How Do We Ensure a Successful School Year? By Keeping Students First!

Before the 2023-24 school year got underway, educators enjoyed an opportunity to pause, reset, and focus on all of the important work ahead.

Over the summer, our team here at Accelerate Institute took some time to step back and reflect on our schools’ accomplishments in the previous school year. We sat in celebration with our leaders and each other. We also made space to consider what the most important work for this year would be.

How do we ensure we have a successful school year? This question is complex and can be confounding. In our end-of-year reflection process, we considered all the challenges educators and young people are facing — each of them being a viable contender for the most pressing challenge of this school year.

Among them are:

    • Student mental health
    • Teacher shortages
    • Shortfalls with academic outcomes
    • Chronic absenteeism
    • Curriculum changes
    • The budget cliff
    • Student safety

How could we possibly choose one single priority from this list, when each needs to be addressed with so much urgency? After much discussion, we decided we simply couldn’t. However, if we kept students at the center of our work, they would show us the way through all the complex challenges facing educators.

With that sentiment in mind, our rally cry for this school year is, “Students first — their power, our purpose.” I believe they have the power to show us what is the next right step. By always remembering to keep students at the forefront of our work, lighting the way, the leaders we support will be better aligned to create thriving school communities. 

Accelerate Institute is honored to be working with 35 leaders this school year, ultimately working to accelerate achievement for 17,500 students.

We are so proud of our team at Accelerate, who spent their summer preparing to ensure the schools we serve have leaders who are equipped with the skills and capabilities they need to deliver a high-quality educational experience for their students.

Read on below to explore what our rally cry, “Students first — their power, our purpose,” means to our team. I hope all our partners have a highly productive and rewarding school year!


Dr. Catherine Burns
President and Chief Academic Officer

What does “students first — their power, our purpose” mean to you?

Velia SotoVelia Soto, Senior Director of Curriculum and Assessment

“To put students first means that all decisions are made with their best interest in mind. By creating a school community that truly puts students first, we honor their identities, their gifts, and their histories to empower them to be their best selves and feel successful. The work we do — the reason, the purpose is to support school leaders in creating these spaces and places for ALL students we serve. When schools like this exist for students, they truly own their learning and the power that goes with the knowledge they’ve gained about themselves and the world.”

Erin Slack, Senior Director of Curriculum and Assessment

“Students are the heart of the work that I do as an educator, and they always remain at the center of all conversations I have with my leaders. I am fueled to create systems that empower our students to reach their highest potential, to be critical thinkers, and to be leaders of their generations, which is crucial now more than ever. As a leader within this space, it is imperative that I ensure students are considered a part of every conversation — that we hear their voices and that their input is always included.”

Keelin PhilippeKeelin Philippe, Senior Director of Professional Learning

“The work we do is all about what is best for students. We remember that with every decision we make, every learning opportunity we provide, and every moment we come together as a team, we are considering how we will impact the lives of the students in the schools we work with. We remember that our goal is not to fill students with knowledge, but to empower them to have any opportunity available to them in the future. Our purpose is their future, and we are committed to ensuring our work impacts their lives in positive and powerful ways.”

Erica EichleayErica Eichleay, Director of Curriculum and Assessment

“More than ever, student agency and voice are critical components for student engagement and ultimately, learning outcomes. Agency is about building student power, which includes centering students in instruction, giving real choices, and guiding them to advocate for their own needs. These skills and experiences enable students to thrive in school and beyond. Yet, to truly build student agency requires a reexamination of our own beliefs as educators around the power and the role of students in the classroom. If we take time to deeply reflect on our own assumptions and biases, we can start to make lasting shifts in our practice.”

Kate PillaiKate Pillai, Director of Finance and Operations

“Our students are brilliant and contain infinite possibilities. Their action and potential fuels our work and grounds each decision we make. While my career path has brought me further away from the classroom, our rally cry is a reminder of why I got into education in the first place and why I return to the work each year.”

Erin BrooksErin Brooks, Vice President, Partnerships

To me, our rally cry is a direct reminder that when our team makes decisions about programming, messaging, partnerships, or other aspects of our work we need to think first about the impact these choices have on our students. Does the direction we are heading in empower our students and celebrate their voices and experiences? Are we creating space for the school leaders we support to ask this same question with their teams? I want to empower our students intellectually, socially, and emotionally because ultimately they are my why.