Thinking Ahead: LEAD Collaborative

“Education is everyones responsibility.”

Lorraine Lago (Head of School) talks to John La Rue (Dean of Academics) and Maria Christian (Director of LEAD Collaborative) about the LEAD Collaborative. This project is a public-private collaborative network dedicated to building the capacity of school leaders and their communities through shared learning experiences that will improve academic outcomes for all students in Puerto Rico.educators.


Good afternoon, St. John’s School community, and thank you to our viewers who were here on time. We apologize for technical difficulty that we had, but it was resolved. And here we are talking today about a very exciting project that we started at St. John’s a couple of years ago. The lead collaborative with me today, I have a lead collaborative director, Maria Christian. Maria was a former teacher at St. John’s many, many moons ago, one of our stellar teachers who’s also an alumna. And she worked at D.C. Public Schools and at the Department of Education here in Puerto Rico. I let her in a minute to tell you a little bit about herself and our dean of academics, Mr. John LaRue, is back here. He seems to be everywhere. I Mr. John LaRue, we like your new look. We do. So let me tell you a little bit about how lead was born. And then I let Maria and John talk about the work that that we are doing after Hurricane Maria, not not our Maria here. We we really, as a school focused on on our value of of community involvement and giving back. We realized that were we were an incredibly fortunate community to be able to come back to school after after the disaster so quickly and to allow our students to continue their education pretty much uninterrupted. We had the resources to compact curriculum. We had an incredible week of project based learning where where the learning was authentic and kids were giving back to our immediate community. And during those weeks, somebody who will always be very close to our hearts, Dr. Dailiness Suarez, who was with our board of trustees, was also volunteering her time at the Department of Education. And she and I had several conversations about the issues that the department was facing after in the aftermath of Maria. And one afternoon she shows up here with some fellows from the Walton Foundation who had been at the department and and felt that they they wanted to help education in Puerto Rico, but felt that the department it was an overwhelming place and they didn’t really know how to approach the help that they wanted to to give. So from this conversation, the idea that the private sector has a responsibility of of helping the public sector was was bounced around quite, quite a bit. And and we also talked about the importance of of leadership in individual schools, leaders who can bring the community together to rally around their schools to to get them open again. And so I talked a little bit about the work we had done the previous year that John had led with our principals here at St. John’s and the amazing results that that we were having. And then we thought, well, why can’t we do this with other principals of other private schools, charter schools that were just a new thing in Puerto Rico and and public schools. And Walton loved the idea and they funded us and funded us again this year to to explore that conversation more in depth and to create something where our our responsibility to give back to to our immediate community could be solidified into something really amazing. One of the days I had a meeting with the Walton Foundation, I had a migraine. Those of you who know that I get them know that they are completely debilitating when I do get them. And so my pinch hitter came in with very little background about the conversation I have had with Walton and spoke with them. And he and I decided that that, yes, this was something that our school should definitely lead. Pardon the redundancy. And with board approval, we embarked on this journey, as John and I talked about, who could lead this effort. We always landed on on this person that that seemed like a unicorn. The person had to have all these different skills to be able to to lead this project successfully. And and in Maria, we found that unicorn. So, Maria, if you can tell us a little bit about yourself and then and your background and then tell us a little bit about the vision of last two years.


 So, hi, everyone. Maria Christian, a class of ninety five in St. John’s. I worked in Puerto Rico and Florida and in Virginia in the public school system. And then when I was in St. John’s, I worked in the as a private school teacher. Middle school is that place that I love. I just want to shout out to middle school teachers because I just love that I was working at the Department of it and two thousand seventeen and John LaRue sent me a message and said, Do you know anyone that can, you know, lead this project? And, you know, it was a time that I was looking to move out of the department. I was like, I think I can help you guys with this. So I jumped to the lead team and from two thousand nineteen in the fall, we started building the programing. John is our architect for curriculum. And with Lorraine’s vision, we started building this private, public, collaborative network that has never been seen in Puerto Rico. We all know that private schools and public schools tend to be at odds on our island. And so this is the first time that we have fellows from the private sector in the public sector working together in their learning and solving problems. And they’re having shared experiences that no one thought that everyone comes to the table with this idea. It’s like this is something or context from the private sector. This is a context from the public sector. And we’ve had amazing conversations about how we have similar issues that we need to work on together. So it’s been an exciting year and a half, we started with 18 fellows we have for a traditional public school school teams, we have a principal and a teacher. Something that we developed is this idea that the school leader, it’s a lonely job and the rain has an amazing two liner, I call it, about leadership being so lonely. There’s not a lot of principals out there. And the job is very complex. And there’s not a lot of people that you can rely on us that understand what you’re going through. So we wanted to make sure that the that the principals had a teacher within their school, their environment that could support their learning and the work that they were doing. And so we have these four teams of public school professionals. We have three teams of private schools and two teams of as well as public gasolines us. What we do in other places would be called charter schools. And so we embarked in this journey with our 18 fellows. It has been it was amazing. They learned, they shared, they created, they solve problems together.


And in June, they presented their their pitches, which was very much on intrapreneur pitch, which was different in the mindset that they needed to to show.


And we continue to develop the programing for this year.


So thinking back of when June was right, we had hit the midst of the pandemic and those closures and we were enrolling a second cohort. So now we have the first cohort running their full steam ahead. They’re working with their coaches, they’re working on data and now the new fellows and cohort two, we have 12 of those. So we have a total of 30 fellows working.


And their focus on personal leadership, distributive leadership has been amazing with the we have a partnership with new leaders and it’s been an amazing growth. I look forward to having them be interviewed by Lauraine so they can share some of their experiences with you. And that’s a little bit about what’s been going on from fall of twenty nineteen until now.


Thank you, Maria. John, can you tell us a little bit, since you are the architect of the program, what is it that why would a principal from a from a public school? Well, first of all, I guess the first question should be why? Why principals? Murray explained very clearly that it’s important to have a principal and someone teacher within their community that can help them push the work forward. But but why did Lee focus on principals?


Sure. I mean, really, I think back to when LEED was first starting, right. Whenever I had that first meeting with Walton, from the conversations we had and I think about St. John’s one just being a leader and a lot of things. So I think about the how impactful our division principals are, our department chairs, our leadership at all levels. And really what we wanted to do with LEED is scale that up and really position St. John’s as a convener. Right. So Puerto Rico’s so small. The education community is is so tight, all the communities depend on each other. And so we felt like St. John’s could really position itself as a leader for to support all students in Puerto Rico. Right. And so it’s like, how are we going to do that? And as you said, the principals, we decided to focus on the principal. There’s a lot of education research out there that shows that the defining lever in a lot of successful schools is an effective leader. And there’s all sorts of meta analysis and papers about what makes up a really effective leader.


And one of the things that we kept coming back to is the ability for a instructional leader, a principal to be an instructional leader. So not just a manager, not just someone who can put the right people in the right places, but as someone who at the core doesn’t just run a building or an institution, but focuses on student learning, so is able to cut through all the things, all the complexities that go into running a school, whether it’s facilities, schedules, pick up and drop off cafeteria, they can cut through all that. And at the end of the day, they’re consistently focused on student learning and they’re able to support their faculty and also holding holding that same that same vision. So whenever we got to thinking about this, it’s like, OK, how do we how do we do this for everybody? And so what we what we decided to do was adopt the instructional frames of the instructional rounds framework as our sort of core core based curriculum about what we wanted to do with these leaders. And and basically what instructional rounds is is it’s a it’s a practice that’s it’s actually adapted from the field of of medicine into education. And so it offers a structure for educators to work together to basically identify and solve common problems related to learning and teaching that the schools are at their core. Right. Teachers teach, students learn. And it’s you’d be shocked at just the level of complexity that goes into making sure the those two things happen. And so what it does is it requires that educators come together, they observe each other’s schools, and they cut through the surface level impressions of classrooms and they look really deeply at what students are doing. So not just what is the teacher doing at the front of the classroom, but what is the task in front of the students and what is the teacher’s role in supporting that learning. And so what our teams did is we came together for several weekends to practice this round’s observation framework, and then we set up a schedule where every single member of that first cohort observed each other’s schools and and essentially analyzed classrooms like what is happening in St. John’s classrooms, what’s happening over in the school, what’s happening here. And then you’re able to gain this really cool, high level snapshot a lot of times across from pre-K all the way to 12th grade. This is what learning looks like at my institution. And then the really the really the interesting work starts where you start to dig into that next layer. So it’s like, OK, so what do I do about it? I’m seeing all these wonderful things are happening in these classrooms. I want those things to happen over here. How do I how do I implement a model, an observation model, a new curriculum? And then that’s where the power of the network is really leverage to get really good ideas so that the leaders can support each other across all contexts, such as Maria said its its charter school principals, its private school principals, its traditional public school principals, all. Coming together and sharing and sharing their best thinking.


Yeah, and I think it’s important that that we we talk about what we talk among ourselves in in lead and with our leaders is that education in Puerto Rico is everybody’s responsibility. And we know that an economy cannot flourish without great public education system. And so we obviously parents who can and choose independent schools do so for for a reason. But it is every child’s right to have a a competitive education. And by by teaching every principal this tool. I mean, we saw it happen at St. Johns. How how everything changed. The conversation in the teacher lounge, the conversation between principals and their teachers is the work of the role of the department chair. Everything changed once we started looking at classrooms in a different way and using the data that we were collecting, which was completely objective and not so and so looks engaged. But what is the behavior was completely objective data that then led us to to make decisions about what we were doing in the classrooms and how to support teachers. So that rigor was consistent throughout the classroom setting. Jones to give that tool to every principal. For us, it just it just feels amazing because we know we are contributing to the improvement of of education in Puerto Rico and ultimately student achievement, which is which is what education is about. So what were what were some challenges, Maria, that that we faced that first year while implementing this, the model? And how how did we collaborate with other organizations to to really tackle those challenges and create a program that was superb.


So one of the first barriers is this idea of education being a responsibility of everyone. And and I have to say honestly, sometimes people wonder, it’s like, why is St. Johns doing this? And I and when we explain this is part of our social responsibility and accountability on our accountability steps and we showcase how we’re going out about it, the way we have believers. And so I’m going to say that we have local organizations that have become partners and collaborators. We’ve had a couple of meet and greets with organizations like Fundación Flamboyant or Bus. And in addition to a dear, I’m forgetting them one second, the science trust in Puerto Rico. And so when we explain what we’re doing and that we’re connecting them to local leaders and across sectors, they’re very much excited about the the innovation and how we’re going about to build capacity within within school communities.


And as you mentioned, education is the center pillar for not only a country, a state, an island, but its economy, too. So as we all connect and the networks broaden and tighten, so we go broader and deeper, it’s it’s just like minded people moving along in the same direction. So that’s has been something that has been very important. It has added a lot of value to the individual communities, but also to those like minded organizations. In addition to, as I mentioned, help us in support of RICO. We also have one of our one of our fellows, Michael Fernandez is the leader of an organization called Ikarus Council. And they have a laboratory, a community lab school in their area. So they actually presented to the fellows the work that they were doing. And it’s one of these and it has happened with with many of the presenters. There are amazing projects going on in the island, but it’s just people are not really connecting. And all this information is out there. So we’re creating that space. As John mentioned, we’re a convener now. We’re creating that space for people to come together to share those ideas and the ideas to grow and flourish. I wanted to circle back to the importance of high quality education, and that’s what our kids and around the island deserve. And one of the key components of what we’re doing with all of our fellows and lead is pushing for data collection. So how do you really show that there’s academic gains? How do you show that there’s improvement if it isn’t and that there are those high quality schools, if it is not through data collection? So that’s something that also is at the heart of what it is doing.


I just wanted to point that out for a bit. Yeah. And how to analyze helping principals create teams within their schools that analyze the data and that can present that data and and use it for for improvement. John, I wanted to ask you as as we see lead evolving a talk a little bit. And Maria, you can jump into about their capstone projects, that first cohort that had projects and the idea for a school incubator. And and just the I mean, I think it’s important that that people understand that lead collaborative is is its scope is beyond K-12 education, that we really want to want to impact policy at some point. Right. And really give power to communities to what we see in a school that is as successful, Athena Jones, is that the community is is involved and it’s strong and they voice their their concerns. And they gave us feedback and there they have a say in what happens in their child’s education. So so how do we see lead having an impact beyond principal training?


I think I think I’ll I’ll hand off that that part to Maria. But in terms of can I can I answer sort of a challenge and see how people have grown. So so schools need great leaders. Right. And in order for us to change our practice and become a great leader, that really is affecting change in your school. One of the biggest things that we have to tackle at the beginning was this sense of of shared vision and vulnerability. So schools are not not an island. I mean, I think you can look at it like that and they are all connected. All these communities, including our own, are connected to each other and responsible for every student and the education in in our communities. And so something we have to tackle on in the outset was to support our leaders in in and seeing that they are part of that shared vision and being and buying into that. And so there’s a profound every school leader has a profound sense of pride and and are protective of their teachers, of their students in the work that they’re doing. And so at the beginning, we we opened our doors as St. John’s and we the first very first instructional round session we did was we had the school leaders in to to St. John’s to observe our classrooms, to identify our instructional issues, to identify our growth areas. Just because you implement instructional rounds does not mean you fixed anything. It means that you’ve embarked on probably what’s a lifelong journey in terms of what you’re how you see schools and how you view school improvement. And so St. John’s over the last few years has just grown by leaps and bounds in terms of teachers and administrators and everybody opening up their practice to feedback and collaboration. And so that’s where I see this work. Moving on a on a more macro level is just increasing the amount of of vulnerability and openness to support each other with change. How that looks on a policy and on a high level. I think when people are more connected to each other and when they know more about their communities and their contexts, they’re more likely to fight for the things that they know that they deserve as a community and that they need and that their students need. So I think I think that’s that’s the direction the leaders is headed in.


So just to add a little bit. Many of the things that John has mentioned are things that we saw during the the pitch presentations back in June, we saw that growth in education.


It’s hard to look at impact data at a short short term. Usually it takes three years when you’re implementing a program to really see gains. That being said, we are collecting qualitative data on how on perception, on how the leaders see themselves and how they are or where their mindset is, and on just basic content that we’re that they’re exposed to. And in so many of the presentations and conversations, the leaders are to see themselves in a different place. And they’re clear on what are the things that they have to ask to be effective.


And it’s really about. Personal responsibility


So, yes, there are frameworks that need to be in place for public education and for private education.


It’s just these boxes that exist. But within that box, there’s flexibility to be able to adapt to the context of their communities. And that’s something that the leaders all all of them from private to public, landed on. And it’s I want to innovate. I want to provide opportunities for my kids that are for my kids and my students that are equitable, that are actually they can see themselves in a future that really doesn’t exist. But for that, they need that leeway within those those frameworks. One of the other asks that we had their exit interviews. The other ask from the principals was to to be able to also be able to innovate within curriculum. So, again, there are standards that states have or organizations have, but within that, that their curriculum, maps and implementation have a little bit of flexibility to attend to their community. So those are the two main things that our human capital and how really the implementation of curriculum could be adapted.


So it’s these meetings for and the workshops for the principals happen on the weekend. This is Maria’s full time job. John and I come in and out on our free time from St. John’s, but it is truly incredible to to see the synergy among these leaders. I think it’s important to note that on our first cohort, we had one of our principals and and one of our secondary teachers participate. And in this second cohort, we have another one of our principals and another teacher participating in lead. This is completely voluntary, but it really elevates I mean, it’s it’s wonderful to be in the group because the energy is is amazing. So can what what.


Yeah. What happens after the second year. Maria, so based on the learnings that we that we that we’ve all had and some of us, you know, we have had the experience, there’s another phrase that we use a lot and it’s like you don’t know what you don’t know or you don’t see.


You have an experience.


So Lorraine, John and I have been able to experience and work in other districts. And so there’s certain things that we have a context for. And when we sit down with the fellows and we realized that they really need they do need the time and the space and this ghost that this goes to other organizations and other individuals, they need the time and the space to really dig deep into their personal stories, really dig deep into their communities. They know their communities. But there’s there’s some nuances. And then look at those frameworks so that they’re able to decide what a better school would be, what a better after school program could be, what a better track could be. And within their schools, some of our school leaders mentioned that they wanted to have an arts program or a stamp program within their school so the whole school doesn’t have to go stem or arts. But you could have a group of kids doing that. How do you go about that? That seems like entrepreneurship right there. So what we sat down and huddled and we came up with a framework and a vision on how to design its schools and school programs. And that’s what’s coming up in our new new programing. So we have two cohorts and now a new group of individuals that are coming in to sit down and do that deep work on how to design what a student, community centered educational program should look like with all of its components from, again, the community involvement all the way to operations and finance. And we kick off in March. It’s a pilot. So we going to run through the programing up until October and collect feedback, do our tweaks and improvement as we always do, and continue to move the needle on education on the island.


Thank you. Thank you, Mary. I think that wraps it up really, really well if you want to know more. We have a lead has its own website, its lead, CoLab one El. Yes, big, or you can email Maria, Maria, that Christian at a lead. CoLab dog, yes. And for any questions or if if you want to get involved, this is we had I’ll finish with an anecdote. We have one student who is launching a community service doing tutoring for four students in the public schools. So she’s been introduced to our network and her program is being advertised in these schools. So the possibilities for lead and within St. John’s are endless. And we are we are very fortunate that we had the support to to start this program and that we are doing our part to improve education in Puerto Rico. Thank you for listening to thinking ahead. And I hope this went to I hope to have be in your homes or in your cars with my voice very, very soon again.

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