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What's a School Design Advisory Council?

One of our core values at ERS is candor. We value open, honest, and respectful communication, even when it challenges conventional wisdom and is hard.

In the spirit of that value, we recently invited a group of school leaders, nonprofit leaders, teachers, and school district staff from around the country to our offices for two days to give us the real deal on a new set of school design tools we’re developing. We call this group of leaders the School Design Advisory Council.

We define Strategic School Design as the deliberate organization of a school’s resources to optimize student outcomes. Through over a decade of research and practice in the area of strategic resource use, ERS has found that strategic schools start with a strong vision around what it will take for students and teachers to be successful, and then they reorganize resources—people, time, technology, and money—around that vision. We have worked with districts and schools on their approach to teacher roles and assignments, flexible scheduling, creating effective teacher teams, and redesigning the central office to best support increased school autonomy—among many other possible strategies.

With generous support from the Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation of New York, we have been working over the last year to create, refine and widely share publications and tools, training materials, videos, school resource-assessment tools and case studies to spread the impact of this work. The School Design Advisory Council is helping us understand how how these tools will land in the real world.

Members of the group include:

  • Makisha Boothe, senior director of Denver Public Schools’ Innovation Lab
  • Erin Frew, principal of New Tech West High School in Cleveland
  • Damon Cathey, principal of DuPont Tyler Middle School in Nashville
  • Ellen Guiney, ERS board member and former executive director of the Boston Plan for Excellence
  • Walter Henderson, principal of PJ Kennedy Elementary School in East Boston
  • Lisa Farmer, director of new and innovative schools at Cleveland Metropolitan School District
  • Cheryl Borden Thompson, lead executive director of program at New Leaders
  • Elana Convicer, teacher at The Thomas Edison K-8 school in Boston
  • Melissa Martin, leadership effectiveness director at Boston College’s Lynch Leadership Academy.

The group spent two intense days workshopping our tools and sharing insights. There was a lot of excitement about our new tools, notably the School Designer prototype that provides an online portal to guide school leaders and district counterparts through the school design process.

 Rob Daigneau from ERS lead a feedback session

 The School Design Advisory Council took a trip on one of Boston's
famous "duck tours" to get to know each other better. Makisha Boothe
from the Council took the wheel!

"Duck tours" start off as bus tours on the city streets...and then
splash into the waters of the Charles River and become a boat!

But we’ve still got a lot of work to do. The Advisory Council wanted to know what some of our Strategic School Design terms really meant, like "design parameter" versus "design building block." They wanted to know how we would help our partners in schools and districts make these big—sometimes overwhelming—concepts a reality. They had ideas for how school leaders can get "quick wins" to build momentum for Strategic School Design. They reminded us of real-world obstacles to redesigning schools, such as lack of early access to critical information.

With a mountain of candid feedback now available to guide us, we are redoubling our efforts to refine these tools. We’re very grateful to these nine candid leaders and very excited about the potential of these tools to help schools across the country organize their resources strategically for student success.

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