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Dawkins: Insights from the Council of the Great City Schools Conference

Bill Gates made news last month when he announced his plan to invest $1.7 billion in U.S. schools at the Council of the Great City Schools’ (CGCS) fall conference in Cleveland.

While we’re still waiting to learn all the details of how the investment will be distributed and what initiatives it will actually fund, an investment of this size is a big deal.

But Mr. Gates’ announcement wasn’t the only big thing that happened at the conference.

I was privileged to represent K12 Insight in Cleveland. K12 Insight (which produces TrustED) is both a partner of CGCS and was a sponsor of this year’s conference.

Our partnership gave me the opportunity to talk with leaders of some of the largest school districts in the country and get a better understanding of the challenges these school districts face.

The bottom line? Despite political and economic uncertainty, district leaders see great opportunities ahead for innovation and renewed student success.

Here are my four key takeaways from this year’s CGCS fall conference.

1. School choice is having a huge impact on urban schools

It’s no surprise to most of us, but the landscape of public education has changed. And perhaps nowhere else has the landscape shifted more than in America’s urban school districts. Some of the school district leaders I talked to are tolerating, or even embracing, school choice initiatives, including working with city charter schools. Others are trying to figure out how to stay competitive amidst growing choice options. Either way, leaders must be proactive in addressing the effect of school choice on their districts.

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2. Equity is an enormous issue facing urban schools

Despite their best efforts, districts across the country are struggling to reduce the achievement gap between their most vulnerable students and students of privilege. The reallocation, redeployment, and rethinking of resources to address this gap are challenges many urban leaders are still coming to terms with. Leaders must be able to face political consequences if they are to secure equitable resources and opportunities for every child.

3. DACA is a defining issue for urban schools

President Trump’s announcement in September to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program has a potentially huge impact on both students and staff in many urban districts. The program protected undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as minors from deportation. Unless Congress puts a new rule in place, many of the people previously protected could be deported. For years, schools have been sanctuaries for students who are new to this country. In the face of controversy and policy changes, schools must now be resolute in continuing to provide an education for some of their most vulnerable students.

4. Urban district leaders must stay focused

Urban districts face a slew of challenges. It will take an extreme focus among leadership and staff to overcome those challenges. But, after talking with many of these leaders, I have no doubt that they’re up to the task. I was impressed with the superintendents and district teams who are providing leadership in this environment despite the economic, political, and policy challenges they face.

What challenges is your school or district facing?  How will you engage your staff and community to address these issues? Tell us in the comments.