Innovative Systems and Schools

Today’s school system leaders are seeking ways to create more equitable and resilient systems, while at the same time combating the pull toward returning to a “normal state” after the year-long school disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. By all accounts, those normal policies, practices and priorities poorly served students who have been historically excluded, particularly Black, Indigenous and other students of color and students living in low-income communities.

Leaders and people who work within systems can re-envision their work to center equity, sustainability, coherence and adaptability. Innovative systems and schools embed an equity-focused theory of action at the center, create coherent policies and practices to create effective solutions at scale, and engage and develop their leaders and teams. More specifically, innovative education systems:

  • View school operations as dependent on performance and conditions;
  • Actively work to create a diverse array of options for students and families—both across schools and within schools—to meet the needs and interests of every student;
  • Seek partners to develop new programs and school models, and involve others in partnership decisions;
  • See all students in the broader ecosystem as their students, including students who attend charter schools or other unique district options; and
  • Create the enabling conditions for school model variation to develop the schools students and families want, need and deserve.

As one of our primary focus areas, Education First brings deep expertise in system strategy, human capital development, research and policy to the work of creating more innovative systems and schools. We have expertise designing, implementing and influencing the policies, practices and enabling conditions (people, time, money, policies and programs) that can support systems innovations and approaches so students and educators can thrive. We also support the field by helping nonprofit organizations and national funders develop field-building knowledge and implement strategic supports to nurture and support innovation in the field. Ultimately, we must redefine innovation in public education as a process and not a product.

Our core expertise within Innovative Systems and Schools includes:

  • Effective organizational design and improved decisionmaking/governance for school systems and the public agencies and nonprofit organizations that support them
  • Portfolio school district strategy focused on innovation and school leader and family empowerment
  • District portfolio planning, performance management and expansion of parent choice
  • Enabling conditions for innovative programs and school models

Some of the recent ways we have helped field leaders create and sustain innovative schools and systems include:

  • In Texas, we support the state education agency and a number of school districts in the Systems of Great Schools network. We are helping district leaders create the systems and supports to create a high-quality, best-fit school for every student. We help practitioners—states, districts and CMOs—to develop, improve and scale models, tools and frameworks to support and drive innovation in schools and districts.
  • Through our CIO Toolkit research, we surfaced the core work, competencies and mindsets to innovate for equity.