Margarita Geleske & Tom Leonard on Student Engagement and Entrepreneurship in Community


On today’s episode of the Getting Smart Podcast, Rashawn “Shawnee” Caruthers is sitting down with Margarita Geleske of Uncharted Learning and Tom Leonard, Superintendent Eanes Independent School District, about student engagement and powerful entrepreneurial experiences within the community.

Margarita worked with the founding Uncharted Learning team to create INCubatoredu which helps students develop future-ready skills as they build REAL businesses. Margarita also served as chairperson and trustee for the Barrington 220 Educational Foundation and was a trustee for Barrington Youth and Family Services.

Tom Leonard is Superintendent of Texas’ Eanes Independent School District, home of Westlake High School in Austin.  A native of Chicago, Ill., Dr. Leonard served as superintendent in the Barrington 220 School District in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago for seven years.

Let’s listen in as Shawnee talks with these great guests about INCubatoredu, as well as their secret to success in engaging communities and students.

Tom and Margarita first met in Illinois, when she served as Tom’s community partner in Barrington School District 220 in Barrington, IL. The initial kernel of an idea was that students need to learn about entrepreneurship sooner so they can hit the ground running. “The goal was to change the trajectory of student lives in this generation. We weren’t going to be patient enough to wait for the community to catch up,” said Dr. Tom Leonard. They also reflected on a key pillar of community-focused entrepreneurship: if you learn to serve others, you learn to serve yourself.

Tom reflects on the role of Eanes ISD in Eanes: “[the] school district is often the heart of the community.” And also on the frequent reality of school districts as a whole: they need the support of the community, 70-75% do not have a kid in your school district — it’s all about network building.

On the benefits of volunteering to be a part of INCubatoredu, Margarita shared that community members often volunteer in schools — room parents, booster club, PTO, but it uses different parts of your brain by using real experiences to serve. Business professionals provide students with a lens for how to see the world (aside from parents). When we work with students in this way, we find ourselves asking: “What did we try? What did we learn from the marketplace when it was unresponsive? What can we do differently next time around?”

“You have to see it to be it,” said Margarita.

Key Takeaways:

[:09] About today’s episode with Margarita Geleske and Tom Leonard.
[1:10] Shawnee welcomes Margarita and Tom to the podcast!
[1:48] Tom introduces himself and speaks about his school district, Eanes ISD.
[3:05] How Tom and Margarita met.
[4:28] About Uncharted Learning.
[6:01] Tom shares about how Eanes ISD connected with Uncharted Learning and about INCubatoredu.
[10:25] Why is community such an important focus for Tom and why it is important for Eanes ISD to partner with organizations such as Uncharted Learning?
[11:50] Why the INCubatoredu program has been so impactful in particular.
[12:29] How to connect your community with your school district.
[14:10] How is a volunteer role in Uncharted Learning different from traditional roles?
[16:27] How have their relationships with mentors and coaches changed (as well as the relationship between schools and communities) changed since the pandemic? And what have they done to combat any potential negative shifts?
[19:54] About Getting Smart’s new report on what’s next in learning!
[20:53] The transparent, real-world look into the lives of business owners that students were uniquely provided over the course of the pandemic.
[22:09] What do business professionals bring to the student experience?
[25:47] The importance of “failing forward.”
[27:28] Tom shares why this work is so important to him.
[29:09] Margarita shares her “why.”
[31:56] How do people volunteer for the kinds of roles that Uncharted Learning offers?
[33:24] Tom shares some suggestions on what Superintendents and school districts can do to build or rebuild engagement with their communities.
[36:26] Tom and Margarita share some closing thoughts about community.
[39:51] Shawnee thanks Tom and Margarita for joining the Getting Smart Podcast!

Mentioned in This Episode:

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Getting Smart Staff

The Getting Smart Staff believes in learning out loud and always being an advocate for things that we are excited about. As a result, we write a lot. Do you have a story we should cover? Email [email protected]

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