Five fellows from four very different schools are spending a year helping each other design new schools that they believe will help close historical gaps between students who are black or Latino and their white and Asian peers.
With less than a year to plan, Principal Angela Bogan has a lot of ideas for what students and parents will experience when her new school, Sartori Elementary in Renton, opens next fall.
“When you walk in the front door, the first thing you’ll see is a family room,” Bogan said.
In that space, she would like to provide drinks and light refreshments for parents as they learn about homework and school policies — or make an appointment with school staff. The campus also could welcome families for after-hours English classes.
Education Lab is a Seattle Times project that spotlights promising approaches to persistent challenges in public education. It is produced in partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network and is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
As for curriculum, Bogan wants a focus on science, technology, engineering and math, with each teacher specializing in one subject, which is unusual for an elementary school. And she’s thinking about partnering Sartori’s preschool students with fifth-graders to create a “community of learners.”
That’s part of the vision she shared on the first day of training last month with other principals and principals-to-be who are part of a new school leadership “incubator” in Seattle. Dubbed the School Foundry, the yearlong program has an inaugural class of five fellows: one each from the Renton and Seattle school districts, two from a new charter campus opening next year in Tukwila and another from an alternative high school in the rural Methow Valley Schools.
The training is financially supported by the Los Angeles-based ECMC Foundation, the philanthropic arm of a nonprofit that handles student-loan collection.
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The fellows will spend the next year helping each other design schools that will focus on raising the performance of student groups that, on average, often lag behind their peers. Each fellow has committed to opening a new or transformed school in 2018-19.
“The current prevailing educational systems … are broken,” said Jeff Petty, a former teacher and administrator who has worked in traditional public schools and as a consultant for charter schools and districts.
“We don’t need to tweak them. We don’t need them to get a little better,” he added. “We need to blow them up and reinvent school, and a piece of that is leadership development.”
Petty, who now leads the Puget Sound Consortium for School Innovation, partnered with Gonzaga University’s principal-training program to develop the School Foundry. The new program is designed to help each principal test the limits of traditional schools, lead a school that supports teachers better and build support from the wider school community.
The Foundry is a regional initiative of Big Picture Learning, an international network of schools trying to redesign education.
At last month’s initial training in Seattle’s Pioneer Square, the five fellows interviewed each other about how they define equity in schools, why they’re in this work and what excites them about the school they hope to create.
Sara Mounsey, an adviser and one of two staff members at a small alternative school in Twisp, noted only two of her recent seniors are now attending community college — the most of any graduating class so far.
“And none have stayed and finished a degree,” Mounsey said. “It’s a big leap for a lot of people who grow up here in this really isolated community.”
That’s why Mounsey joined School Foundry, to help her establish a regional network of rural schools that can better connect high-school students with a four-year university, community college or career training. Her campus has already recruited community members to offer internships to students, but Mounsey hopes her peers at the Foundry will have new ideas based on their experiences working in schools with more resources.
In Renton, Bogan echoed the same hopes as Mounsey.
“We have the luxury of partnering with another school district, partnering with charter leaders and with people at different levels of experience,” she said. “Hearing what works for their students and deciding whether I should do the exact same or something completely different — that openness to trying and seeing what works for my families, it’s a luxury.”
This story, originally published September 15, 2017, was corrected September 22, 2017. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Jeff Petty has worked as a teacher and administrator in charter schools. He has worked as a consultant for charter schools.