Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

What's Chemistry Got To Do With School Reform?

December 07, 2011

Collaboration ain’t easy, so it pays to have a partner with a shared sense of humor.

I’m always joking around with my colleague, Michael Goar. Michael works with Boston Public Schools, and I work with Boston charter schools. We are partners in something called a District-Charter Collaboration Compact, which is basically a formal agreement to share, communicate, play nice, and jointly commit to the success of all Boston students, regardless of the type of school they attend. Michael and I don't always agree on the best ways to meet the demands we face, but we do respect one another's commitment to improving education for all children.

While still in its infancy, I believe the District-Charter Compact will transform the lives of our underserved students and families because charter and district leaders are going beyond talking to one another and are actually building relationships.  We’ve moved beyond the media’s simplistic adversarial framing and have asked each other for help, hungry for great ideas regardless of their source.

Our mutual respect and shared sense of urgency for change are already yielding signs of promise. 

For example, there are now three district school buildings designated for lease to charter schools operating in the highest need area of the city. 

A cross-sector team has created the first “open enrollment month” for district and charter schools, simplifying messaging and the registration process for families.

Another charter-district team has partnered with Harvard University and is recruiting applicants for a school leader pipeline that will train future principals for all of us in the best practices of both sectors.

At yet a different table, current principals are collaborating to design multi-year supportive relationships between individual high and low performing schools.

There is no doubt that our most important and challenging Compact efforts will be improving public education for English language learners and students with special needs.

As long as we continue to get to know one another and share our pedagogical beliefs and quandaries candidly, these efforts will be successful. One of my colleagues in the charter world describes herself as a “former skeptic.” She first thought that the Compact was frivolous publicity. That changed when a Boston Public Schools administrator solicited her feedback on a district initiative. She is now championing the partnership.

Michael and I are still teasing each other about which one of us has the "real"  job. But, as long as we’re in it together, Boston's children will be better off.

 
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