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Out of the Box: Funding the Future of Schooling

October 27, 2022 New Classrooms & Transcend

The virtual event “Out of the Box: A Conversation About the Future of School” featured an afternoon of panels with the most influential voices in education. In Funding the Future of Schooling, philanthropists discuss the role they see for themselves and others in supporting system modernization. Moderator Kim Smith, Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Cambiar Education, leads a conversation on the challenges and opportunities in K-12 funding. Romy Drucker, K-12 Education Program Director at Walton Family Foundation, Katy Knight, Executive Director & President of Siegel Family Endowment, and Frances Messano, President of NewSchools Venture Fund, offer their perspectives and the visions they have for the future of schooling.


Welcome, everybody, to the Out of the Box conversation specifically focused on funding the future of schools. I’m excited to be here with an amazing group of philanthropists. As an intro to our conversation here, I wanted to just posit that part of why we’re here is the convergence of factors, including the COVID disruption and a generational shift, technology advances, and other factors that have created a moment. And this is a moment unlike any we’ve ever seen. So we wanted to ask some incredible leaders in philanthropy to talk with us about what it means to meet this moment.

One thing I’m going to posit is that to meet the moment we’re going to need to simultaneously continue to support innovators in our current system and lay the groundwork for the future system we need. We have with us three incredible leaders who are helping to think about how we re-architect that new system and work with the innovators who are in the system right now. And I’m thrilled to welcome Katy Knight, Romy Drucker, and Frances Messano to join us for this conversation. Thank you, ladies.

I thought if you were okay with it that we might start by asking you all, the folks who are with us can read your incredible bios on the website, and so I thought given your important role, leaning into the need for philanthropy to pave the way here on the future of schooling, perhaps you could pick one or two things from your background that you could share that help people understand why are you here at the forefront, leaning into this opportunity? What is it about your background that has created an opportunity and paved the way for you to help lead us forward on this? Romy, would you like to kick us off? Oh, my bad.

Romy Drucker:

Happy to.


Go ahead.

Romy Drucker:

Thank you so much, Kim, for the generous introduction. I’m so excited to be here with Frances and Katy to talk about this important topic today, and [thank you] to New Classrooms for hosting us. So in my opinion, this is a moment that is full of promise and momentum, and I will keep coming back to this idea of feeling optimistic while acknowledging with a lot of humility the real challenges on the ground.

I’ll highlight two skillsets from my experiences that I think are coming in handy in this moment. One is narrative building. I think this is a moment as much about a new story we need to tell about the work as it is about laying tracks for the work itself and what the work is going to look like in the future. And I learned a lot about narrative building both at my work at the New York City Department of Education and of course as the leader of The 74, which is a nonprofit news organization covering education in America.

And the other skillset I’ll highlight is just a sense of wanting to bring people together and be okay with the idea of disagreement. I think if we’re going to solve big problems and do so in a way that is going to be sustainable and also deeply embedded in the context in which they’re being solved, we need to be willing to argue and we need to be willing to experiment and fail. And that was certainly a skill I developed during my time working in a large city school district, and obviously at the Walton Family Foundation we cultivate a spirit of wanting to disagree with one another in support of youth.


Thank you, Romy. Sorry. Before, Frances, I said I’d lead with you and I’m turning to you now. Sorry about that miscue. Share with us a little bit about your background.

Frances Messano:

No need to apologize. It’s great to be with you all here today, and I’m always happy when I can be on a panel with other fierce women. So it’s great to be with all of you in this conversation. And I’m President and Incoming CEO at NewSchools. And a couple things that I’ll highlight in terms of my own background is one, a lot of my background has been in strategy consulting, so in how do you look at patterns across the field, look at different trends and themes that are emerging, and then use all of that to then think about how [to] put together a strategy to affect change.

And so a lot of that work has come up when I spent time at Monitor Institute, focused on education strategy consulting for about five years, and then over the last seven and a half years at NewSchools, where I had, excuse me, I kind of created our diverse leaders strategy work and then helped to build our innovative schools work in the last version of our strategy.

The other thing I would highlight is that the thing that I bring is that this is passion work for me. It’s personal work for me. So I identify as Latina. I grew up in Coney Island, Brooklyn, to immigrant and working class strivers. Nonprofit organizations, three, in fact, I’m happy to tell you more about which organizations they are, were really instrumental in my own life and gave me access to education and to professional opportunity, and all that then translated into choice and freedom in my own life. And so when I think about this work, I think about how everything we’re talking about here is literally changing the course of people’s lives long term.

And I was recently married, I’m now bonus mom to three kiddos, and they attend one of our portfolio schools. And I say that because it’s really important that as funders, that we’re creating schools and opportunities and work that we believe in and that we’re willing to… I always say, I want them to be schools that I’d be willing to send my own kids to. And now I’m in that place, where I’m doing that. And so, [I] would say I’m trying to bring in the connection of the head and the heart, the strategy and the personal passion and connection to the work.


That’s great. Thank you, Frances, for sharing. Katy?

Katy Knight:

Yeah, so I love not having to rehash my bio because I’m always mortified reading it aloud, because it’s written in a way that I, like, oh, what is all this stuff? But I’m excited to be here with you all because, like Frances said, being in a group of women who care about this work and are incredibly intelligent and doing it in this intentional way is really amazing.

And also like Frances, a lot of it is about my background and where I came from. I also grew up in New York in a working class neighborhood, and the access to educational opportunities, the just drive and determination that my mother had to push me through broken systems and come out the other end of them better, and a lot of good luck are the key elements in my background in that have led me to where I am today.

I think second to that is perpetual dissatisfaction. If you are like me, constantly dissatisfied with the answers you’re receiving [as] to why something is the way it is, eventually you’ll find yourself at the core of a problem. And it’s always about systems and the complex web of overlapping issues that put us in the places that we are, and infrastructure and all of the things that are really core and foundational. And so it’s really been my perpetual dissatisfaction, my continued asking “why,” “why,” “why” until people got sick of me, that has put me in a position to now make why the most important question that we have in our work.


Thank you, ladies. That was super helpful, to position both your personal experiences and also your lenses and the vantage points that you’re bringing to this work. That was really helpful. So I thought I would start with, to your point, Romy, about narrative here. As we’re leaning into the future of schooling and as philanthropic leaders who are leaning into the future of schooling, how would you describe that future system? What is the future? How would you characterize or describe that system we’re moving toward in the future of schooling? Can you give me a phrase? And I think I’ll go to you first, Frances, just to keep mixing it up here.

Frances Messano:

Love it. And so I was like, the phrase, so Romy’s going to beat me on this one since she’s the communications expert here. And I was really struggling to get this one pithy because there was so much, Kim, that I want to include on our future. And that was my struggle. So I have some semicolons in here, some pauses I might have to jump over.

I feel like the future of learning is focused on helping students, helping our young people thrive as whole people. It’s asset-based, it’s supportive, it’s a future where learning experiences are tailored to student interest and needs and powered by a broad range of adults so that learning can happen anytime and anywhere. I really tried to find a way to make [that shorter]. Romy, I’m sure you got me on this one.


You got a lot in there. We’re going to let Romy wrap up on this one, since you’re the narrative queen, Romy. So Katy, why don’t you give us your try at this?

Katy Knight:

Yeah, well I’m really fortunate because this was essentially pre-written for me. We just released a white paper called Schools as Community Infrastructure, and so I can very much cheat and make that my phrase, except maybe I’ll steal from Frances and put a semicolon in and say also infrastructure for schools in communities. So it’s both things.


Great, thank you. Okay, Romy, bring us home with some narrative here. How do you talk about the future we’re leaning into?

Romy Drucker:

So good job, everybody. I would say student-centered and cultivating a sense of belonging. And I feel like we all agree that the future of learning is going to be more personalized, and also ensuring that connection and inclusivity and a sense of community is part of that is so critical, and I don’t think at odds with it at all.


Great. You guys have touched on a lot of the component parts of I think all the conversations that they’re setting up in this day around the future of schooling. So thank you for that.

How do you translate that as philanthropic leaders? How are you leaning into that future? So maybe a way to think about that is obviously you can’t describe your entire portfolio, but internally when you talk about leaning into that, how would you do, what’s the quick summary that you use internally for what you’re leaning into? And maybe as a part of that, if you were to highlight one big opportunity that’s a little level deeper than what you’ve already put on the table, what would be an opportunity that you’d love to highlight? And let’s start with Katy this time.

Katy Knight:

Sure. So we have a lot of shorthand for the things that we’re doing internally, like everyone else, but I think one piece that tends to rise above and really encapsulate it is that we’re trying to help design schools and learning environments that will build productive citizens. And so much of philanthropy and reform work is focused on [that] we’ve got to get the kids into good jobs or we’ve got to get them this, we’ve got to get them that.

But for us in all of our work, it’s about building the opportunities for young people and for people in general to have the sort of experiences and education that will allow them to participate fully in our society in whatever way makes sense to them. And so that’s economically, it’s civically, it’s personally and professionally, it’s so many things. And that’s why I think in terms of opportunity, when we’re talking about schools as community infrastructure and the infrastructure that we need for schools, we’re really talking about thinking about the physical building of a school and all of the kind of satellites that are linked to that, the other learning space in communities, as being just as important as the bridges and the roads that connect the downtown to the suburbs and the trains.

Education is infrastructure, and the way that it is sort of symbiotic with all of the other elements of community, of neighborhoods, of cities and the things that make places thrive is really important to recognize as we have this moment of opportunity with new funding and with this open space to reimagine, to really think differently about the way that we invest in education, the way that we build learning spaces, and what we’re doing to manifest all of these things that we talk about when we talk about innovation.

So I’m really excited about the bureaucracy. That’s where the magic happens. It’s in potentially eliminating funding silos and duplicity that exists in the way that we build new spaces. It’s in combining library programs with afterschool programs, with parent supports. It’s in all of these things that actually will allow us to be more efficient in a bureaucratic sense while also bringing in more community voice, ideally. So it’s about thinking about the community as stakeholders in all infrastructure, education infrastructure included, and how crucial that is to building anything that is actually going to serve people. You have to ask them what they want and then strive to give it to them.


One quick follow up question on that. You happened to mention mostly physical infrastructure, but I get the sense you also mean technological infrastructure, and when you talk about the community, different spaces of learning, could you just maybe say a couple more sentences on the other types of infrastructure you guys have in mind?

Katy Knight:

Yeah, of course. So digital infrastructure is so crucial, and I think we have of course seen that during the pandemic with learning moving to being remote and at home, the lack of access to just basic internet services, hardware, software, the things that students needed to get connected to schools. But even as we returned to in-person environments, people, young people still need access to digital tools, to the internet, and all of the things that they needed during the pandemic because the expectation that someone can do their homework in one of these fancy learning management systems and turn it in if they don’t have internet at home is just not one that we’ll be able to fulfill.

But beyond just access and the traditional sort of things that you might think about in the digital divide, there’s also data, data stewardship, data interoperability. There’s components of digital infrastructure that actually impact the way that students move through the system, the information that we have about them, what we can share across classrooms and with parents and different community programs. There’s so much rich digital stuff, for lack of a better word, that actually impacts the learning journey and [that] should be considered. And then of course there’s social infrastructure, which is all the relationships and the community that is around a school, and that’s also incredibly important.


Great. Thank you so much. How about Frances, thoughts on how you’re leaning in and a big opportunity?

Frances Messano:

Yeah, absolutely. So at NewSchools, we’re a nonprofit venture philanthropy. And so what we do is we make early stage investments in the most promising innovators who are seeking to reimagine learning. And so we focus in four investment areas. We focus on new public schools, both in charter and district context. We focus on learning solutions. We focus on diverse leadership. And we have a new portfolio where we’re focused on participatory grant making, with a specific focus on how do we get to a more just and equitable education system.

So because of our setup, we’re well positioned to fund new ideas and new models and we have all of our focus is on these four investment areas. But given that we are in this pivot moment, and you talked a lot, Kim, about where we are right now and where we need to go to, we also believe that this is a moment where we need to be a lot more agile in how we are funding, who we are funding, and what we are funding.

So we are continuing to make investments to elevate what we’re learning in those different investment areas so that we can improve current practice but also have an eye toward what is the next practice, where else do we need to focus? And so we’ve thought a lot about the gaps that have emerged during the pandemic, as well as the opportunity as to where we should be spending our time moving forward.

And so a couple of examples of this are, for one, we know that less people are choosing to become educators right now. We know that we need more special education or STEM educators. We need more strategic capacity at the systems level. We need fundamentally different human capital solutions. We need to think differently about how we’re staffing schools. So how might we make some investments on the way there?

We have a mental health crisis, both for students and for educators. We need to find a way to provide supports in a much more scalable way. And how do we do that in a way that doesn’t increase the burden on educators? We’re thinking more about that and exploring different ideas there.

We know that we need to do better at helping students to access the ongoing learning and working they’re going to do beyond high school. And so how do we begin to support young people on their pathway to success starting in middle school? We know how much time we have with these young folks, and how do we make sure that we’re not creating tracks or we’re not sending kids into credentials that are not going to add up to much?

And of course we’re focused a lot on unfinished learning, but I think what we’re thinking about is how do we also just leverage some of the lessons from the pandemic, where we actually saw a lot of high school students get engaged and inspired in a new way because they were able to access content that was much more connected to their passions and interests. How is that kind of a seedling as we think about where we can go in the future?

So I say all that to say, what we’ve done is we now have a portfolio where we’re starting to seed that in these different areas, to say how might we follow the momentum? Because I think what we really need right now is a way to fund differently and responsibly, to help those new ideas come about so that we can create that future now. And so we’re thinking a lot about that, and I would say happy to talk about more of those areas if it’s relevant.

And another thing that we’re testing is how might we make the decisions differently, as well? So we’ve been using participatory grant making to seed power. We’ve also been bringing in different advisory boards with students, educators, researchers, parents and other innovators so that we can find ways to push ourselves in our own thinking, that as we’re making investments and as we’re trying to help seed these new ideas that point away toward a future, we’re doing it with the input from the people who are directly experiencing the challenges every single day.


Great. Thank you. Romy, how about you? How are you guys thinking about what are big opportunities and how are you leaning in at the Walton Family Foundation to this future?

Romy Drucker:

Well, before I talk about how we’re leaning in, I just wanted to comment on how we’re listening in because I do think that we’re trying to listen differently in this moment. It’s something that’s always been really important to us, really having proximity to communities, understanding what it is that parents want to see for children, what families want to see for young people as individuals who are defining success for themselves, not just in K-12 but in their entire lives. And also listening to students and educators.

And I just want to commend so many organizations that have done some really amazing listening work throughout the pandemic to bring to bear perspectives and also data for all of us to understand this opportunity to reimagine learning in this moment. And fundamentally, that is what we’re hearing from communities, that communities want to see education reimagined. Now we’re here today, and Kim, maybe you’ll tell us what that means at the end of this panel, trying to figure out exactly how we’re all going to contribute to that. And I think it is going to certainly be an iterative process, and Frances and Katy described and use words like experimentation and trying out, and it does feel like this is a moment for that.

In terms of our approach and what we’re focused on at Walton, I will elevate themes that are very familiar. And we are feeling like this is a moment to recommit to some of our core values and core principles. And also, we are excited because it feels like there’s a lot of momentum. So we are very focused on the idea, as we always have been, of community-driven change and [what] more we can be doing to support and harness the energy and brilliance that we know exists in communities across the country. We are working with a coalition of 70 Black-led organizations in Jacksonville, Florida, who are coming together around the literacy crisis there, thinking about new strategies for addressing learning loss, and also eager to expand new community rooted learning models.

Communities across the country are asking for ways and opportunities to engage. And so partnerships with groups like that, with coalitions like that, is core to the work we’re doing. And we also obviously, as part of that, want to elevate what’s working and try to spread those models across the country, whether it’s through storytelling or narrative or all the mechanisms that we all have to be helping us all learn as a field at this critical moment.

The other thing we’re really focused on is talent. And I think another way to think about an innovation strategy is as a talent strategy. We need more talented problem solvers rolling up their sleeves and wanting to address learning loss, wanting to address the hardest problems in education, centered around numeracy and literacy, and also what we’ve all been talking about in terms of the skillsets and mindsets that are needed for students to thrive, and how we do so holistically.

So I’m excited about a number of R&D projects we’re supporting, including AERDF, which are thinking about how we do problem solving differently, how we do it in a way that’s close to communities, that’s inclusive, that’s incorporating the student experience, that’s really human-centered. We need hubs like that, that are well-resourced and also positioned to help get good ideas to scale more quickly, so that we can address the urgency of now.

And the final piece I mentioned, and Katy touched on this a little bit, is just the sort of policy agenda that needs to run alongside of this. And I think we need to all be talking about not just programmatic solutions, but what fundamentally needs to change. Obviously there is an opportunity in the system right now to leverage federal dollars, but we need to also be thinking about in states what are the long term opportunities in terms of more equitable student financing, in terms of creating more avenues for parent choice, and in terms of also creating school conditions that are more flexible and conducive to the idea of a learning day as opposed to just a school day.

So there’s kind of a unique amount of attention being paid to this conversation right now. And so all of us thinking also about the policy agenda that runs alongside of this, I think is really important. And we’re always trying to work with state-based coalitions to take advantage of the moment.


Yeah, I love so much about what all of you have said, but in particular, I love the thread that runs through what all of you are saying, which is the recognition of the community embedded connections to the learners and the families and communities, the talent piece, the tools, the infrastructure. And then you just added that last piece, Romy, of policy for enabling all of those. So thank you for bringing all those things onto the table.

As you guys are thinking about such an ambitious agenda for change, with all these different lenses, how do you think about where the biggest challenges are, that you really need more co-conspirators on? Where are the challenges where you think, “we’ve got to get this one,” and it’s just not getting enough attention? I’m going to start with you, Katy, and I was thinking maybe you could speak to infrastructure. You’ve done a terrific job of talking to that already. So there might be something within that, that you feel like is the big challenge, or is it just even getting infrastructure on people’s agenda? I’m curious.

Katy Knight:

Yeah, well I think it is, and it’s a million other things too. So picking up actually on what Romy said about policy, around infrastructure in particular, similar to, I think, the education policy challenges that we’ve faced for decades, it’s these complex issues that require a lot of thought and a lot of balance. And where there is disagreement, even among the closest of us that work together hand in hand about what the policy priorities should be or what direction things should go, that’s now been exponentially increased in terms of difficulty because of polarization and just the political landscape.

So what were nuanced policy challenges are now nuanced policy challenges being combined with polarization and talking points that are being led by national level dialogue that can only be three sentences long. And so addressing that challenge, getting past that, and I’d love to just go back to being able to talk about the challenges, as hard as they were, two years ago, rather than where we are now. So dealing with that and getting through it is one of the places where I think this work overlaps so much with work on civic engagement, work on depolarization, work on our broader societal problems.

And then on infrastructure, that relates to the policy challenges because infrastructure, the way that it’s built, funded, maintained, governed, what we even consider to be infrastructure, that’s all wrapped up in the overlap between the public and the private sector and needs government to have the ability to move things forward in order to get stuff done there. But I think we can do a lot at the local level, towns, cities, states, counties, to impact some change where people can see it, where it’s tangible.

And so my hope would be, to try to lighten this up a bit, that we could find co-conspirators that are interested in just attacking the problems where we can in service of hopefully achieving that broader goal. But infrastructure in particular, it gets designed and implemented at the closest level to the ground. Most often the dollars may come down from the federal government in the form of block grants or other mechanisms, but at the end of the day, it’s the people that live in communities that are experiencing the infrastructure and should be playing a role in how it’s designed and have a say. And I think that’s where we can make progress because not all hope is lost as you kind of drill down past the state and into the local level.


It’s also a neat time, with all the advances in technology, to think about design happening at that level because we used to design it all from the top down. So I love the way you’re talking about rethinking even the design process when you think about infrastructure. That’s really exciting.

Romy, how about you? You mentioned parents and students and a whole bunch of other pieces of this puzzle, so on what front is there a challenge that you’d really like to invite in some more co-conspirators here?

Romy Drucker:

Yeah, I’ll mention two. One certainly I think is around how we think about incorporating student voice into our work and designing around the needs of students holistically. We just issued a report on Gen Z in partnership with Murmuration and John Della Volpe from the Harvard Institute of Politics, which takes a close look at what Gen Z is saying about how they want to experience learning, how they want to experience life.

And I think we all need to be thinking about not just incorporating their perspectives but making them part of the co-creation process in meaningful ways. And they have really good ideas on what works for them. And so thinking as a sector about how we can do that more meaningfully in an action oriented way I think is sort of critical to this next phase of problem solving.

And I’ll just piggyback on what Katy was saying about the importance of diverse coalitions in this moment, coalitions that are willing to come together across lines of difference and areas of disagreement and different political affiliations to do what’s right and think big picture. And this isn’t just an issue that’s a today issue, because we could be saying the future is now. I mean, it’s here, we need to do this work today. And also, we need to be thinking about the far future as well, that is coming more quickly than we know.

And the advancements in technology and AI are going to raise a whole set of issues around what learning looks like, that we all need to be coming together today to think about how is this going to impact our work? How are we building not just for schools of the next decade but schools of the next three decades? And that’s not going to be a clear cut conversation. And so I think we need to be willing to have folks from all sectors, all parts of the work, all sides of the aisle together, trying to figure that out alongside families, alongside students, alongside educators, and being willing to be a little bit messy about it. I honestly feel like that’s going to lead to the best outcomes.


I love the mess, and I love the far future concept and thinking ahead. Thank you for that. Frances, how about you? What are the challenges you really would like to invite more co-conspirators in on?

Frances Messano:

Yeah, and I love the conversation we’re having about the new coalitions we need. And many of us are examples of the generational shift that we’re seeing in education right now, new leadership stepping in and how we think about the new ways in which this work needs to happen. So those points really resonated with me.

And I think as part of bringing those new coalitions together, one of the things we really need to focus on is how are we defining together the vision for this future? I think here we are, and many of you in the audience I think are aligned with this student-centric vision, when we’re really thinking about how do we ensure that young people are thriving in their lives? How are they contributing to their communities? How do they have choice? How do they have freedom? But we also can’t take that for granted.

I don’t know, I don’t believe that that vision exists everywhere, that everyone’s signing up for it. And so how do we then make the shift to really talk about the key components of what that future will include, where it’s young people who have a strong academic foundation, they have a set of habits, mindsets, and skills they need to be successful in life, otherwise known as the dirty word now, social emotional learning, where students have a strong sense of their identity, who they are, what their interests are, and then have a plan that includes a set of goals and a pathway in how to get there.

And I don’t know, I don’t believe that we actually have consensus on that. So as we’re bringing together these new coalitions, how are you creating that? Because that is what’s going to fuel policy. And then we need, for folks like us at NewSchools and other practitioners, then to share what are we learning and seeing in our work that can help drive that next level practice? And so I think that’s one place where we need a lot more focus.

I think the other place where we need focus is the fact that the future is here. It’s just here in pockets. And there are so many different models that exist, so many different ideas that are underway, but we actually haven’t yet told those stories in a way to make it more accessible for folks to see that. And these ideas are not yet operating at scale either. So I think they’re really easy to be dismissed out of hand. Well, that works over there in that one pocket, right? It’s the constant pushback of charters for example, supposed to be a bed of innovation and didn’t translate to broader district systems change. So how can we do that work differently now?

And so there are a lot of ideas that are giving me hope. In our portfolio, we’re seeing a lot more of our school models that are focused on truly integrating academics, social emotional learning, and equity. How can we spend more time understanding those models, identifying the practice, and then trying to find ways to spread that as a way to help in building towards that future?

We talked a lot about the need for new human capital solutions and models. I mean, I’m so inspired by the work of organizations like Opportunity Culture and what’s happening at ASU, is we’re thinking about new teacher teaming structures, or we talked about parent leadership, whether it’s Oakland Reach or Springboard Collaborative, who are truly viewing parents as educators, as a workforce development play, and as a way to actually engage our young people in deeper ways in their learning.

I can keep going on with examples, but my point is there’s all these seedlings that are helping us to create this future. So how do we elevate those more? How do we better connect that to policy? And then how do we make sure that there’s consensus on what this vision for change can look like? So we’re kind of moving in that direction. So we need that bold leadership right now to bring us together.


Thanks for that. One thing that I was thinking about as I was listening to you, Frances, is I bet you’re also working on an emerging redefinition of rigor, because I was listening to you mention the way these different parts come together, each of those domains kind of has its own take, but I don’t know that I’ve seen anyone really articulate what that rigor looks like when they’re all together. And so just as a quick follow up to you, do you feel like that’s one of the fronts you guys are able to help folks collaborate on? Or is that a gap we need to turn to? Or just a quick thought on that.

Frances Messano:

We’re doing a lot of work and research on this right now, and where much of our research has been has been studying our innovative school models. And the questions we’re asking ourselves are, what is the relationship with social emotional competencies, academic growth, and then with culture and climate factors? And how can we identify some of those relationships so that we are able to point towards the practice that’s really working? And so what’s emerging is we’re seeing when students feel like, they perceive themselves as having a strong growth mindset, as an example, and they have supportive teacher relationships, academics are spiking.

And so I think we’re at the place right now where it’s like, how do we identify these new patterns and new connections and relationships between the things we are talking about, so we can show and demonstrate that we can integrate academics, social emotional learning, and equity. We’re not yet at the playbook stage, but there is a pathway that we can all follow.

But I do think that is the next front. We can talk about this from a principle perspective, but if we don’t have the research or the practical how-tos, we’re going to get stuck because this is really hard work as we’re talking about getting to this new future. So I do believe we need to define it and I do think that there are promising practices that we can elevate and share better. So that’s certainly work we need to do at NewSchools.


Yeah. Well, one thing I love about all three of you is each of your institutions has invested in developing knowledge to push toward that far future, you mentioned, Romy, and you’re sharing it. And you’re actively supporting practitioners who are doing it and you’re willing to ask questions that you don’t have the answers to yet and move forward. So I just want to really appreciate that because it’s not true of all folks in the philanthropic world.

So maybe we could pivot from that thought to kind of, I’m just curious, how much company do you feel like you have pushing into that far future that you mentioned, Romy? I think it’s really remarkable what you all are doing, and I just wonder how much company do you have? Is this the way everyone’s thinking? If it’s not, what’s holding folks back? What can we do differently to bring folks along? It is a lot, it’s complicated to ask people to do the now and the future. So how might we do that, and what are your guys thoughts on that?

Romy Drucker:

I’m optimistic about collective action right now on the part of philanthropy. I feel like we are working with a broader and more diverse array of funders than ever before. I feel like funders who were maybe hesitant about thinking about engaging in K-12 but who cared about economic and social mobility are asking questions about the opportunity to support community-driven change, about opportunities to support some of this R&D work because they understand that this is really a once-in-a-generation opportunity we have here to disrupt something that is fundamentally broken.

I think a really good entry point for funders right now is to be part of what you’re describing, Kim, which is this shared learning agenda. And this is something I think that is so important right now, to be thinking about the research and evaluation that we are building underneath all of these experiments that we’re running. And luckily, we all have great partners in the academic and think tank community who help us think this through, but the learning orientation that folks have right now is really exciting, and I think we need to be pushing each other to take more risk.


We’re down to just the last minute, Romy, so let’s just see if Katy and Frances … Sorry, I didn’t do a great job time managing. Thoughts as we wrap up?

Katy Knight:

One quick thing that I’ll say is I do have some cautious optimism. Early in my tenure at Siegel as Deputy Director, I was invited to a meeting that was supposed to be about education and reimagining things. And I raised my hand and I said, “Are we ever going to address all the things that we’ve done wrong in the past and how maybe we shouldn’t do them again?” And I wasn’t invited to any future meetings, I made one friend that day, but I wasn’t invited to any future meetings.

And now here I am, I’ve been invited to this panel with these amazing people to talk about this future. The rooms are looking very different. We’re more open. And to Romy’s point, I think funders [are] coming at K-12 and learning beyond K-12 from different angles, funders who were not engaged in it before, funders who have been engaged in K-12 and are now looking at other stuff, there’s so much energy. And I’m excited. I think in order for us to really get it, though, philanthropy is going to have to get over ourselves a little bit still. We have some work to do there. And that continued reflection is a constant challenge.

Frances Messano:

We don’t have time. So I’m just going to say I don’t think there’s nearly enough folks here working on it. I think a lot of, especially in the funder community, are sitting on the sideline, waiting to learn and put a plan together before you act. And I think there’s a way in which we can both learn and act at the same time, seed the future today, learn from what’s coming from those innovations.

But it does, as Katy said, it requires us to fund differently, seed ideas differently, and get out of the way. We’re not going to know everything we want to know before we put money to work. And so how do we challenge ourselves to then take more risk? And I’m guessing, Romy, you were probably going in that direction too, with more of a risk taking stance, especially in this moment.


That was terrific. Thank you. Sorry about my imperfect time management, but you guys really brought us home there and I appreciate all that you’re doing and your willingness to be in this learning conversation together, and really appreciate our hosts and Out of the Box and NewCassroom and others for bringing us together.

Romy Drucker:

Thank you so much. Thanks, everyone.

Frances Messano:

Thank you. Bye.

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