National Conference Highlights the Importance of Aligning Leadership and Curriculum for Success

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More than 500 gap-closers from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C., Nov. 8-9, for The Education Trust’s 2012 National Conference. If you weren’t able to join us, this article compiles a summary of the highlights. To reserve your space at next year’s conference, which will be held in Baltimore, register now and save!

The 2012 meeting offered five plenary sessions and nearly 30 concurrent sessions.  Ed Trust President Kati Haycock inaugurated the conference Thursday morning, Nov. 8, by stressing that the real catalysts for educational justice are not superheroes, they’re ordinary people doing ordinary things every day. Ed Trust's Artist-in-Residence Brooke Haycock humanized this perspective with a performance of her original docudrama Buzz. Thursday afternoon, Kate Gerson, of the New York State Department of Education, and Sonja Brookins Santelises, Chief Academic Officer of Baltimore City Public Schools, joined Kati in a lunch conversation about how to succeed with implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

That evening, during the Dispelling the Myth Awards ceremony and dinner, the principals of this year's three award-winning schools each offered evidence that all children can achieve at high levels when taught to high levels. De Queen Elementary Principal Teriann Phillips explained a simple truth behind their accomplishments, saying "We teach all kids with fidelity and high expectations because nothing else is good enough." And Compton, Calif., Principal Frank Lozier of Laurel Street Elementary noted that his students are outperforming their peers in Beverly Hills. Education Secretary Arne Duncan congratulated the winners, noting that they should become the norm, not the exception, in education. His brief remarks highlighted some of his department’s achievements in recent years and commended the Ed Trust for its leadership as a tireless advocate for equity in education. The event concluded with a performance by Sweet Honey In The Rock, who sang their “Education is the Key,” among other social justice favorites. The evening concluded with a workshop performance of American Grit, performed by Brooke Haycock; and a screening of the film First Generation.

At our Friday morning plenary session, Charles Payne, author and Frank P. Hixon Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, discussed education reform in an urban setting and the importance of community involvement in fostering student achievement. He explained that the entire  school, must be involved in and committed to reform — one element is not enough to achieve true improvement. "The response to power and money is numbers,” he said. “Parents as an informed constituency are a force the powers that be cannot ignore." Payne also cited five powerful levers for reform: (1) early education; (2) strong leadership at the building level; (3) resources, including human capital, that follow need; (4) exposure to rigorous instruction; and (5) solid, reasonable discipline systems.

The closing plenary session featured a conversation with Adam and Jaye Fenderson, the filmmakers of “First Generation,” and two of the students featured in the film, Cecilia Lopez and Dontay Gray, led by National Council of La Raza’s Delia Pompa, senior vice president for programs. Conference participants heard firsthand about the difficulties facing first generation college students. Lopez stressed the need for more information, especially in the Latino community, about the importance of college and the admissions process. Targeting his remarks to the high schoolers in the audience, Gray urged them to work hard and not hesitate to seek help from available resources once they're in college. If not, he says, "you'll get lost and nobody'll (sic) come find you."  Jaye closed by reminding the audience that helping a first generation student through the admissions process can be as simple as a phone call. "It takes an hour a month to follow up with a student," she said.

In addition to the plenary sessions, our breakout concurrent sessions offered attendees a wide variety of topics to discuss: From election analysis to common core implementation, school leadership and teacher training to community involvement. For example, in Friday’s session "Raising Expectations: A Conversation with De Queen Elementary School," representatives from one of this year's Dispelling the Myth Award winners explained how they support their teachers so that all students are able to achieve. "We don't care if they're polka-dotted. We don't care if they're striped. We're going to get them to the same level, or die trying," said Gayla Morphew, the school's instructional facilitator for literacy.  "Most programs will work if you have the right people doing them," said Principal Phillips, citing the importance of teamwork. Slide presentations from many of the presenters are available on our website.

Kati Haycock closed the conference by noting, "None of us in this room doubts that our kids can do it. The doubts are about us." She reminded the crowd that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things when they work together. Register today for the Ed Trust’s 2013 National Conference, where we will continue these important conversations on closing gaps for all students.

— Nicole Tortoriello