Where We Go From Here

June 24, 2020

By Rebecca Holmes, CEI President and CEO

These past few months have presented some of the most challenging and confronting circumstances we have experienced collectively in our society in the last several decades. Those of you who work with us know that we stand on the side of those who are calling for change and reinvention of our public systems. For several years we have been clear in our position that education is one of the public systems that was designed for the results it produces, including results that trouble us the most: reinforcement of racial divisions in our country. While civil unrest and social uprising are always difficult, my fellow civics and social studies teachers may be among those who find an optimism that meets our grief in this moment. Young people telling us, in whatever way we can finally hear, that the future demands systemic change is a particularly democratic tradition. If we listen to them, we can also imagine a different future.

At CEI, we see a future where school systems lead the way in breakthrough redesigns around equity, user-centered accountability, social emotional learning, relevant education for students, and open systems where families and communities guide and participate as equal partners. Stepping into this new future will require difficult transformation, as it demands behaviors for which most of our systems were not built. And as we build these new systems, it is not enough to just commit to an education system that says Black Lives Matter. We must also name that Black minds, hopes, and dreams are also valued, because only then can we achieve what is possible for all students. We commit that we will work beside any district charting this new course.

Changing Ourselves to Change the World

We are firm believers that the change you seek in the world must begin with yourself. Over the past few weeks, like many of you, I have listened and learned as my friends and family have wrestled with tough conversations about what is happening and what is possible. The internal memo I wrote for our team and released several weeks ago talked about the difference between “rally courage” and “relational courage.” Equity work conducted inside of our organization has pushed on both how we engage our friends and family and how we can increase our understanding and effectiveness when at work in the field.

We know there is so much more for us to do. But we will not slow or stop the journey because we know that self-work, especially critical as white-identifying educators, never stops. I have also spoken with many educators in the last few weeks whose classrooms simply do not serve many Black students, yet they know that this commitment to new courage, new skill, and new dialogue is critical to serving Colorado’s Latino and Indigenous students in more authentic and inclusive ways.

As this work evolves, CEI is also evolving to increase the effectiveness of our partnerships. Past years have seen a significant shift in our focus toward increased partnerships among districts and communities, and we have now reorganized our field service model to fine tune how we serve our partners across the state. This new structure will strengthen our ability to collaborate with higher education, community organizations, and workforce to customize our work to be in alignment with the district contexts where we serve. Next month, I will be announcing two new hires to the CEI team who I’m eager for you to get to know.

A Renewed Impact

This shift in our organization, combined with our focus on equity, is giving us new energy and purpose to deepen our impact on the education sector in Colorado. We are organized to launch exciting initiatives in response to the field, as we did with our Social Emotional Learning Re-Entry Design Sprint this past June. Ten districts from around the state worked three to four days each week to break down their current systems and reconstruct how students, educators, and family will re-enter school this fall. Later this July, we will launch a similar effort focused on Equity-Centered Re-Entry and will also host multiple convenings with Local Accountability Innovation Pilot Districts. This direct support for some of the most innovative districts in the state has been the hallmark of CEI since we began, and we are committed to taking it to the next level in this new era in education. We believe learning from these districts will be the key to unlocking the bright future of our state.

We know we cannot do this alone. It becomes clearer every day that to change the system will require more organizations and communities working together in abundance to build something together that could never be done alone. The Hub, our robust online platform designed to advance collaboration, will relaunch in time for the beginning of the school year, with vetted resources and opportunities for educators to build community – not only in the areas of social emotional learning and health, but also in the realm of reconnected learning during this unprecedented time.

We have been thrilled to launch Virtual Home Visit pilots with Climb Higher Colorado and launch the Homegrown Talent Initiative (HTI) with Colorado Succeeds. HTI brings districts, businesses, higher education, and communities to the table to redesign their collective “educonomy,” and is a great representation of what is asked of us in this new moment in education: to reject silos, bring folks to new tables, and to design and build new systems with and for those furthest from opportunity.

Our work hasn’t stopped at the Colorado border. This past spring, we supported the New Mexico Public Education Department in a statewide launch of their Equity Council initiative. Our team supported every school district and charter school in the state to launch a council of families and community members focused on disrupting the persistent inequities in their schools. We have been learning from our colleagues in New Mexico for several years and are eager to share new insights with you that we have gained in these relationships.

It will be this hard, boundary-spanning work that will be the hallmark of the new era – not cheap slogans about “reform” or “status-quo.” It will look different everywhere and it should. But these newly redesigned, equity-seeking systems will be architected for our new world, not the one a century past.

Our Colorado Future

I have always been proud of being born and raised in Colorado. Our state has often led the country in some of the most challenging moments, in part because very few of our lives line up neatly along any set of oversimplified ideological lines. While some critics bemoan our locally driven education system, this very Coloradan aspect may be the very thing that can now empower our transition to this new moment. Localism breeds trust and creativity – requirements for innovative problem solving. Combined with the western values of self-determination, fairness, and community leadership, I’m more committed than ever to the idea that the ingredients for new designs are in ample supply here in our state.

As we enter this new era, CEI stands with those who want to redesign, to liberate, and to thrive. I look forward to more conversations with you as this work unfolds.