[Starting New Schools 1: Embedded Value Risk.]
Sectors (Public, Independent, Catholic) plant new schools in different ways. Those sectoral differences will thus affect the various ‘assets’ and approaches taken differentially. In order to conceive of how this works, it is helpful to think of New School Plants (NSPs) as business startups, albeit Not for Profit (NFP) businesses largely in the human services industry. In his work with Nokia, Valto Loikkanen conceptualized the stages of a business startup as follows:
Figure 1: Startup Development Phases.
In a state-funded startup, ideation is largely driven by abstracted externalized values, such as the need to provide services to a new planned suburban growth corridor due to some sense of social contract, or a broader strategy (such as stimulation of the economy, or infrastructure development, etc). In a private startup, the ideation may be driven by profit motives, or in NFP settings by ideological commitments (‘reaching the unsaved’ or ‘expanding rationality’, etc). For some writers, such as Felix, the search to ‘re-ideate’ arises from the understanding that ‘it is nearly impossible to reform existing schools’ and that ‘public schools destroy children’. (Felix 2014, p. 1) School planting is thus a way to organizationally hit the reset button, and to open up the opportunity to produce the reform in a new space which was resisted in the old. This is because Ideation implies (a) the target market in one way or another, (b) the value proposition (ie. what will change in a positive manner via the planting), and (c) a group who shares the vision. This is a warning as to the flip side of this, ie. that purely opportunistic acquisitions or NSPs may by-pass this phase, and so present problems with:
Failure at the Ideation stage can create significant internal or pipeline resistance to the concept of a new school. Al Shanker noted in 1988, for example, that in publicly-funded systems, those who start new types of school are often treated “as traitors or outlaws for daring to move outside the lockstep” or subjected to “to insecurity, obscurity and outright hostility ... ” (Shanker, 1988, p. E7). As Felix notes in her phenomenological study of school planters, “each school founder discovers one or more gaps in the educational landscape s/he then seeks to fill. The journey includes rebellion against established norms with a distinct philosophy and vision, and focus amidst a barrage of risks and naysayers.” Underlying all successful school planters is “a sense of purpose and an obligation to develop other people’s children.” (Felix 2014)
The type of system brings with it embedded values, and those values and related structures drive the barriers which face NSPs. Felix (2014) notes that school planting, homeschooling and the growth of charter schools in the USA are all responses to perceived ills in, and the inflexibility of, publicly funded schools. The embedded values in NSPs, therefore, are both negative (a pre-Ideational sense of ‘what this NSP will NOT be like’, or will be a solution for) and positive (‘what this school will be/ do/ achieve’). This may be seen in the work of the Centre for Collaborative Education, a think tank and consultancy program specifically aimed at dealing with the problems of rapidly changing, plural technological societies. CCE emphasizes “equity, rigor, and continuous improvement”, and works out of a vision ‘of a world where every student is college- and career-ready and prepared to become a compassionate, contributing global citizen’. On the basis of work at Minnesota New Country School in Henderson, Minnesota, Edvisions was planted by the Gates Foundation in order to foster ‘new school development and the transformation of existing schools that wish to create more personalized, engaging learning through meaningful and relevant, student-centered project based learning and teacher empowerment’. Such values may not be sufficiently focused for Christian school networks, but they do demonstrate the advantages very large systems have in being able to sustain think tanks and systemic innovation.
In Christian school settings, such innovation/ adaptation is often not systemic, and being ‘hit and miss’ can depend on the charisma and insight of a founding leader. Interestingly, the CCE has also ‘landed’ on an apprenticeship style of education for new school leaders, not unlike that pioneered by Alphacrucis College in Australia. The AC Hub Model embeds an HDR-based reflection process in the middle of the learning ecology. Likewise, the Centre for School Change runs ‘a leadership academy with district and charter leaders in Minneapolis/St Paul that has helped educators and young people, while recognizing the value of what has been done before’. (Nathan 2012) The first question with regard to developing a systematic approach to new school planting (NSP) and innovation (two non-identical but related terms) is thus the ‘Why?’ – what are the values which underpin a particular approach to NSP, and why do it in the first place? Is growth of the system a value which lies at the core of the network (as it does with the ‘Achievement First’ network of Charter Schools in the USA), or are additional campuses and ‘sponsoring’ of innovations not directly of advantage to the existing campuses seen as a threat or an impost?
Unreflective approaches can lead to unexpected results. Positive discrimination and negative discrimination can further act to limit the drawing pool for talented leaders. In state-funded systems, new school planting can require founding leaders to step outside the normal promotions pathways, and to stick with a developing school for many years (so limiting mobility and the rewards which come with it). One might assume that this would be less the case for a leader appointed within a networked Christian school setting. In such a setting, after all, the rewards are less bureaucratically driven, there is potentially a higher level of group mission orientation, and the leader is actualizing strategy for the group. However, it is also the case that
When someone is asked to do something new, they are being asked to sacrifice something. The sponsoring school network needs to take that sacrifice (as a form of ‘embedded risk’) into account in how the program is designed.
© CFS NSP Team, 2019.
David Hastie, Mark Hutchinson and Andrew Youd run the Alphacrucis College 'New Schools' Program, bringing together the best available research and leading practitioners to advise and assist in the planting of new schools and new school campuses.