NGLC Article

Check out this amazing blogfrom CEO Scott Frauenheim and Senior Innovation Partner, Colleen Padgett!

Distinctive Schools and LEAP Innovations want to bring personalized learning design work back to the forefront of the national conversation about education. Find out why they believe we need to work together to create classrooms our students need.

Education is everything to me. As a child, I always knew that I wanted to be an educator. I was born into a family deeply committed to education. I watched my father serve as vice principal, athletic director, head football coach, and a community leader. He served brilliantly for more than 52 years at my childhood schools. I was inspired and motivated to follow in his footsteps, watching as an entire community was affected by his visionary leadership and commitment to relationships, partnerships, and friendships. It is with that vision, that passion that I knew what I wanted to do—to serve communities, to see deep impact for students, and to ensure that culture and holistic education was at the forefront of my work. That lifelong vision has supported me in my role as an educator and now the chief executive officer for Distinctive Schools, a nonprofit charter school management organization established in 2011.

Traditional methods of teaching and learning are no longer enough, it’s time to name that they haven’t been enough, and we need to adopt innovative strategies that are better suited to the needs of our learners.

Since that fateful day in March of 2020, my beliefs in the power of culture and relationship building, and my vision for building communities where everyone truly belongs, have been challenged. But even after the tragic and deeply transformative global pandemic, I still believe that trust, relationships, and collaborative leadership is the key to academic success. I’ve seen a tremendous swing from positivity and praise (in 2020 when school doors shuttered, our staff felt more appreciation from parents and families than ever) to a new negativity surrounding education. That negativity has taken on a whole new meaning, especially in the aftermath of another pandemic of ‘learning loss’ and various other political and racial divides across our educational ecosystem nationwide. We need to change the narrative, and we can do that by working together to provide students what they need and deserve from their education.

As we adjust to the new challenges and opportunities surrounding us, it has become increasingly clear that we need to continue rethinking the way we approach education—the issues that existed prior to the pandemic were amplified, and the solutions, as difficult as they may be, are still ahead of us. Traditional methods of teaching and learning are no longer enough, it’s time to name that they haven’t been enough, and we need to adopt innovative strategies that are better suited to the needs of our learners. With all of this in mind, LEAP Innovations and Distinctive Schools launched a partnership on innovative education to tackle this very issue and to continue to have a deeper impact on learners and educators across the country.

LEAP Innovations is a non-profit organization that is committed to transforming education by designing and implementing personalized learning experiences. Distinctive Schools is a network of schools that is dedicated to providing high-quality education to all students. Distinctive Schools has been a participant in the LEAP programming for many years and our team is excited about this opportunity to diversify our offerings and programs with a new lane of work in our nonprofit. Through this partnership, we want to bring together educators and school leaders to learn about innovative approaches with the ability to truly design in response to some of our common problems of practice. Before the pandemic, we were designing solutions to the same problems and we must all get back in the same room, to design and ideate on behalf of our educators and learners again. Being inspired and energized to design together will also lead us to discuss implementation, buy-in, and modeling approaches for leaders to go back and design with their own school teams and communities.

The pandemic forced us to rethink our priorities in education, and it has highlighted the need for innovative approaches to teaching and learning. But even without the pandemic, the need for innovation in education would still be there. We need to design classrooms that are better suited to the needs of our students and that provide them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in today's world. It’s time for a revolution, and while that may feel overwhelming as a system, we can make tremendous impact and improvement one day, one teacher, one classroom, one child at a time—especially if we work together.

We need to change the narrative, and we can do that by working together to provide students what they need and deserve from their education.

After thoughtful consideration of the pandemic response, and a curiosity into how school systems can do more than simply recover, Colleen Padgett, a senior innovation partner for Distinctive Schools raised her hand, ready to lead in new ways. Colleen has been part of the design and implementation of the LEAP Innovation model at CICS West Belden, a K-8 school in Distinctive’s network, since the school’s transformation work began in the 2013/14 school year. The LEAP framework focuses on personalized learning; through the use of 1:1 technology, learners can progress through their lessons at their own pace based on demonstrated mastery. She believes all students deserve access to grade level learning tasks to keep them engaged and challenged and she believes all students deserve access to thoughtful teachers with high expectations. As principal for the past seven years, Colleen is an experienced educator and leader who has built a strong culture of community and belonging at CICS West Belden.

“When we first started implementing the LEAP design work,” Colleen explains, “the difference we saw in our students was amazing. Students were coming to school excited about their learning, setting goals and achieving success like never before. I can’t wait to see how our students continue to thrive and grow within this learning model as we grow it. This work that Distinctive Schools and LEAP Innovations is launching is about taking our current models and lifting up innovative and personalized approaches to accomplish school, network, and district goals. Through this partnership, we are excited about scaling our years of work in Chicago to new regions across the country.”

Our first effort to bring educators and school leaders together is through a series of workshops and retreats. These offerings are designed to provide teachers and leaders with a deep understanding of innovative education and the tools and strategies needed to implement it in their classrooms, schools, and systems. We hope to demonstrate that it is possible to design classrooms that are more personalized, engaging, and effective. The partnership will cover a range of topics, including personalized learning, building authentic relationships, and providing a rigorous learning experience for all students to see greater academic achievement and success. Through collaborative professional development and personalized coaching, we will empower teachers and leaders to design innovative learning experiences built around preparing and inspiring students to ignite their own unlimited potential. Participants will have the opportunity to learn from experts in the field and to collaborate with other educators to develop new ideas and strategies to take back to their classrooms and implement immediately. Our initial workshops and two day retreat will be hosted in Chicago this spring and summer. As we plan for the fall, we are excited to bring these opportunities, along with other LEAP programming, to new territories where we can make impact through collaborative partnership. Please connect with us should you have ideas for regional convenings and opportunities for us to design together.

By bringing personalized design work back to the forefront in the national conversation about education, the LEAP Innovations and Distinctive Schools partnership is working to ensure that every student has access to a holistic and tailored learning experience at school.

All of us in K-12 education need to work together to create classrooms that are better suited to the needs of our students, preparing them for the challenges of the future. This is an important step toward the revolutionary education we know holds the keys to our students’ success. Together, we can reshape the narrative of what education looks like.

We invite you to learn more about our partnership. And if you are interested in joining us on this journey, consider registering for an upcoming in person workshop date or the two day retreat in July in Chicago!