The Emerging Third Way: Blazing an Optimistic Path Ahead in K-12 Education

On Tuesday May 31st, 2016, 400 people came together in Boston to kick off the Emerging Third Way in Education. The Event was hosted by Empower Schools and co-sponsored by MassINC and The Boston Foundation.

An introductory video kicked off the morning and set the tone for the conversation. “It isn’t this or that. It isn’t us or them. It’s us and them.” And we were off!

Opening Remarks

MA Secretary of Education James Peyser gave opening remarks. Starting by joking that “you probably think of me as a charter guy… and it’s true,” Secretary Peyser continued on to say that his interest in charters stems from his belief that “schools, not districts, were the unit of change.”

MA Secretary of Education James Peyser

As MA Secretary of Education, Jim Peyser directs the Executive Office of Education which is responsible for early education, K-12, and higher education in Massachusetts. Secretary Peyser sits on each of the boards governing the Commonwealth’s education agencies – Department of Early Education and Care, Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, and Department of Higher Education as well as the University of Massachusetts system. He is Governor Baker’s top advisor on education and helps shape the Commonwealth’s education reform agenda.

Prior to his appointment as Secretary, he served as the Managing Director at NewSchools Venture Fund, a non-profit grant-making firm that seeks to transform public education in high-need urban communities by supporting innovative education entrepreneurs. From 1999 through 2006, Jim served as Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Education. Prior to joining NewSchools, Secretary Peyser was Education Advisor to Governors Bill Weld, Jane Swift and Mitt Romney, where he helped shape state policy regarding standards and assessments, school accountability, and charter schools. In 1995, he served as Under Secretary of Education and Special Assistant to Governor Weld for Charter Schools.

He previously spent seven years as Executive Director of the Pioneer Institute for Public Policy Research, where he helped to launch the Massachusetts Charter School Resource Center, which supported the development of the state’s first charter schools. Before joining Pioneer, Secretary Peyser held various positions at Teradyne, Inc. in Boston, an electronic test equipment manufacturer.

Secretary Peyser holds a Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School (Tufts University) and a Bachelor of Arts from Colgate University.

An Overview of the Third Way

Empower Schools CEO, Chris Gabrieli, introduced the “Sense of Urgency Countdown Clock” and gave an overview of the Third Way in Education.

He concluded his presentation with the following: “The Third Way is a broad river with several tributary streams that together can and should see themselves, ourselves, as one movement working to create new ways ahead fusing the best of districts and charters. Whether you are a district adopting mutual consent hiring, a non-profit supporting expanded learning time, a charter school willing to work inside a district or an Empowerment Zone, you are walking the walk of the Third Way. We share a common commitment to an education system that better serves our most disadvantaged students. We share common beliefs that schools are the unit of success and educators should have the full opportunity to do whatever it takes to succeed and accept accountability for reaching those goals. We share common mindsets, working with existing districts, educators, officials and unions but insisting on real change that can unlock greatness. And we share a resolute optimism that we can find new, common ground on this Third Way.”

Chris Gabrieli

Chris Gabrieli is the Chairman and CEO of Empower Schools, Chairman of the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education, and a lecturer at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. Empower Schools works with policymakers and both traditional educators and proven non-profit operators to fundamentally re-engineer traditional school systems into diverse education ecosystems centered on empowered and accountable schools. Empower has led the design and launch of successful efforts in Lawrence and Salem and is the strategic advisor guiding the Springfield Empowerment Zone, a groundbreaking partnership between the state and district aimed at accelerating success for Springfield’s middle school students. The New York Times editorial page has praised the initial success in Lawrence and commented, “If skillfully applied, this Massachusetts strategy could become a powerful school reform tool elsewhere as well.” Chris has also been at the forefront of the movement to expand learning time for disadvantaged students in Massachusetts and across the country as the co-founder of the National Center on Time & Learning. He is a Partner Emeritus at Bessemer Venture Partners where he helped entrepreneurs build biotechnology and healthcare companies and began his business career as the founder and CEO of GMIS, a medical software company that became the leader in its field and a publicly traded company.

The bulk of the morning was dedicated to immersing attendees in the Third Way through fast paced, sharply focused small group interviews with those “Living the Third Way.” Educators, systems leaders, advocates, local and state officials, and one very brave and talented student all took the stage for 10 minutes at a time with the goal of showing attendees what it is like to live in Third Way spaces. Their conversations were candid and sometimes messy, but always focused on finding paths forward and not getting mired in the common narratives that pit sides against one another.

Each interview is available for viewing along with a brief description of the topic and a short bio of each participant.

We begin the program with three school leaders who are perfect definitions of the Third Way: Leaders of charter schools who have chosen to lead autonomous district schools. The members of this interview group know first hand the power of autonomy in the hands of effective leadership. Rarely do charter school leaders sign up to move from that, but Anna Breen, Komal Bhasin, and Nate Higgins have all chosen to lead highly autonomous schools within districts. Why? What does that mean for them on a daily basis? Even in districts where autonomous schools have been embraced (Lawrence and Springfield) what are the points of tension? What does it mean to be an autonomous leader in a district school as opposed to a charter?

Matt Brunell

Matt Brunell leads the Founders Fellows Program of the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership. He has also served as the Chief Operating Officer of Building Excellent Schools (BES) – the leading incubator of new charter schools in the country. Matt’s previous work includes President of Nativity School of Worcester, a tuition-free, results-driven middle school serving inner-city youth, and an education law attorney. Matt holds a JD from Boston College Law School, a BA in English from Boston College and a Teaching Certificate in Secondary Education from Prescott College.

Komal Bhasin

Komal Bhasin is the principal of UP Academy Leonard in Lawrence, MA. In 2010 the Leonard was one of the lowest performing middle schools in Lawrence. Now three school years later and under Komal’s leadership, the UP Leonard Academy is a Level One school. Last year, it was the second highest growing middle school in the entire state in both math and ELA. Prior to UP Academy Leonard, she was the Principal of Excel Academy Charter School: East Boston and the founding Assistant Principal of a KIPP-affiliated school in New Orleans, in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She holds a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University.

Anna Breen

Anna Breen was chosen through the Founders Fellows program in 2016 to lead the Rise Academy program, a new school program within the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership. Until recently Anna served as the principal at KIPP Academy Lynn where she was also a founding teacher. This past year she led KIPP Academy Lynn to Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) of 82 and 70 in Math and ELA, respectively, and overall student performance in the 87th percentile statewide. She has teaching and leadership experience in both charter and traditional district schools.

Nate Higgins

Nate Higgins is currently an Assistant Principal at Bronx Preparatory Charter Middle School in New York, a member of the Democracy Prep Network of schools. He was chosen as a Founders Fellow in 2016 to lead the Impact Prep program at Chestnut South Middle School, a new school program within the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership.

The Lawrence Experience
In 2011 Lawrence Public Schools was the first district in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to be named Level 5, a chronically underperforming district in need of state takeover. With the opportunity to rethink everything happening in the district from the length of the school day to the approach to re-engaging students who had dropped out, an Open Architecture system was implemented by the new leadership. This pioneering Third Way approach allows district principals to have the freedoms historically only available to charters and embraces proven charter operators to run some district schools. The catch? A level playing field. All traditional principals and charter operators play by the same rules- a new teachers contract, student assignment by neighborhood, and accountability measures to ensure increasing student achievement across the district. Additionally, even though the district is now under state control, there remains authentic local voice in decision making, proving again that even under extreme circumstances, Third Way approaches can be powerful tools for dramatic improvement.

Michael Contompasis

Michael Contompasis is Executive Chairman and MA & Senior Field Consultant for MassInsight Education. Mike has been an educational leader in Boston for more than 40 years. He spent two years as Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, and served as the district’s COO from 1998-2005. Mike was the head master of Boston Latin School, the state’s top performing 7-12 secondary school, where he was honored as a Milken Educator in 1997. In 2006, Mike was presented with a Distinguished Service Award by the Council of Great City Schools.

Shalimar Quiles

Shalimar Quiles currently serves as the Chief of Staff in the Lawrence Public Schools. She was born and raised in Lawrence, and is a proud graduate of Lawrence High School. Prior to working in Lawrence, Shalimar served as Senior Coordinator of Family & Community Relations at a middle school in the Boston Public Schools. She returned home in 2012 as Student Re-engagement Manager before stepping in as Acting Chief of Staff in 2013. Shalimar earned her Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Simmons College and her Master’s degree in Education from Merrimack College.

Jeff Riley

In January 2012, Massachusetts Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education Mitchell Chester appointed Jeffrey C. Riley as Superintendent/Receiver of the Lawrence Public Schools. A veteran educator with nearly two decades of experience in school and district leadership, he previously served in the Boston Public Schools as Academic Superintendent for Middle and K–8 Schools and as its Chief innovation Officer. He has also been a Teacher, Counselor and Principal in a various urban settings. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Pomona College, a Master’s degree in Counseling from Johns Hopkins University and a Master’s degree in School Administration, Planning and Social Policy from Harvard University.

Innovations in Boston and Denver

Denver has emerged over the last 10 years as one of the most promising and interesting places in American education. Denver’s leadership, including an elected school board, is truly living the Third Way- charters locate in district buildings where more high quality seats are needed, all schools participate in a single enrollment system, and share in meeting the cost and duty of special education. More recently, Denver took a bold Third Way leap forward by approving the Luminary Learning Network, a zone of Innovation Schools that want more autonomy but remain within the district. What makes Denver a place so ripe for the Third Way? What can we learn from their example?

Boston Public Schools has focused on the first prong of the Third Way (convergence on best practices) by adopting early, mutual consent hiring across all of its schools. This allows district schools to follow the same aggressive approach to recruiting new talent as charters employ. What has that meant for principals in Boston? What are the challenges that remain for a system like Boston trying to be more Third Way?

Will Austin

Will Austin is the Founder and CEO of Boston Schools Fund. Will taught math at Roxbury Preparatory Charter School and was nominated for Massachusetts Teacher of the Year. He subsequently served as Co-Director for Roxbury Prep, and then as COO for Roxbury Prep for Uncommon Schools, overseeing the school’s expansion from 1 to 4 campuses. Austin is a lifetime resident of Boston and a graduate of Boston Public Schools. He holds an A.B. in Government from Harvard College and a Master’s Degree in Education from Tufts University.

David Osborne

David Osborne is an author, scholar, and long-time senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. David currently directs the Reinventing America’s Schools project. From 1992-97, he served as chairman of the Alliance for Redesigning Government, a National Academy initiative to help public sector leaders and managers learn more about reinvention and redesign. In 1998-99 he served as a member of the Education Commission of the States’ National Commission on Governing America’s Schools. In 2000 he served as an advisor to the Gore presidential campaign. Currently he is chairman of the Institute for Excellence in Government, a not-for-profit organization that provides consulting and other services to public sector leaders.

Mary Seawell

Mary Seawell leads work on education initiatives, particularly in the areas of innovations in governance and delivery of public education, for the Gates Family Foundation of Colorado. In this role she has led the effort to launch the Luminary Learning Network within Denver Public Schools. Mary was elected to the DPS Board of Education in 2009 and served as President from 2011-13 when Denver made significant progress towards autonomy for principals. Mary is a graduate of American University and has a law degree from the University of Denver College of Law.

Ross Wilson

Ross Wilson serves as the Managing Partner for Innovation at Boston Public Schools. He has previously served in a variety of roles in BPS including Assistant Superintendent for Human Capital, Principal, kindergarten teacher, literacy specialist, and teacher of students with disabilities. In 2014, he developed a plan for and led BPS through a transition to mutual consent hiring for all schools. Dr. Wilson received his Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Boston College.

Springfield’s Empowerment

Springfield exemplifies the challenges of urban education. In 2014 Springfield had both Level 1 schools and Level 4 schools. Some previously underperforming schools had pulled themselves out of that designation, but others were stuck and showing no improvement. Faced with a cohort of middle schools that were not showing enough improvement, Springfield’s leadership, with the help of Empower Schools, crafted a bold plan to partner with the state and the teachers union to create the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership. The middle schools, while still a part of SPS, report to a newly appointed board of directors and all of the school leaders in the Zone have new, high levels of autonomy and accountability. The Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership is the first pure Third Way Zone in the country- a place where schools are independent yet interlocking with the district. What have the trade offs been for Dan Warwick, superintendent of SPS? How did so many parties align behind a totally novel approach? What might this pioneering approach mean for teaching contracts in other districts with struggling schools?

James O’S. Morton

James O’S. Morton is the 13th President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Boston. Prior to that he served as President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Hartford where he led a successful $15 million capital campaign and launched a new strategic plan to guide the work of the organization. He also has a deep personal and professional connection to education having served as an educator in the Springfield, MA public school system. James earned a BA in sociology from the University of Wisconsin and a JD from Northeastern University School of Law. He is currently the Vice Chair of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, a trustee of Springfield College, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership.

Tim Collins

Tim Collins is the President of the Springfield Education Association and a key ally in the development of the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership. His leadership led to a new teachers contract for Zone schools that increased teacher voice in school decisions, created a professional compensation scale, and was ratified by 92% of Zone teachers in 2014. Tim began his career as a classroom teacher in Springfield Public Schools.

Russell Johnston

Russell Johnston is the Senior Associate Commissioner for Accountability, Partnerships and Technical Assistance at the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education and one of the architects of the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership. Before joining the Department, he was superintendent of West Springfield, MA public schools during a time when the graduation rate rose 10 percentage points. He began his career in education as a special education teacher.

Daniel Warwick

Daniel Warwick has worked in the Springfield Public School district for nearly 40 years. Named Superintendent in 2012, he began his career as a regular and special education teacher, principal, and then assistant and deputy superintendent. In 2014 Superintendent Warwick was a leader of the effort to pioneer a Third Way Zone in Springfield.

Principals Breaking Through

To round out the experience of living the Third Way, we will hear from principals who gained autonomy through Third Way initiatives after years as traditional district principals. They all embraced their autonomy and have been successful at improving outcomes for students and the environment for teachers, but it hasn’t always been easy. What challenges did they have to overcome in order to be able to make decisions on staffing, schedule, curriculum, professional development, budget allocations and culture? What shifts in their own thinking and leadership had to take place before the autonomy was ‘real’? How did they break through from a traditional mindset?

Colleen Beaudoin

Colleen Beaudoin is the Managing Director of School & District Support at The National Center on Time & Learning. Colleen has over 20 years experience in public education as a principal in the Chelmsford Public Schools, district curriculum coordinator, district professional development coordinator, principal, assistant principal, and teacher. She currently coaches principals in the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership who have been granted autonomy for the first time. Colleen recently received her doctorate in Educational Leadership from Boston College. Her dissertation focused on effective principal leadership in the urban setting and the role of the district in recruiting, supporting, and evaluating principals.

Lori Butterfield

Lori Butterfield began her career in 1998 as a first grade teacher in the Lawrence Public School System. She became the Assistant Principal of Guilmette Elementary School in 2005 and was named principal in 2010. The Guilmette was one of the lowest performing schools in the district until 2012 when it began demonstrating strong student gains and steady continuous improvement. The school is now a showcase school for best practices related to curriculum design, high quality instruction, and targeted and differentiated supports for students as a result of school-based autonomies, great teachers, and lots of hard work. Under her leadership, Guilmette achieved and has kept a Level 1 designation since 2013.

Mike Calvanese

Mike Calvanese is principal of Duggan Academy, a school within the Springfield Empowerment Zone Partnership. Mike has experience in a charter school, but this is his first time leading a school with considerable autonomy.

Zachary Rahn

Zachary Rahn is Principal at Ashley Elementary School, one of four Innovation Schools in Denver that have formed the Luminary Learning Network (LLN), Denver’s first Innovation Zone. Through his experiences as a teacher and leader in both traditional and charter schools in Denver, Zach saw that autonomy over people, time and money coupled with a strong, aligned team can transform a school. He helped to lead the design and formation of the LLN because he believes schools and teachers are best equipped to be the agents of change and the new structure will allow them to accelerate the pace of student achievement.

After hearing from people who live the Third Way every day, the conversation shifted to focus on how policy can be used to support Third Way efforts in Massachusetts. Mitchell Chester, Massachusetts Commissioner of Education, Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz, and Representative Alice Peisch all had the opportunity to respond to a question about the future of the Third Way policy movement.

A Dialogue on the Third Way

To cap off an energizing morning, Chris Gabrieli and US Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr sat down to have a conversation about the Third Way, what he learned as founder of Roxbury Prep and how it influences his work as Secretary, ESSA accountability regulations, why he’s optimistic about the future of public education in the US, and how his father, a public school teacher, instilled in him “a work ethic and a sense of urgency about our lives.”

US Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr.

Before becoming Secretary, Dr. King served as Principal Senior Advisor overseeing all preschool-through-12th-grade education policies, programs and strategic initiatives, as well as the operations of the Department.

King joined USED after serving at the helm of the New York State Education Department from 2011 to 2015. In 2011, he was named the first African-American and Puerto Rican to serve as New York State Education Commissioner. As Commissioner, King served as chief executive officer of NYSED and president of the University of the State of New York (USNY), with responsibility for overseeing the state’s elementary and secondary schools (serving 3.1 million students), public, independent and proprietary colleges and universities, libraries, museum, and numerous other educational institutions.

Before arriving at NYSED in 2009 as Senior Deputy Commissioner, King was a Managing Director with Uncommon Schools, the nonprofit organization managing some of the highest performing urban public schools in New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. He also co-founded and led the nationally recognized Roxbury Preparatory Charter School (Roxbury Prep) in Boston. Under his leadership, Roxbury Prep’s predominantly low-income students earned the highest state exam scores of any urban, public middle school in Massachusetts, closed the achievement gap, and outperformed students in the Boston city schools, as well as schools in the nearby affluent suburbs.

King began his career in education as a high school social studies teacher in Puerto Rico and Boston. He holds a B.A from Harvard University, a J.D. from Yale Law School, and an MA and EdD from Teachers College at Columbia University.

King currently resides in Takoma Park, Maryland with his wife, Melissa, and their two daughters.