Can Teachers Lead the Way in Fixing K-12 Education?
As a ninth grade algebra teacher at International High School in New Orleans, Amy Vreeland became frustrated that she and her colleagues were not part of solving the problems facing their students, school, and district.
“My colleagues had tremendous ideas and potential for how things might be changed, but didn’t have the opportunity to voice those ideas,” she said.
She left the classroom and moved to South Africa, where she worked to design community-driven solutions to local problems. The experience sparked a question: what if reforms in education could be designed at the grassroots level as well, directly engaging educators in the work of improving schools?
Vreeland founded TrueSchool Studio to expand the innovation potential of frontline educators to dramatically improve the educational system for students. Vreeland is one of the Walton Family Foundation-supported Global Fellows at Echoing Green, an organization working to unleash next generation talent to solve the world’s biggest problems.
Starting in early 2013, TrueSchool Studio has led a process of engaging teachers and principals in New Orleans, Chicago, and Los Angeles in solving problems in K-12 education.
For example, Vreeland is currently running a “studio” in Chicago with the support of the Chicago Public Education Fund, in which she is engaging teams of educators from 40 public schools focused on personalized learning, school transitions, and professional development.
Last year, TrueSchool Studio worked with James Monroe Elementary School in Chicago to help graduating eighth graders transition more successfully to ninth grade. During the “studio” process, the educators devised three solutions: a new role of high school counselor, a workbook to help the students prepare for the transition, and a tracking tool to monitor where students were applying for high school.
In the first year of piloting these solutions, the percentage of Monroe students who applied to five or more high schools grew from 8% to 100%, Vreeland said, dramatically increasing “options and choice for kids.”
In addition to solving problems, TrueSchool Studio is also creating opportunities for creative collaboration among educators. Charter and traditional public school teachers are sharing ideas — many for the first time — Vreeland said.
“We’re really rethinking the role of the contemporary educator,” she said. “We want the educator to be the source of coming up with new solutions and testing new ideas and leading the charge of what school can look like in the future.”