Friday, October 23, 2009

What a Little School Can Teach Higher Ed

Andrew Careaga wrote a wonderful post this week about the future of higher education in the U.S. A must-read. Interestingly, Andy's "4-Step Prescription" -- Put students first; Make innovation the norm; Invest in our future; Worry, but not too much -- is precisely the way an independent preK-12 school I visited last week has gone about reinventing itself.

Twenty years ago it was on the verge of collapse. Then a Harvard-educated Southern entrepreneur saved it. His innovation and entrepreneurialism have become part of the school's ethos. The teachers, the administrators, the kinds of families who are attracted to the school embody it. This ethos has led to students being at the center of everything the school does. As a result, the faculty has become expert at differentiated learning — acceleration, enrichment, remediation, style. I kept asking, "How do you do all this so well?" The answer from parents, teachers and administrators always came back to putting students first.

The school's entrepreneurial savior and others pumped a ton of money and resources into it — investing in its future. These resources and a willingness to be innovative are what have allowed the school to put students first -- hiring great teachers, embracing new technologies and best practice pedagogies. Their entrepreneurial ethos enables them to be strategic and nimble all for the sake of their students.

In just two decades this independent school is better run and more successful in terms of student experience and outcomes than many of the other schools I’ve seen that have been around for more than a century.

Students first, innovation as the norm, investment in the future -- I've seen it in action and it works.

Little Red School House Image Credit


TMC said...

I never thought I'd see "entrepreneurial" and "independent school" in the same sentence. But I was there with you...and it works! Great post!

Andrea Jarrell said...

And how!

Andrew said...

What a wondrful success story, Andrea. I hope we read about more of these in the near future. Unfortunately, there are too few white knights at the ready to rescue individual schools, much less the higher ed system, and until we can get more creative in addressing many of the systemic problems bogging down education in both the public and private sectors, I'm afraid we'll be seeing more failures. But maybe things have to get even worse before they can begin to improve. My hope is that the situation facing education has hit bottom and is now on the way back up.

Thanks also for referencing my post. Glad it was an inspiration for yours.


Andrea Jarrell said...

Andy -- I do think hitting bottom is often the only time real change happens.

Rick said...

Wonderful story, Andrea. And thanks for referencing Andrew's post. I'll go over to his site and read it. Your comment about "hitting bottom is often the only time real change happens" is so true. I guess it's that way in life, so why wouldn't human nature be the same with managing organizations. I've seen it happen first hand. Again, wonderful story.

Andrea Jarrell said...

Rick, thanks for your great comment and tweet.