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Engaging a Strategic Partner

To read the full article, visit this link.

In the spring of 2018, the La Sierra team joined California Education Partners’ College on Track collaboration, a collection of schools committed to improving college access for Black, Latinx, and socioeconomically disadvantaged students through the 2022-23 school year. The College on Track network is part of The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Network for School Improvement (NSI) initiative. Launched in 2018, the NSI supports networks of schools to support students of color and low-income students to increase access to and success within institutions of higher education. The students at La Sierra are now part of more than 250,000 students across 13 states supported by the NSI.

Anjelica remembers looking for someone who would make a long-term commitment to walk alongside them through this process.“We knew this was not going to change overnight,” she recalls, “so it was critical that we work with someone who was going to be with us for multiple years.”California Education Partners, with expertise in both school change processes and learner- centered design, proved to be just the partner she was looking for.  

With a focus on sustainability, California Education Partners’ approach is grounded in the belief that when it comes to driving change in classrooms, those working at all levels within districts are best positioned to push each other to engage in the kind of learning and improvement that would forge lasting solutions. California Education Partners’ approach aims to create a culture of collaborative continuous learning and improvement, essentially cultivating and advancing a learner-centered approach within the change process itself. The change process, in turn, is not something to pursue or endure in order to eventually achieve a particular school culture, but an opportunity in and of itself to cultivate and advance a new culture (California Education Partners, 2020)

The work of each team in the College on Track network is connected to the three principles of heart, head, and hands. California Education Partners defines heart as cultivating and communicating an equity-centered improvement culture and mindsets that empower educators and their system to do their best work for each student. Likewise, the head principal supports teams to adopt, utilize, and curate a coherent and contextually driven suite of tools, processes, and structures that establishes a collaborative, continuous improvement approach that better serves each student. Finally, California Education Partners emphasizes the importance of the hands principle to develop a systemic collaborative approach that leverages the expertise and perspectives of individuals throughout their organization, as well as students, community members, and other districts and thought partners.

Ideally, outside partners can stretch the thinking of school staff, and support them to notice and challenge the status quo within their schools and districts. They can also create the conditions for those designing and implementing the change process to participate in a process of continuous inquiry, reflection, and improvement. California Education Partner’s network did both. “The [College on Track] improvement convenings were always great, but our heads would be hurting on the way home!” Anjelica remembers. “The drives home were when we did some of our best thinking.” This partnership stretched their thinking, but it also offered practical support.

"Working with California Education Partners was great,” reflects Rhonda. “As teachers, we were part of [our school’s] decision-making team. We [were] a resource for the other staff members and this gave us the tools to do just that.”