Moving Beyond the Status Quo in the AC-Stage of Education

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Dr. Anthony Lewis began his career as a Special Education Teacher in Montgomery, Alabama. After which, he was appointed to Assistant Principal then became an awarding winning Principal of E. D. Nixon Elementary School. While at E. D. Nixon, the school became a two-time Alabama Torchbearer School during the 2007-2008 school year – one of only nine in the state and again during the 2010- 2011 school year – one of only eleven in the state.

Dr. Michael Conner

Good morning, good afternoon and good evening. Welcome to another episode of Voices for Excellence. I’m your host, Dr. Michael Conner, CEO and founder of the Agile Evolutionary Group and proud host of VFE. And today’s guest I have known since 2017 when we were, I like to say, 18 very, very, very people, quite climbing the trajectory of leadership. Dr. Anthony Lewis and I, we shared our friendship ever since the start of when we were in together as a cohort, when the NASA Howard Urban Superintendent’s Academy and I believe Dr. Lewis, we got our superintendency at the same time in the cohort. We were both yes, we were both celebrating high fiving each other. And now it is just an absolute honor to see Dr. Lewis just climb that trajectory. What he has done in the Lawrence Public schools in Lawrence, Kansas, just been followed his work since 17, been good friends since 2017. And now we got him as a guest on VFE, so I am honored and happy to introduce Dr. Anthony Lewis, who is the proud superintendent of schools for Lawrence Public Schools in Lawrence, Kansas. Dr. Lewis Wow. 2017. We’re getting old man.

Dr. Anthony Lewis

When you say it like that is like, wow, we are going, I think it’s a while back.

Dr. Michael Conner

Ah, man, long time. But good to have you on the on the podcast. Good to see, more importantly, your impact on your leadership during COVID, your innovation initiatives that are leading are there outside of COVID, which I say is the AC stage of education. And now our audience or my audience, our audience, we get they actually get to engage in the high level conversations that we’ve been having since 2017. So you ready, Dr. Lewis? I know, I know they’re dissertation questions.

Dr. Anthony Lewis

Hey, I feel like I’m back in my defense days and I’m excited. Young man, I appreciate you having me.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Good to have you on. So, Doc, we’re going to jump right into the question, is this in my opinion, both from a subjective and objective standpoint, that this is probably going to be your easiest question always in podcast, but you had to put some thinkers and critical thinking into it. But for the leaders nationally, right, and your local constituency, who gets to experience Dr. Anthony Lewis on a regular basis, know your leadership, know your leadership vitality, know your leadership signature. But for the people that don’t know, you are just being introduced to you on VFE, what song comes to mind that describes your leadership signature in education?

Dr. Anthony Lewis

Yeah, yeah. Well, it was it was talk. This question was tough because I don’t know if you know this, but when I was in college, I started deejaying, so and I still do, you know, from time to time. So all these songs begin to come to mind. But when I think about just my leadership journey and the work that I’m doing right now, two songs really came to mind. But I’ll focus on one. One of them was We Are One Back Like You Barely Made Love one. But then the second one, my good friend Dr. Dennis Carpenter, introduced me to this song and it’s just like, been my go to song and it’s Big Boy and Sleepy Brown. We the one. You know what? Killer Mike and Cee Lo Green. Yeah. You know that song really, man? It hits home and really depends on what’s going on in our educational landscape at that time. But this song can apply, you know, it can talk about we, the one that’s in leadership. That’s really when we are moving the work forward with our teams. We the ones when we talk about looking at some of the work we’re doing from an equity standpoint and and dismantling this and and disrupting systems that have been in place that create advantages for some way while creating disadvantages for others. You know, we’re the ones that’s that that’s in this fight along with our coconspirators, you know and then I can talk about we the ones in public education. You know, public education has been under attack and more frequently has been under attack. So we the ones in public education that are really serious about this this fight. So that would be the one song that I say would pretty much describe my leadership in terms of what we are in education today.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely describes you, Dr. Lewis, because when we talk about we are the ones right now, I hit upon you, I like to say not matter themes, but mega themes rate education specifically. Now in the stage of education, leadership moving the work. But more importantly, you said leadership moving the work with you teams. And you know, we’re going to get later into that with regards to leadership and shared capacity building or building a shared mental model to be able to exercise, to work in a parallel context. But equity, speaking of that, you know, dismantling and disrupting systems, I just gave a keynote in New Jersey and I unpacked the word disruption. Right? And I loved how you put it into dismantling the systems where disruption is more of this line of looking at the signals right in education, but also really dismantling the drivers that create these inequities. And, yes, public education is under attack, but we got leaders like you that are steadfast to the work around equity excellence and providing that necessary leadership. But moving into the second question, Dr. Lewis. Right. You’re the proud superintendent and I’ve been your biggest fan, that happy warrior since we got out. I remember when we I believe it was you got your you got Lawrence first. And then I wound up getting my superintendency like a week later. And then that next month we were at our cohorts celebrating. Yeah, we’re celebrating. I remember that. But now, during your tenure, right, A great tenure that you’ve had in Lawrence, you’ve designed and launched a variety of different initiative initiatives that lament Innovation and Excellence. Again, going back to your previous answer to reach all right. This is evidenced through your graduation rates, your steady but exponential improvements with student achievement. But here’s a two part of for you. Great for my audience to be able to unwrap and take this back, to be able to internalize for their own individual practices. First, what are some of the innovation initiatives that you are currently underscoring in the Lawrence Public School? And second, and I think this talks about where you had brought up the theme around leadership and moving the work with your teams, right. How are you framing the broad sense of organizational culture to accelerate the strategic work with urgency in this new phase of the AC stage of education?

Dr. Anthony Lewis

Yeah, those are great questions. I, I try to instill in the team and all of those in our community when we think about that sense of urgency that really drives all of these initiatives and innovative ideas is that our kids can’t wait. They don’t one shot. And so if you’re a fourth grader, you only get one shot at fourth grade, whereas teachers building principals and other administrators, you know, they can hone their craft year after year after year. You know, you know, I think about my time as a as a teacher. I wasn’t the best teacher that first year, but maybe year two or three, I was getting better and better. Our kids don’t have that second chance, you know, So we have to move with a sense of urgency. And so that kind of drives some of the things that we’re doing here. And Lawrence Public schools, you know, thinking about the state and making sure that we have all of our students have access to mental health and really a doctor kind of some of these this really come down to a courageous actions and courageous leadership from myself with the support of my school board. We think about putting mental health providers in each one of our schools, you know, social workers in each one of our schools to support our students and prepare them for learning. I will say one of the things that really helped with some of the initiatives that we’re doing here and innovative, innovative things was our equity policy. When I first arrived to large public schools in 2018, the district had been engaged in doing, and I use a term doing loosely equity work for about at the time, maybe about ten or 12 years. But a lot of people were viewing this work as optional or, you know, I don’t you know, I am I can check in and check out of this work or We were no different than many organizations around the country that had a coordinator or director of design or or director of equity. But when we did that, what we found was all of the work lived with that one person. If there were something that happened in a department or in a school building, administrators would call that person. You know, obviously to, you know, get some feedback on terms of how they should handle. But most for for the most part, they would kind of wash their hands with, you know, I called my director of equity at the at the time. So it’s my belief that everyone should have equity in their their title. They should not live with just one person. Otherwise you would end up with what we call the equity police. You know, that is going out and putting out fires. And so we have to build capacity. We were intentional around this building capacity and it’s a work in progress, building capacity with within all of our leaders. So it doesn’t matter who’s leading the the the work that that work should go on. So it started with our equity policy that really spelled out how we wanted to operate and how we will hold each other accountable. So as a result of that, we created our what we call our Closing the Access Opportunity Achievement Gap framework, which is just a series of questions to make sure that we know who are marginalized students are. What does the data show about how we were educating our marginalized students? You know, looking at it from a attendance standpoint, discipline standpoint, and obviously the academic standpoint. And so those those framework and initiatives and the answers to those questions also help launch some other initiative or expand some other initiatives. One, when you spoke about our graduation rate, we were able to improve that graduation rate by creating what we call a college career academy. And it’s all of our high school students. We have two large high schools here. Each have about 1701 in about 1800 and the other. And so a lot of times students get students get lost in those high schools. So we want our students to start an experience at ninth grade in their high schools. And if they are unsuccessful, their parents can apply to our college and a career academy that housed at our college and career center a smaller environment. They still get their core assignments, but that has been truly instrumental in terms of making sure our students are being seen hard, but most importantly, making sure they’re there. They’re graduating. So as a result, our graduation rates this past year was the highest they’ve been in 16 years. And also we are closing those gaps within those graduation rates from our students of color. For our white and Asian students, we expanded our concurrent enrollment offerings. The University of Kansas is here. When I first arrived, we were offering two classes, two Q classes in our high schools. We expanded that to close to 13 classes. But here’s the thing we didn’t want to create advantages or create opportunities for the haves and the have nots, right? And so we partnered with our law schools Foundation and they are providing scholarships. So it is a cost for these courses, but it’s only a fraction of what it would cost if students were to enroll in the University of Kansas. So our foundation helped meet that need and bridge that gap for our students. Call in our students on free or reduced lunch rate. Again, with this equity work, we noticed that in our one of our elementary schools that has the highest number of free and reduced lunch rate students was also a student. And that’s our school that was on the verge of closure. We were able to increase that enrollment by opening up the state’s first public Montessori school there at New York Montessori. So again, we think about, if you’re familiar with the Montessori model, Maria Montessori found that the Montessori philosophy for what she called for families meant, you know, so it’s not a magnet school or a signature school. It’s a school that’s in the highest need area in our community and our families have access to that Montessori education, absolutely free. And then the last thing I would share, Dr. Conner, is when we when we were in in college, you know, we really realized that obviously there was a huge digital divide. We already knew that, but it just exacerbated it. And we were no like other school district in mobile hotspots in and homes. But what we realized that one mobile hotspot, especially with families that have two or more students trying to get on one hotspot, wasn’t enough. And so consequently we were able to launch our very own fiber wide area network. And so we dug up all across the city and put our fiber into the ground. And so this project, the goal was to provide Internet access to all of our families here in the district. But the beautiful piece of this is it also will save us an estimated $3 million out of our general fund over the life of the contract. Now, the second phase of that will be to provide LTE, you know, so we could push that out an hour, an hour apart. So if you’re a student of Lawrence Public Schools, you will have access to free Internet. And we’re also looking at ways to offer that to our teachers as well. So those are just some of the things that we’re doing here. Again. But it was driven by that equity policy. Now you talk about disrupting and dismantling systems. Those are things that we have to do as leaders, making sure that we’re putting policies in place that will outlive us.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, And to my listeners out there and also my viewers that watch on YouTube, Dr. Lewis, we use this platform, the Voices for Excellence podcast platform, as an asynchronous tool for professional learning. So when we talk about just Hattie’s work in the context of direct instruction, point six of an exercise, this is where they use this as an asynchronous mechanism, where they can use it as direct instruction to go back and replace specific answers so that they can be able to expand on practice. You gave an accounting. You know how analytical I am. You gave roughly about seven micro and macro level strategies around the context of disrupting the systems. Moreover, I counted roughly about five different drivers and two signals that you were able to expand upon to make them drivers around this broad abstract notion of equity. Great job to my audience. Please rewind that back, because when he Dr. Lewis talked about strategic partnerships, right. The Lawrence Foundation and Kansas University. Now everybody knows My Dear Heart is at the University of Connecticut, the basketball capital of the world. We’re not going to we’re not going to go with Kansas Jayhawks, Go sell UConn here. I would believe that. We believe that. That’s another conversation. Okay. Okay. But when we talk about strategic partnerships, Kansas University, the Kansas Foundation taking the equity policy develop in a Closing the Gaps Framework College and Career Readiness Academy are smaller environments to establish relationships. Wow. Really to a level of, I like to say fidelity and to this level of integrity. Take and exercise organizational culture, structure our artifacts, values and basic assumptions and moving strategies signals as well as drivers to be able to go in depth with your equity policy. But it goes back to our teaching days. Dr. Louis Right. When we have that notion that everybody’s a literacy teacher, no matter what subject area you taught, everybody’s a literacy teacher. I love I love the correlation that now everyone should have and lead equity that is parallel to that. Everybody is a literacy teacher, but I want you to expand upon tenant that you were talking about. Right. And I think that it needs to be prioritized in the stage of education, which is around mental health. Dr. Pedro Noguera, a researcher, cultural anthropology, just who we just so love and regurgitate within our work. I remember him stating at a keynote where he stated that if students basic needs are not met, they’re not going to learn. And a part of that basic need is around addressing mental health with students providing the necessary supports. Can you just elaborate on what those supports look like in Kansas, in Lawrence, Kansas, or Lawrence Public Schools so that my viewers as well as listeners will be able to adopt and learn some strategies coming out of your district?

Dr. Anthony Lewis

Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. And it’s it goes back to what we learned doing our education prep courses. We talked about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. You know, we have to meet their basic needs first. And so what that looks like in Lawrence Public Schools, one is giving our teachers the permission. And I stand up in front of convocation every year and where we have all of our staff there. And I tell them the first few weeks of school, I don’t want you teach anything. And they look, you know, sometimes like, you know, we’re still trying to, you know, increase the academics here. We need to be bringing kids in the summer. But I followed that up with or are you going to teach and what are you going to teach? You don’t know the students. And so we have a heavy focus on building relationships with our students and making sure that our adults are investing that time. And it’s not just a check box that I do with these first few weeks of school. We have to cultivate and maintain those relationships throughout the year. Now that I’ve built those relationships with the students, here’s the key piece. Now I can make my content relevant to your real lives now that I know you know something about you. But that also helps with discipline because it’s very difficult sometimes for students to disrespect teachers that they know they genuinely care about sometimes. Right? In addition, because we often I teach a class at K, you and I tell the students, do you remember those times where you at the most challenging student in your class? That was disruptive. But if someone else tried to disrespect the teacher, this child would intervene and say, No, you can’t do that. That’s because that teacher had built a solid relationship with those students. And so not only do we just ask teachers to build out those relationships, we’ve gone through an exercise. We actually measured how their they’re doing in that regard with what we called a great chart. It’s a it’s a data piece that we use that the more times we and we just ask our students, what was the one person in your building that is like your go to person that has built a relationship with you. And the more times a teacher name appears, the larger the circle shows their. And what we do with that is use that as PD and pull in the teachers and talk about how you build those relationships. So relationships is key in that regard. We also, as I mentioned, staff our our buildings with social workers, mental health providers, sometimes our counselors, our social workers as well. And not only that, but making sure our students know who these people are and so that they can have access as access to these profession. Also, we had to do a lot of work around. I mean, it’s an ongoing process of normalizing mental health. And by telling our students, you know, it’s it’s okay to not be okay, you know, and make sure that those supports are clearly accessible to our students. And so those are just some of the things that we’re doing in terms of making sure that we’re providing mental health supports to our students. And then lastly, I would say the big piece in terms of building those relationships is school safety. Yeah, my first year here we had two guns that were found in one of my high schools in the same month, and I went over and talked to those students and I asked him, you know, why? What will make you bring a weapon to a school? And they both feared for their safety. One, I feared, you know, going home, but one was actually being bullied in school. And I asked those students, you know, is there someone in your school that you could talk to? You know, we have large high schools. At minimum, they come in contact with seven adults, but they both said no, you know, so that was the impetus in terms of us making sure that all of our students had that one caring adult. And then I would also say that our schools can’t do this work alone. And so right now we have an initiative where we are expanding our partnership with big brothers and sisters to make sure our community members are engaging and connecting with our students. And so they do a tremendous amount of work building relationships with students as well. So the key is making sure that our students have that that one person, whether you come from a single parent home or two family home, there is research that supports what I call that third person that that mentor, that one adult. They feel that they can connect.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. And, you know what? That’s the rationale when I look at it cause and effect, when I look at correlation in lieu of causality, that stance, that approach, that strategic approach. Dr. Lewis is the reason why your scores are increasing exponentially, why you have the highest graduation rates within the last 16 years of Lawrence Public School taking that stance around Maslow and creating meaningful relationships. Now, speaking of complications, right. And we’ll talk about a variation. And brother, you killed it at my state of school address, man, You killed. Right. And really appreciative of it. I’m sitting there like, Yeah, that’s my brother. I’m proud of him. Right. You’re up there. But you most recently delivered that speech. It was the first in Lawrence Public Schools history. The first in your tenure. Wow. Amazing speech. And to my audience out there, if you really want to experience a profound and compelling state of the schools address, right, please listen to Dr. Anthony Lewis at Lawrence Public Schools. Find that on the Web. Amazing. But I want to focus on one thread, right? One thread. And this goes back to organizational culture. Your intentionality around building capacity with your team. Now, this is more of a broad community call of action, i.e. you’re a vacation for your students to support your students during this volatile time. Now, Dr. Lewis, to achieve unity in the stage of education and like you stated, public education is under attack. That is arduous, but you’re moving your community to be able to do that. You’re unifying different constituencies, these different stakeholder groups in more public schools. Right? But there are these polarizing views across the country around equity, around FCL, around mental health, around defining what this common vision of the future of education looks like. Right. NASCAR to create this unification strategy around. But using specific variants from your speech, the state of school speech right out of leaders move these contentious topics in education for unification around the goal, which is achieving the vision of meeting the needs of or how do we do that, Dr. Lewis?

Dr. Anthony Lewis

Yeah, first of all, I think as leaders, we have to acknowledge that we can’t do this work alone. We have to have obviously a team around us, but also schools and school districts have to acknowledge that as a school system, we can’t do this work alone. We have to have community partners and community engagement in Lawrence, Kansas is a unique place. We call ourselves the blue dot in the red state. It’s a college town so progressive, although it has some challenges as well. We jokingly say that when a baby is born in Lawrence, do you give them a poster and a marker to to make a sign because they’re activist, you know, and that can be a good thing because this community, when when it’s when there’s a critical need, this community really comes together. And so my message doing on the state of the schools address having gone through over these past six years and my goal was to after year one, do a state of the schools and do it annually. But after my first year, we were all in Colgate, so we can do that. And so this one, I was trying to pack a lot of work. What we’ve done in the past six, six years to educate the community on, you know, despite what you hear in the community, it did despite what you read on social media. We have a lot to be proud of in this school system. And so I really wanted to unify the community because when we went through COVID, I was there. It was very divisive. You know, kids in school know the kids are not ready to come to school. And then right after COVID, we went into some budget cuts. We had a decrease in enrollment, and we had to bring up those conversations about school closure. And that’s very divisive and contentious. And and emotional. And we did end up closing two schools. So the message was after we’d gone through that and I truly believe that after, you know, whether there’s challenges, I think that’s also brings great opportunity when we go through challenges. And that’s was also my message to the community that, yes, we’ve gone through and through a lot, but we’re stronger together now, which is our theme for this year. Not only is the school system stronger together, but as a community, we’re stronger together. And so really thinking about, yes, we’ve gone through things. And here’s a thing I did during COVID and during that during these budget cuts, I would get emails or see things on social media that, Dr. Lewis has lost some fans. Well, first of all, I didn’t get into his work for failing to entertain or I didn’t get in this work for. And what I told them at the state of the schools is, look, your allegiance does not have to be to me. Matter of fact, it shouldn’t be to me, but it has to be to these kids that we’re serving. And this community. And so, you know, again, as we think about just unifying this this community around these contentious topics of school closure in and cold, it, let’s keep our students at the forefront. We need to keep our students at the forefront. And it’s hard to for someone to argue with This decision was made, although it’s emotional decision, a contentious decision. This decision was made with the best interests of students in mind as a matter of fact, right here in my office. Don’t know if you could see it. It’s an old antique student desk, right. And it’s in my office. I have a conference room table around here. And the reason that student desk is in my office is that as we’re sitting around the table making decisions, what’s in the best interests of the student in that seat? You know, what’s. Yeah, what’s in the best interest is doing. I have this desk. I mean, sorry. This poster also that says is what I’m doing or about to do, go on to improve student achievement. A lot of times in education, we make decisions for the benefit of adults and that’s not not children. And so we have to constantly make sure that we’re keeping students at the forefront. We also have a a student board member where a lot of decisions are made. We have a student at that board table that has to be front and center in terms of what we do in large public school. And so, yeah, there are contentious topics in education, but one way that we can unify as a community, again, is keeping our students at the forefront about our decisions.

Dr. Michael Conner

Excellent. State of the Schools Address. Dr. Lewis, again, a lot of props, a lot of props for that. And I love the notion where we’re keeping students or we say it a lot, right? But do we act? Is it actually replicated in practice? Is it in actual process with the within the Education coalition? And, you know, I used to always have the statement, Dr. Lewis, is that I love the kids a little bit more than the adults. It used to work a lot of people when I say that, but when you think about it, right, decisions should be made on the basis of students and families. When we talk about design, think in or engineer design thinking process, the first element is always empathy. Taking the voice of the customer, which our customers, our families and our students where I see a lot of the time, a lot of adults are around the table making decisions where it’s absolutely of our customer’s voice and their agency to add in specific elements around the design and how this goes. Great job with that, Dr. Lewis and this kind of Segways into our next question. Right. And we’re and I want to go back to the beginning stages of the stage of a stage of education right now. There’s been advance discussions around the future of learning for Generation Z, Generation Alpha. You mentioned that pretty much in your aforementioned question or answer, I should say specifically around how we deal with these contentious topics, right? Generation, Alpha generation, the they are coming out as activist. Dr. Lewis. They’re coming out with their voice and they’re demanding to be ready. Listen, you got a you have a Gen Z, Gen Z daughter. I have a generation. We hear it at home, right? Yeah. Most right now with the evolution of emerging technologies. Right. Artificial intelligence, machine learning, IOT, moving into AGI, generative intelligence. Right. There are these critical underpinnings that we learned during COVID about the merit of these different emerging technologies, especially how we were trying to mitigate or I wouldn’t say mitigate, manage the novelty of the pandemic keeping our family safe, but not compromising instruction, education for students. Now, what will the design of our systems and classrooms need to move towards? Right, To prepare to adequately prepare our students and to have them or meet the readiness demands of this new economy? Me, which is around Delta 2030, the McKinsey study that talks about self leadership and digital leadership are the two new domain paradigms that have to be implemented within the traditional legacy model. So how do we do that, Dr. Lewis? what will this design of our system look like to prepare our students for the future of work?

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, yeah, that’s a great question. And when we think about the AC stage, we already knew and we’re talking about just redesigning our school system and when we were forced to go through COVID, I tell people I think that there was a higher power that looked down on us and say, okay, look, if you’re not going to change this model of education, I’m going to make you change this model. And we all had to do that in a matter of a couple of weeks. And we we found a way to deliver instruction in a very different way that school did not prepare us for. But in a matter of two weeks. Then going through coping, people were saying, I can’t wait to get back to the way things were, right? We were anxious to get back to this. The current model, the case model of education that we’re currently in. I share with someone if Horace Mann were to wake up out of his grave right now, the only thing that will look familiar to him is our education system. And it will probably look similar to when it was then, you know? And so I truly believe that this current model of education that we’re in should have been abandoned years ago. And so you have things like COVID and these other advances and technology that our our our young folks, as you mention, our Gen Z, Gen Z and our Generation Alpha are are really being immersed in it, you know, but then they have to go sit in a 90 minute reading block or 50 a 55 minute social studies class. And so in this current model of education that we’re in, it’s it’s work time is the constant. I like to say that I don’t like to say it, but the reality is, for example, a third grader is sentenced to third grade. They do their time out of the 75 180 days in where you are, and then they move on. They can’t move on until that do their time. So again, in that model, time is the constant. So how do we move to a model of education where learning is the constant and students move at their own pace? I have a ten year old at home and I remember him maybe about a year ago. He just came to my wife and I and he was just telling me I don’t remember exactly what it was, but it was something that a ten year old had learned in school. Yeah. And I said, Son, where did you what did you learn that it’s that Tik Tok or YouTube or somewhere and you have to think about, you know, those tick tock videos like 30 seconds, right. And he learned this and that amount of time, but then we forced him to go to school the next day to sit again in a 90 minute reading block. You know, And so when we think about what our students need today is our model of education set up for them. And I would say no, it’s not. And so using some of these technologies that are that are out learning from what we learned during COVID that, hey, we can deliver education in a very different way, you know, do all. And here’s the thing. We learned this in doing an education prep. All students learn at different rates and at different paces. But again, what do we do? Put them in one class? You have to sit here for 50 minutes, a bell rings and then you go to the next class, or you have to sit in this third grade classroom brought in in 80 days and go on once you do your your time. And so to meet the needs of today’s students, our education system should look look different, you know. But yet and still we start in August and end in May again built on that old agrarian model when students used to farm. Now I’m in Kansas, but not many of our not many of my students are farming right now, but we still have that same system and they’re at school from 8 to 3. And so why can’t school walking kids go to school from 3 to 8? You know, so many of our students, particularly our marginalized population, some of them need to work to support their families. And so how can we create a model where they can work during that, maybe the 8 to 3 time and then come to school after or after that? And so that was one of the things that attracted me to the state of Kansas. The state commissioner had this has this initiative of Kansas school redesign where schools apply for Kansas school redesign, and they get the permission to totally back up education. And what we’ve learned since its inception is that school districts and we’re no different are just moving things around in the box, just moving the chairs around there. And he said, We’re still looking for someone to just totally dismantle public education, to create a model where it meets the needs of today’s learners. So we still have a long way to go as a public school system. But but again, we have some advances in technologies that that can aid us in in redesigning and reimagining what education look like for today’s learners.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yeah, Dr. Lewis, to my listeners and to my viewers, that is another answer that you want to be able to replay asynchronously, because. Dr. Lewis Right. And we were we were saying this before the pandemic, right. Where time has to be, the variable in learning has to be the constant. Right. And when we talk about analyzing now, you know, not just purely quantitative metrics around academic achievement, but these conditional measures and metrics that you were talking about, i.e., why isn’t School 3 to 8 that goes back to equity, to my listeners and to my viewers right. Challenging the 100 day academic year challenge in a degraded classrooms, right where now we had this level, Dr. Lewis eloquently put it within his answer is that we had this exponential experimentation and permission to be permissionless during COVID But I want to challenge everybody when they say this, because I heard this to Dr. Lewis, is that when people or I should say individuals say that they want to get back to the old No, we don’t want to get back to the old. We want to be able to progress into the future with a new paradigm, a new education model, a new operating model that buys in is the antithesis of this archaic model of the Jeffersonian model. I like to say, look, Dr. Lewis Wow. On unbelievable redesigning our school systems. And I cannot wait to get back to the old No, no, no, no more than that. I appreciate that, because when we talk about students learning on Tik-tok other social media platforms, they learn a lot. And remember, these are the core attributes of Gen Z and Gen Alpha. And to underscore what Dr. Lewis State, why are we why are students engaging in multi-sided platforms like Amazon, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu And then they got to go back and learn in a blockbuster environment. The design, is that what we’re going to say to them? Everybody take it to that. But Dr. Lewis, I want to get into one of your levels of expertise is around leadership right now. And as superintendents. Right. We know that they’re compounding variables that we’re dealing with declining enrollment. You spoke about it, right? I loved how you handle the closing of two schools, but using your story points, using your voice to communicate the why on behalf of students, students at the core, but declining enrollment. We know the conclusion of federal aid via Esser is ending year teacher recruitment and retention. Some school districts have up to 80 teacher vacancies as we speak right now. And there are other extraordinary issues leaders are facing on a daily basis. But first, part of this two part question What advice do you have for leaders, Dr. Lewis, to let’s bring it back to the old stay the course, right, for families and students. And then the second part is expanding upon your expertise on leadership, specifically at the executive level. Right. Executives and now one of Glee superintendent, deputy superintendents, assistant superintendent, cabinet level positions, right. There’s a high turnover where a lot of superintendents are not coming back into the K-12 sector now. But how do you how do we continue that vitality and pace of pursuing or without compromising your health and your family time during during these volatile times and while we’re addressing these multiple variables?

Dr. Anthony Lewis

Right, Right. If I could start with that, the last part of that that question first, because we think if we’re not taking care of ourselves, obviously we won’t we won’t be around. No, that’s the that’s the you know, cross bubble. So here’s our our children need us, you know. And so I would encourage leaders to, again, when when it comes to those compounding factors that are competing values within your communities, go out to a school. For me, my fix is going to my early childhood center is for my three year olds and just kind of re-energize me. So remember our remember our children and remember your why go back and revisit your your why? Because if it’s not you, then then who is going to be? Because there’s not a lot of leaders that are going into the superintendents as as it used to be. So there’s not a lot of people on on that. And, you know, if I could go back and revisit the song that I mentioned at the beginning, we the ones there’s a a statement in there that killer Mike, he makes and he says, you never know. The final day could be tomorrow. Yes. And so what I you know, I’m brutally honest with my leaders and my team and other superintendents that I that I talked to is that, God forbid, if something were to happen to you, you know, people would be sad. They would send flowers to the homes and cards and things. But your board or your your school district will post that position probably within the next week and move on. And so it’s hugely important for us as leaders to take care of ourselves. Find your support system, leave the work on the desk, don’t take it home. You know, don’t, don’t, don’t take it, man. Because more often than not, you may have kids at home. You may have a wife or family at home that needs you. My wife constantly reminds me that she nor my kids signed the contract. I signed the contract, you know, So they need to they need their time. And you owe it to them as leaders to spend that time with your family and friends, your wife, your significant other. But I don’t want to say it just, you know, and just spend time. You have to schedule it and be intentional about those family outings. Are those those date nights Do something that makes you happy, find a new hobby, make sure that you’re eating healthy and exercising. I recently purchased a of Amazon, a bass guitar. I want to learn how to play the bass guitar. It takes my mind off of the work. So excuse me. In other words, find a new hobby that that helps you stay invigorated and in the work. Because if not, it will. It will eat you up. And so we the first part of the question, we talk about making sure that we stay the course because there are some challenges that we’re all dealing with as a super tennis and as leaders around the country. And staffing is is one of those. And just like there’s not a lot of leaders that are on deck, there’s not a lot of teachers that are going into the profession. And I will venture to say that, yes, we had Colgate that made us a redesign. Education, the lack of staff, lack of teachers is going to force us in in the years to come to think about how we deliver instruction in a different way with less staff. And so some of the things that we’re doing is making sure that we’re growing our own, making sure that we are looking at retention. We have this thing where we say in our district where retention is the new recruitment, making sure that we able to retain our teachers and looking at these new pieces of survey or perception or data, we partnered with the educators perception and Center or Epic. It’s a local organization here in the state of Kansas that looks at teacher retention. And we are looking at some of those drivers that influence staff to state or that influence staff to leave a school system and addressing those. And a lot of times people may think it’s pay was not pay, it’s teachers having a voice. It’s teachers feeling like they are supported in as teachers that are working for leaders that understand the current stress. And this is what I tell teachers and principals. I’ve never been a teacher during COVID or after COVID. I’ve never been a principal during COVID or after called things of change and making sure that we’re understanding and listening to our staff and not offering what I call that well, some call that toxic positivity where we’re saying, okay, take care of yourself. But you’re not giving me the time to take care of myself, where to practice self self care. And so again, listening to our our teachers and making sure that they again are part of the organization. But again, all I can say on that is just making sure that we’re not only taking care of ourselves, but taking care of those that we serve as well. Yeah, stakeholders. Thank you for that answer. Well stated. First, before I get into analyzing your answer, bass guitar. Okay. But yeah, I think it’s I think it’s one of the coolest instruments. And yeah, I just ordered a $69 cheap bass guitar to kind of just learn to learn to play.

Dr. Michael Conner

Anybody that is out there in my that or my listeners and my viewers. If you ever get a snapshot or a video of Dr. Lewis playing the bass guitar, please send it to Michael Conner. I want to see that. I want to be able to get my brother on is excellent on the bass guitar. I think you might need some Tier three support with that. my God. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s tier three and I made it. I need to because I’m struggling, right? Absolutely, brother. But I. I love your statement. Retention is a recruitment strategy, right? And I think that, you know, when we think about it, this is a four in apparatus on how we think about instruction differently and how we think about the redesign of the model differently. If we know that we are having a difficult time in our time to be able to target identified teachers. And some of the, I like to say, traditional strategies around recruitment and retention is not having that same vigor or the same levels of bringing in new teachers into whether it be learning organization, schools, districts. We have to be able to be creative and innovative and look at the signals and the drivers, as you stated, to be able to think about or offering what the model can look like, but still not compromising the level of rigor as well as readiness or preparedness for our students moving forward. But to my listeners and viewers out there, this is a key statement that I think that everyone should add to their individual vernacular retention is the recruitment strategy. Be very, very intentional and unpack that with your teams. Thank you, Dr. Lewis. And last question. You made it through via me, and I got to get your call after this. A Yes. Kansas, I believe Kansas plays UConn this year. I think I think, I think I might have come out to Lawrence.

Dr. Anthony Lewis

Come out to the basketball mecca. Come on to, the basketball mecca where the basketball rooms are and where basketball was. We’ve been it right here in Lawrence, Kansas.

Dr. Michael Conner

All right. So to my audience, I love Dr. Lewis. I’m going to spell that. Lawrence Kansas is not the basketball mecca. See, they call the Mecca, Connecticut, UConn. We are the basketball capital, the world. We got the championship rings. But anyways, that’s what a Jayhawk would say. But last question, Dr. Louis, take this as it is, because everybody has a different variance to how they answer this, whether it be three words, whether it be three times a thousand, which equals a 3000 words, whether it be three squared. However you want to answer this, I always say this to my participants, take it as it is. What three words do you want today’s audience to leave our podcast regarding leadership and equity in the AC stage of education, what words should our listeners always reference when they are leading their respective learning organizations to integrate various equity threads to advance or in this important stage, this important paradigm of the AC stage?

Dr. Anthony Lewis

Yeah. So my three words would be, and I will give these, these, these three words and some rationale behind the three words. One, is this necessary? The work that we’re doing today, the education that we’re providing our students is necessary. The leadership that we’re providing, our teams is necessary. And so when it comes to all of the competing values in your communities or your boards are shifting again, going back to the previous question, staying the course because you are necessary. And then a second word would be opportunity. We have a unique opportunity in public education to totally redesign, to reimagine education in a way that meets today students and students that are not even born yet. You know, that’s the first interpretation of opportunity. The second part of opportunity from an equity standpoint is making sure that we are providing all students opportunities to excel, creating opportunities that some of our marginalized populations don’t necessarily have. And so what are you doing in your school systems to really dismantle? And I really like the word dismantle, over disrupt, because if I disrupt a room and turn chairs over in forums over, someone can come in tomorrow and put that back together. But if I dismantle that room and knock out the ceiling and the wall, you can’t come back the next day and just put that put that together. So as an education system, what opportunities are we providing? What opportunities are we afforded to dismantle something which leads to the last word, which is legacy. What will be your legacy? How will you how will your obituary read in terms of what you did for children? What do you do for the field of public education? You know, whether it’s policies, whether it’s systems that you put in place, systems that you dismantle that will benefit generations to come. And so those are my three words necessary opportunity. And leaving a legacy. And so I think about moving some of the work forward as it relates to equity and and some words that leaders can use first, it’s important to understand your community and what you can and cannot say in your community and also knowing your values and how you should not compromise your values. I tell people today that I’m not doing this work to keep a job. I’m doing this work to create opportunities for all children. And I jokingly say, I’m originally from Alabama, but living here in Kansas, I jokingly say, Hey, look, my mom wants me to come back close to home anyway, you know? And so as leaders, we cannot get in this work excuse me, to just keep a job or or please, people, we have to get in this work to make sure that and so to make sure that we are increasing outcomes for all students with the ultimate goal in this equity work is so that student outcomes can no longer be predicated on race, socioeconomic status, gender identity, other marginalized identity. And so knowing again, knowing your community sometimes in its same place, some district in the state of Kansas, I talked to superintendents, they say they can’t say the word, which is equity when they say the word, which is diversity. And, you know, I respect that. I’m an I’m fortunate that I live in a community where have an equity policy that literally spells out what we talk about, disrupting systemic racism or other forms of injustice that have great advantages for some for so long, while create advantages for others. An equity policy that guides and mandates that we apply this systemic change framework on school governance and resource allocation often often tell people You’re really serious about equity, show me your budget. It should be reflected in your in your budget as well. And so, again, I recognize that some people cannot say, you know, systemic racism or equity. But here’s the thing that our statement that no one I don’t think can argue with is that and again, it’s whether you’re talking to parents or community members that believe that you are indoctrinating students or believe that you are making white students feel guilty and bad about their history, or whether you, your community thinks that you are teaching CRT first thing out. First thing I would argue is, which is critical race theory. Probably they don’t even know what critical race theory is. Let’s start just start there. But most people cannot argue with making a statement, like most of us believe, that every child, no matter what they look like or where they come from, deserves a safe and welcoming school. You know, you didn’t say equity, you didn’t say diversity or are children of all different backgrounds or zip code should have the freedom to learn and pursue their dreams. Or when it comes to, you know, certain parts of history that many want to want us to not teach, every every child deserves an accurate and honest quality education, no matter the color of their skin. You know, children deserve honest, accurate education that enables them to think for them themselves, you know? And so when we get pushback on our community, on critical race theory, which is very minimal, I said, no, we’re not teaching critical race theory. First of all, I’ll take time to explain to them what critical race theory is. And I said, We’re not teaching critical race theory. However, we are teaching children to think critically for themselves, you know, and and different perspectives. So really, again, just understanding your community and again, the goal can be met, but making sure that you are in a position where you can continue to move the work for without compromising values.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolutely. Dr. Lewis. And when you speak about critical race theory, right? Dr. Tyrone Howard wrote the foreword to my book, Intentional, Bold and Unapologetic A Guide to Transforming Schools and Stage of Education said that and just blatantly just said it. Okay, well, do not teach critical race theory and said that he would analyze any lesson plan or any curriculum, scope and sequence, any curriculum framework to prove that p K-12 do not teach critical race theory. It underscores his statement. But getting back to your three words, necessary opportunity and the legacy you want to leave and Dr. Lewis, you are you are certainly leaving a legacy in the Lawrence Public Schools. Thank you for being on VFE. Again, I want to go back to I got to hear you on the bass guitar. I got I got I got to hear this, my good brother. But you gave a lot of knowledge today, right? And I’m sure that my audience is going to take this hour, unpack this hour. It becomes two, two and a half hours with more descriptive and prescriptive questions for you. Dr. Lewis, if my listeners or viewers want to contact you directly, what’s the best way to do it?

Dr. Anthony Lewis

Yeah, via email is AnthonyLewis@US497.org available on social media on X at @DrASLewis Facebook, Anthony Lewis, LinkedIn, Anthony Lewis or our school district at www.USD497.org which is Lawrence Public schools in Kansas, not the large public schools in Massachusetts but we’re in Kansas.

Dr. Michael Conner

Yes, you got to remember the Lawrence Kansas that is not better than the UCONN Huskies in basketball So now but let me and I want to unpack this to my audience. Dr. Lewis is from Alabama. So we were in the NASA Urban Howard Urban Supes Academy, he always would say roll time. So, you know, going back to University of Alabama football, you cannot do that. You cannot. Now, I’m surprised, Dr. Lewis is really creating this tension point about Kansas University basketball in comparison to UConn’s men and women. That’s why we call ourselves the basketball capital of the world. But Dr. Lewis, you made it through VFE. I appreciate you, man. I’ll tell you this. You might be losing fans because of what you know you’re doing for kids or whatever The saying on social media. Your biggest fear has been right here since 2017. And I appreciate the work that you’re doing. Keep it up, my brother.

Dr. Anthony Lewis

Thank you so much for having me on Dr. Conner. It’s been a pleasure.

Dr. Michael Conner

Absolute pleasure. And on that note, onward and upward, everybody have a great evening.