are finding that the more we can collaborate in our search for solutions, the greater the potential impact. I look forward to seeing how these voices can contribute to the larger conversation.