With the 2020-2021 school year winding down, school leaders are finally transitioning students and staff back into full-time, in-person learning.
When schools first closed last year, few predicted students would spend such a long period of time away from traditional learning models. With not one, but two separate school years being affected, the disruption has been severe.
For the nation’s low-income students and students of color, the effects have been especially adverse. Consider the added trauma of the pandemic itself and the racial reckoning in America, and the difficulties are clear.
Knowing this, an effective reentry and recovery plan in the upcoming school year will be paramount to making sure underserved students are prepared to achieve academically moving forward.
To that end, Accelerate Institute is launching its new Accelerate Ignite program for Chicago principals and their leadership teams. The program was designed to empower educators with the systems and structures, relationship-building, and instructional support needed for students to thrive.
Like all Accelerate Institute programming, Accelerate Ignite is deeply rooted in cohort experience, which allows educators to share knowledge and experiences with both their team members and their peers.
Erin Brooks, Vice President of Partnerships, and Jamar Beyonu, Director of Partnerships, recently sat down to discuss how Accelerate Ignite positions principals and their leadership teams to succeed in the post-pandemic world. Read on for the lightly-edited interview.
How will the Accelerate Ignite program align school leaders for success in the upcoming school year?
JB: School leaders are planning for as impactful a year as they can put into place along with their networks and the governing CMO or district. Accelerate Ignite can be a well integrated supplement to whatever plan that they’re putting in place. … It can really help people—from the summer until the end of the year—methodically attack some of the gap areas that they feel like they might need to help students recover.
Your leadership teams are going to be right here with you hearing the guidance and you’re going to be able to buy into the strategies together from day one; you’ll all be in the same war room getting the same guidance and being able to critically process that in real time and make decisions, maybe in a more pointed way than you would without the support. And it’s all customizable in your space as a leader, because there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.
In addition to the initial five-day virtual cohort experience beginning with the Summer Institute, principals and your teams will benefit from ongoing forums, microlearning videos, school assessments, and guidance from your own dedicated advisor on your school’s unique vision and plan.
Why was the disruption of the past year especially severe for underserved students?
JB: With a lot of our schools being in low-income communities, there were technology issues. Some school leaders were actually driving to parents’ homes to drop off computers so that their kids could engage with school services. Food insecurity was another issue. Schools had to implement breakfast programs, and then students were going home after that. It was weird to have that in-school service, but then also have students going back home to remote learning…
And then, as a parent, you’re making sure your kids have the executive skill to stay focused on their own at home. Sometimes that’s difficult, and it might require having them be right in front of you like a teacher in order to help keep them managed and focused.
Of course, student learning is the ultimate focus for a successful reentry and recovery, but how can school leaders ensure staff members are well equipped to thrive?
EB: The overarching objective of the Accelerate Framework, which is how we assess and determine where schools’ strengths and areas of growth lie, is change management. Our schools have dealt with a lot of change this past year, and there is a lot more change to come. … Building out a strong adult culture where adults feel that their efforts are celebrated and that they’re supported, I think that takes on a different definition in our current world. There are professional supports around, like always, but there’s also that need for safety and care for the health of your staff that’s so important right now…
The Accelerate Ignite program will work with principals and their leadership teams to build a strategic plan aligned to the specific needs of their school and school community. Through cohort meetings (forums) and advisory, school teams will use these strategic plans to progress monitor and course correct throughout the year to ensure students are growing academically and students and staff feel supported and safe.
What role should students’ social and emotional development play in a successful reentry and recovery model?
JB: A lot of low-income communities saw more loss due to COVID; loss of jobs, loss of health, and loss of life. As a result, principals put in resources—those who had the ability to do so—to mitigate students’ emotional response to that. … For some, it might have required bringing in third-party social workers who could help students manage through loss. … If principals are going to come into next year very strongly, I think those types of secondary supports that aren’t strictly academic are what they’re thinking a lot about. …
Our work spans across a number of schools, and we can see different environments and spot the higher need for these social and emotional supports. Any given leader who signs up for our program is getting access to that additional insight.
Do you believe there were any silver-linings that came out of the pandemic response that can benefit educators in the return to full-time, in-person instruction?
EB: When you boil down the work we do at Accelerate Institute to its core, our focus to get to high-performing and highly-equitable schools is through the intersection of school-wide systems and individual leadership development. This past year forced schools to have to rethink what systems mean for their school buildings. … Folks need to take advantage of that and not just default immediately back to their pre-COVID ways. I think there’s a real opportunity to think differently about school systems; to think differently about family engagement, about school culture. …
Close to 100% of the students in our schools are either Black or Latinx. I think school leaders and teachers … really have an opportunity to think of their schools as antiracist organizations and to address and talk about racism, both with students, as well as for themselves as adults. There are a lot more conversations that are happening around diversity, equity, and inclusion, and I for one hope that that continues. I hope that we as adults, as individuals continue to grow and continue to name challenges and opportunities and really strive to be antiracist as organizations so that our students are set up for success in their future.