Transforming Your City: A Collaborative Approach

The fuel behind the growth at Rocketship Education, Kristoffer Haines, led a fascinating discussion of collaborative urban education transformation on the last day of #SXSWedu.

Three members of the CEE-Trust network that serve as transformation “harbormasters” in Milwaukee, New Orleans, and San Antonio discussed their journey.

Milwaukee. Abby Andrietsch launched Schools that Can Milwaukee (STCM) five years ago with the goal of creating 20,000 quality seats by 2020.  She thinks about 50 great schools will create a tipping point in a city with 120,000 kids.  They work is focused on three pathways:

  1. Expansion and replication of high-performing schools
  2. Movement of high-potential schools to high-performing
  3. Recruitment of high-quality school operators and leaders to Milwaukee

“It’s exciting to me to see school leaders coming together, building relationships and taking tools back to their schools,” said Andrietsch.  STCM is supporting the development 185 leaders.

STCM and the Milwaukee Chamber of Commerce recruited Rocketship which opened an elementary school last fall.  Rocketship plans to open 8 schools over 5 years.

Because two thirds of the students are in districts schools, “you can’t not consider the district,” said Abby.  Often district leaders have not had exposure to high quality schools, so field trips down the street to a high performing school can be eye opening.  The leadership development experiences and field trips are breakdown stereotypes, building relationships. (For more, see Smart Cities: Milwaukee.)

NOLA. Neerav Kingsland, New Schools For New Orleans, was tutoring kids in a central city elementary school in 1999.  About 80% of the schools were failing, now its down to 10% and it’s quote possible that in a few years there will be no failing schools in NOLA.  Graduation rates have climbed from 45% to 78%–from disaster to U.S. average.  The system of charter networks is a great turnaround example.  (For more, see New Orleans: A System Transformed.)

San Antonio. Matthew Randazzo, CEO of Choose to Succeed, a group representing charter scale up. Matthew gained exposure to several south Texas markets as the Chief

Growth Officer at IDEA Public Schools.  In San Antonio he found that minority students had less than an 8% chance of attending and graduating from college.  He built an organization to vet, recruit, scale, support the best charter school operators in the country.  Matthew wants to create a marketplace for parents–quality options that provide the right  fit for every

How things should work. Neerav doesn’t think the government should run schools.  He’d prefer to see the state and local authorities authorize operators and ensure equity.

The NOLA design principles are simple 1) educators run schools, 2) government regulates the system, and 3) parents have choices.

Andrietsch is open to these transformational policies, but in the mean time is focused on building capacity and scaling quality.

Shaw Hardnett, Center City Public Charter Schools in DC, closed the session with a reminder of the racial tensions that underlie urban initiative–most funders and reformers are white, while most educators being displaced are people of color.

All three groups represented are great examples of pragmatic efforts to create more quality educational options. Haines said Rocketship won’t consider a city without a group like the three represented playing harbormaster role.

For more, see:


Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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1 Comment


Great article! It is so amazing to see collaborative efforts to improve student learning and success through technology. Thanks for sharing.

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