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A Visit With Ashley Smith

posted on April 27, 2017 by Tony Monfiletto

IMG_2247 (1)Ashley Smith, the Executive Director & Founder of the Artesian Community School in Memphis, Tennessee visited us recently to learn about the way we develop schools deeply rooted in the community. She is planning her new school and spent two days with us to learn about our work. We spent time visiting the Leadership High Schools, debriefing the experience, and making plans for the future.

Jim Boyd from the Pyramid Peak Foundation connected her to us as a place to learn about our three pillar model (360 Support, Community Engagement and Learning by Doing). We’ve spent a lot of time with Jim over the past few years trading ideas about how to provide “the best education for the students who need it the most”. Like us, Jim and Ashley are concerned about the lack of good choices for students who do not fit the “no excuses” school reform model. We know that in order to serve young people well, we must think of them as assets to be nurtured rather than problems to be solved. It’s an essential building block for any school that wants to prepare young people for a fulfilling future.

Its been a terrifically rewarding experience for me and an opportunity to get to know the good people of Memphis over the past few years. The challenges they’re tackling are so similar to our own, and I’ve grown as a result of collaborating and supporting them in their efforts. I hope you enjoy reading Ashley’s comments and that you will also consider paying a visit to one of our Leadership High Schools to see our work.

After her visit to our school, Ashley Smith shared the following thoughts:

“If I were to give my visit a theme, it would be shifting my frame.

For example, we know that engaging the community is important when developing schools, but your team changed my view of how and when to engage potential community and industry partners. Rather than looking to them to supplement a school’s predetermined design, community and industry partners bring a lot of value to the school relationship from the start. They’ve generally already identified what they want their students to learn deeply about and how they envision those students being leaders and problem-solvers in the community and workforce. Accordingly, we can shift our school development process from creating a school vision and seeing how the community fits into it to seeing how a school can be one of the players in a larger community strategy.

Another example for me is how to shift the conversation among adults from career-focused schools to leadership-focused schools. It’s a simple task—talking about the future leaders of our community and workforce rather than what it takes for students to graduate and be ready for entry-level jobs. I have already seen twinkles in some people’s eyes as they start to imagine students as leaders rather than mere members of a future workforce.

Last, a big takeaway for me is to plan the school, culture, curriculum and support through the lens of a Graduate Profile. Of course, this profile will be determined through community input. It will be a clear picture of who we are trying to develop over the course of a student’s high school career, and it will keep us focused on our important vision and mission, focus that is often lost in the day-to-day of running a school.

Thank you very much!”

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