Ryan Fellow Blog: Summer Institute and Beyond

Ryan Fellow Blog: Summer Institute and Beyond

Gretchen Larsen
Class of 2018 Ryan Fellow


Hi! My name is Gretchen Larsen, and I’m a proud Class of 2018 Las Vegas Ryan Fellow. Welcome to my Ryan Fellowship blog! Each month, I will be sharing an update about my experiences during the Field Study year, where I will be preparing for my first year as a principal.

Before joining Accelerate Institute, I served as an administrator in a small, urban charter school. I felt passionate about bringing good schools to underserved areas. That was our goal as a school, but, in spite of our best efforts, our progress was very slow and insufficient. I wanted to make a difference by leading my own school, but I knew that with my skillset the best I would be able to do was replicate the school I came from. As I looked at test scores, lesson plans, and behavior data, I frequently asked myself, why do good schools fail in spite of good intentions and herculean effort? What am I missing?

When I joined the Ryan Fellowship, I was on a mission to answer these questions. My master’s program gave me a solid understanding of theory – the “why” and the “what” of effective schools. I didn’t even realize that I was not equipped with the “how” – how to actually accelerate student learning – until Accelerate Summer Institute. I was most surprised to learn that the Accelerate Framework was very similar to my last school’s model—we just weren’t doing it effectively.

Above all, I hope that I become the agent of change that our kids need and deserve; this change is long overdue.

Knowing the theory will never take the place of being able to do it – the Institute understands this and focuses on the “how” just as much as the “what”. The Accelerate Framework outlines how to effectively manage change using clearly-defined expectations, buy-in from staff, and accountability. These are the key pieces that were missing at my last school, and this is what I am focusing on as I begin my field study at Democracy Prep Las Vegas at the Agassi Campus.

The Accelerate Framework isn’t a secret—it’s available for free for anyone who wants to look at it (check it out!). In fact, there are plenty of schools and organizations that share curriculum, professional development, and leadership frameworks for free because we all want the same thing—to see kids succeed. The problem is that all of these materials don’t work until the “how” is in place. It took four weeks of Summer Institute to really understand how the theory of Change Management can be applied at the school level.

Now, one month into my field study, I’m turning that theory into practice. I’m working in a new school in West Las Vegas, an area that was historically segregated and still experiences the effects of de facto segregation. I am thrilled to be working in a school where the staff is committed to making a difference for these children. My principal has become my trusted friend, and I consider myself lucky to learn alongside someone who is so passionate about this work. Now the real work begins! I hope that I continue to learn as much as I did at Summer Institute, that I am able to apply my learning and effect meaningful change at my field study site, and that I leave prepared to lead a school that will make a difference for the community it serves. I hope that I build meaningful relationships with the families and students I serve. Above all, I hope that I become the agent of change that our kids need and deserve; this change is long overdue.

Gretchen Larsen relocated from the Phoenix, AZ area to join our 2018 Las Vegas cohort. After working as a teacher’s aide and obtaining her BA in Secondary Education/English, Gretchen taught for Tempe Elementary School District for three years, then Mesa Public Schools for three years. She stepped into a leadership role as a Lead Teacher with Maricopa County Regional School District, where she managed day-to-day operations as well as observed and coached teachers. Since 2014 she has served as the Founding Dean of Scholars with EAGLE College Preparatory Schools: Mesa. In this role, Gretchen led a staff of 20, using data to drive coaching and targeted professional development. Gretchen took a culture focus in this role as well, teaching social and emotional management skills, fostering relationships with parents and students, and building community partnerships.