Imagine politicians reaching across party lines, 200 million dollars and lots of good intentions all focused on turning around a failing school district. The idea was to move a city with very poor schools and poor performance of children to a model of educational excellence in five years and use that model to help solve the urban education crisis across America. That was the dream behind Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and former Mayor Cory Booker’s reform plan in Newark, NJ. Five years later, change that reached the classroom was minimal and the money was all gone. What went wrong? Failure to involve the right people!
What we had here is a failure to collaborate!
In a NPR Fresh Air interview by Terry Gross, Dale Russakoff, author of The Prize. Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? recounts their efforts:
“There were a lot of people, including some very skilled, experienced teachers, who deeply understood the needs of the children in Newark who would have been eager to be part of that conversation. And not only were they insulted that they were left out, there was an agenda that was crafted that didn’t have the benefit of their really important insights into what was needed in Newark.”
This created “an enormous gap between the people who have come to save the Newark children and the people who actually cared for and taught the Newark children.”
The bottom line was “there was no way for the parents, the teachers, the principals, the community leaders – just, you know, really, really intelligent, smart, committed people who had been in the fray for years in the lives of children in education – to be part of this. And so basically, the board decided to spend the money the way the wealthy donors wanted it spent.”
The rest is history
Five years down the road, the majority of students in the Newark public school system saw very little change in the classroom. Good intentions and lots of money were not enough. They failed to involve the right people.
While this was a huge undertaking, many school districts make this same mistake on a smaller scale, quite frequently. The implementation of well-meaning plans often fail because the process did not include the key stakeholders.
Plan for success
So how do you make sure that the right people are in the room when you have a decision you plan to make and implement?
Ask these two important questions:
Who will be impacted by this decision?
Whose expertise is needed to make this decision?
Asking these two questions before the Newark project was developed could have changed the dismal outcome of such a large investment. Surely, we, as education leaders, can avoid the same mistakes in our everyday operations by using these two questions to help us determine who should be involved in our collaborative efforts.