Interrupt, Reimagine, and Reconnect: A Look Back at the 2021-22 School Year

Dr. Catherine Burns

By Dr. Catherine Burns, Chief Academic Officer

The 2022-23 school year is now underway, and a look back on the learnings from the return to full-time, in-person instruction last year can serve as a treasure trove of insights for school leaders.

At Accelerate Institute, we knew the continuing impact of the global pandemic would bring about obstacles that were no less challenging than those from the previous year—they would simply present themselves in new shapes and forms. Overcoming these challenges would require us to think differently about how to create an education system that truly puts student needs at the forefront of decision-making. 

At the beginning of the year, we challenged program participants—as well as our own staff—to “Interrupt, Reimagine, and Reconnect.” Everyone we partnered with hit the ground running to interrupt inequities, reimagine systems, and reconnect with students, families, and staff in meaningful ways. 

Leaders had to do a lot of pivoting within their schools due to quarantining and staffing issues, the outcome of which was the need to address dips in student attendance and juggle classroom coverage. They had to reacclimate their staff members to each other, and students had to reacclimate (or acclimate for the first time) to being in a school building. A focus on developing relationships and promoting well-being became paramount as teacher and leader burnout loomed and students struggled with social-emotional needs. 

Despite it all, our leaders stayed committed to improving their own practices and worked to determine where to focus their efforts to maximize their positive impact on school culture and achievement. They monitored their progress throughout the year and made constant adjustments to better serve their students. 

Now, as we reflect back on the 2021-22 year, there is so much for us to celebrate as an organization for our work supporting these inspiring school leaders!

We supported 25 schools through the Growth Accelerator program

The Growth Accelerator supports current K-12 school principals and their leadership teams in creating more equitable schools by developing systems and leadership skills that advance equity work in their buildings and lead to student academic success. 

Over the course of the three-year program, Growth Accelerator leaders grapple with content in small groups, assess and reflect on the current state of their own school and their own personal leadership skills, and create a strategic plan to implement at their school—all with the support of their Accelerate Institute advisor.

Here’s how Growth Accelerator principals and their leadership teams fared last school year:

  • Leaders in the programs stayed engaged in their own learning, averaging 89% attendance on calls with their advisory coach; 100% of leaders agreed that advisors provide them with valuable feedback and effectively support their growth as a leader
  • Leaders supported each other in their development, averaging 80% attendance on cohort calls and forums
  • 71% of schools finished the year with average student attendance rates of at least 85%, a testament to the hard work leaders and staff put into creating positive environments for students while navigating pandemic guidelines and the impact on classrooms
  • 83% of leaders grew their own competencies and skills by improving in at least one Transformational Leadership Building Block
  • 83% of leaders showed improvement on at least one Accelerate Framework objective (57% of leaders showed improvement on at least three objectives!); improvement on Accelerate Framework objectives demonstrates implementation of the schoolwide systems that lead to increased student learning and drive ongoing change within a school
  • 77% of schools made progress growing student achievement!
“Having a go-to person to support me in real time
is a major need for the work we do.
The support kept me grounded and focused on my 80/20,
which was the most important tool in my toolkit.”
— Tyson Daniel, Principal, CICS Loomis-Longwood K-5 (Chicago)


We supported 60 leaders and rising leaders in the Leadership Academy program

The Leadership Academy is one of the few programs in the country that addresses the need for leadership pipeline development, as it is designed to support principals and rising school leaders in building their strategic leadership skills and competencies. 

In partnership with the Chicago Public Education Fund, our Leadership Bridge programming for Chicago Public Schools assistant principals and principals includes a focus on succession planning, a need in the district that we are working to address through the development of a districtwide set of tools and resources.

Key takeaways from the Leadership Academy program in the 2021-22 school year include:

  • Eight states were represented in our participant groups, enabling cross-country learning
  • 92% of participants completed a targeted 80/20 strategic plan that positively impacted their school; strategic planning guides our participants as they take action on their areas of focus 
  • 100% of participants assessed in their knowledge of effective school leadership improved their scores, demonstrating their enhanced understanding of the keys to changing schools
  • 100% of participants working toward their principal eligibility met the requirements by the end of the program, strengthening the leadership bench within their district
  • 100% of Leadership Bridge Assistant Principals created targeted plans for succession to prepare them as they move forward on their pathway to principalship, setting their schools up for a smooth future leadership transition
“I loved the opportunity to take a real challenge,
build collaborative context around that challenge,
and develop a strategic plan to attack it.”
— Nate Mullen, Principal, Strive Prep (Denver)

We said a fond farewell to nine incredible leaders who graduated from our Growth Accelerator programs:


Tyson Daniel
CICS Loomis-Longwood K-5 (Chicago)
Chris Forst
Acero – Brighton Park
Amy Hopkins
Liz Jamison-Dunn
Catalyst Circle Rock
Gretchen Larsen Executive Director, Explore Academy (Las Vegas)Gretchen Larsen
Explore Academy
(Las Vegas)
Dave TrejoDave Trejo
Environmental Charter
Middle School – Gardena
(Los Angeles)
Eva Wilson Resident Principal, Alliance College – Ready Middle Academy 4Eva Wilson
Alliance College-Ready
Middle Academy 4
(Los Angeles)
Kashawndra WilsonKash Wilson
Noble Hansberry College Prep
Ally Wright
Ednovate South LA College Prep
(Los Angeles)
“Hands down the most impactful
professional development of my career… every time! Thank you!”
— Eva Wilson, Principal,
Alliance College-Ready Middle Academy 4 (Los Angeles)


We’re so proud to continue to work with leaders who, day in and day out, interrupt the status quo, reimagine how to make things happen for kids, and reconnect with the people around them to create thriving school communities!