By Sutherland Staff
Published on February 15, 2018

An excerpt from Sutherland’s Education Innovators Discuss At-Risk Students:

Christine Cooke:

All of you are doing something a little different – changing the status quo. What roadblocks did you run into, whether cultural, financial, etc. – and what would you tell another innovator that they would need to overcome in order to implement changes?

Paul Myers:

Any new change in school is going to be hit with some pushback. We were asking people to change their paradigm, their belief systems. When we stopped telling schools to stop paddling kids, we struggled with what we were going to do with them instead, and our answer was, well, we’ll just send them home.

I think the biggest struggle was getting people to believe it would really work, because suspension has been around for a long time and it seemed to work – it got them out of their classroom, they got them out of their school. The problem went away from the school, but it didn’t change the student. A lot of folks think about what’s best for them, not necessarily what’s best for the kid. So my biggest challenges were my staff, my board, and my parents – the adults that I have to work with – and it took some time and was definitely a challenge.

I would say to you if you believe in what is right for kids and you have conviction, you can eventually win people over. And for us it took a couple of key people on the staff to become believers. I still remember my P.E. teacher rolling his eyes – you know, the traditional “Yeah, that’s going to work!” in the back of the room. But once I got him to be a believer, he won over the staff, and now he’s the assistant principal of the school.

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Scott Rogers:

I like Roy Rogers’ quote “If your horse is dead, dismount.” I don’t think we dismount easy in public education, and what I mean by dismounting is letting go of ideas that don’t work. We have a hard time dismounting and looking at other ideas and looking at data.

We added elementary counselors and we created a department of social sork and counseling in the schools. We just weren’t going to ignore it anymore that our kids have these kind of childhood experiences. We had to change from a truancy officer to an attendance specialist.

Stop trying to fit everybody into your paradigm and look at the needs based from the whole child. We’ve got kids that are having serious mental health problems, and we can’t ignore those. If you’re running from lions and cortisol is pumping through your body – guess what, you’re not going to remember your math facts that day.

For us it’s been transformative. These aren’t bad kids; these are kids with experiences, and they have much value and we can move them and grow them.

Andrew Coy:

So if somebody was wanting to do a new thing, the first thing I would tell them is to be passionate about the vision but flexible in the details. And part of that is you need to be replaceable. You should be finding others that can do this thing – because at some point life has a way of pulling you into something else.

For example, when I stepped out of the classroom and launched this crazy idea of the tech center, I found two people who were always at the same tech events with kids that they were bringing from the county school districts. I was able to bring them onto the team, and they really were instrumental in making it happen while I ran around and talked to get the funding and support. Because that was one of the biggest problems that we face – we had no consistent stream of funding.

Education is an inherently human experience. If we are not thinking about the humans in the equation – our teachers and our students – then we are missing the whole point of education as an experience.

Scott Macleod:

Most of these things are about mindset shift. Again, in our example, it’s really about an accountability question, and that’s a word we throw around all the time. But it’s what are we here for.

If you’re doing this alone you can only hold yourself accountable to the 20 kids you’re working with. But if you convene yourself with like-minded people who are trying to develop a comprehensive strategy, then you’re looking at a whole suite of interventions.

I think there’s a there’s a mindset shift of letting go of control and going broader. We call it adaptive leadership ­– you’ve got to be patient. You’ve got to have the right conversations. You’ve got to be willing to give; you’ve got to be willing to see other perspectives – but it’s about connecting as humans and then pushing yourself and your partners into what we call the zone of productive disequilibrium – a little bit of discomfort means we’re doing something right.

José Enriquez:

What I would say to young innovators is just be persistent, persistent, persistent. Stay true to yourself and what you believe in and your passion.

When I went to Florida, many of the directors and principals would say, “You started this in Utah. Are there Latinos in Utah?” And I said, yeah, there are!

I would say, look at what we’re doing. Look at what these kids are doing. Look at what they can do. I kept saying that. And then finally they got to come witness the magic – because these kids are magical. They do incredible things. They’re incredible. And you just have to be persistent. But it’s tough at first.

We’re in about 120 schools here in Utah; we’re in Florida, California, Ohio. And once they see it, then they begin to believe. But you have to be persistent in what you do, and you have to be true to yourself and your thoughts and what you believe in and let nobody shake you and tell you that you can’t or it can’t be done – because it can.

Audience Question:

There seems to be a correlation between the quality of the home life and the success of the student. I’m wondering if any of you experienced any programs where there’s intervention into the home to help parents become better parents.

Scott Rogers:

We ran a series called “Parents as Partners.” We said we’ve got to address some of these issues. It really came to a head – many of you read that story about the kids from Park City who overdosed and they lost their lives. And that shocked the community. We know we have an opiate problem.

We find if we talk to parents about those real-life struggles that they’re dealing with, there are a lot more interested – they really want to know.

The “Parents as Partners” series – we run it once a month. We pick kind of a hot topic and bring some experts in and some snacks, and we’ve got an average of 70, 80, 90 people.

Andrew Coy:

One thing that we did was starting to work on intergenerational experiences. As we’ve gone through a specialization of the workforce, the time spent working together as a family unit on a problem – whether it’s farming or cottage industries – just sort of disappeared from our society.

We did a “family make night,” where once a month we have a project that is designed for parents to work with their kids on, and that sort of approach allows kids to see that their parents are learners too.

José Enriquez:

The best way is through our youth in our program. We have financial lit, just as an example. Many of our parents at home struggle with that, and they get into debt and so forth. And if our youth can say, “Ma, that’s a high interest rate. You do not want to do that,” they’re educating their parents.

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