In my work as Senior Advisor to the Superintendent of LAUSD from 2000 to 2005, and during years of study for my PhD at LMU's School of Education, I was always attracted to the resilience model. I was intrigued by the students that come from an environment of the extreme hardships of poverty, uncertain family life, a neighborhood of crime, physical disabilities, and developmental challenges, and rise above it all to succeed. I spent a good amount of time during those years thinking about this, talking to parents, teachers, administrators, unionists, political advocates, public officials and learned scholars.
While there are many opinions held by each of these constituencies, I came to think that the credit for this resilience, beyond certain innate qualities that individuals may have in their DNA, can be credited to the school site administrators and classroom teachers. I wondered if we could attract teachers and administrators to share their success stories. In hearing these stories, could others adopt these successes to their own situations? Could we do this across the public education landscape, including charter, traditional, magnet, and all other school types?
Three friends, State Superintendent Tom Torlakson, Dean Shane Martin, and I talked about convening stakeholders around the concept of school collaboration. With a lot of help, and several collaborators, The Education Success Project (TESP) was born in 2011. We spent the first year doing research: how do people collaborate, what is available to educators on the Internet, and do they use it? Is sharing success a priority up the chain of command? Finally, we held our first Symposium on September 22, 2012 at the Loyola Marymount School of Education in Los Angeles and President Clinton sent us a nice letter. Our goal was to convene all stakeholders and talk about success in education. The arc of invitees was broad. We expected 100 people and 182 showed up.
From the beginning we were guided by the following notions:
- That programs were not to be top-down, but would begin by attracting teachers and administrators to voluntary collaboration.
- That our own structure of TESP would be collaborative, so three professors of education, plus a principal, an academic director, a dean, and public official joined together. We call ourselves "The Collaborators." The collaborators are Dr. Shane Martin, Dr. Maureen Kindel, Yvette King-Berg, Dr. Jesse Noonan, Dr. Vicki Graf, Dr. Magaly Lavadenz, and Dr. Mary McCullough.
- That it is not the intention to convene for convening sake, or just to talk about collaboration.
- That it is about having a robust agenda on challenging issues featuring English Language Learning, Special Education, Math and Science, Blended Learning, and a myriad of other classroom challenges. We tried to include as much dialogue as possible in a meeting of "talkers."
The Secret Sauce of TESP is the partnership with a great University—Loyola Marymount University. The environment of the convenings is very important. They are held on a Saturday at LMU in settings conducive to sharing and reflection. No one is paid to come. Each participant is asked to complete an evaluation of the day. Teachers and administrators donate their time, as do faculty, learned experts from other regions, pubic officials, students and interns. The University provides the facilities. No honorariums are paid. Sometimes we pay for travel or give a stipend to a participant whose circumstances require this. Costs are food and amenities, media, printing, videography, translators, and other essentials to a modern meeting. It may not always be this way, as we respond to the need and willingness to share.
We dream of the day when school collaboration will be part of California education policy and supported by funding to incentivize success.
And the work goes on, while the children wait.