Vol. 2
Issue 14
Building Education Cities
Happy New Year! We hope everyone was able to recharge and spend time with their loved ones over the holidays. At Education Cities, we're ready for an exciting year ahead.  

This issue features an interview with Marcus Robinson, CEO of the Memphis Education Fund. Among other things, Marcus is a veteran educator and has a proven track record of being a successful school operator. Marcus and his team have set the worthy and ambitious goal of improving the lowest-performing 10 percent of schools in Memphis. As he says, "it does mean that we will have to bring different resources to bear."

Marcus' message is a powerful reminder that more of the same isn't going to achieve the dramatic progress that students and families need. At Education Cities, we share that deeply held belief.

In 2017, we will bring additional resources to bear on our work, including new partnerships to support your work, all of which you will hear more about in the months to come. We have new research in the pipeline, thought-provoking and actionable learning opportunities for the network, and plans to go deep on everything from school creation and facilities management to citywide talent, advocacy and empowerment strategies.

Wishing you all a great start of the year.

Yours in service,

Ethan Gray
Founder & CEO, Education Cities
Special Section 
Interview with Marcus Robinson, CEO 
Memphis Education Fund
What would you say most motivates you to do  what you do? Was there anything early in your  life or career that led you to this work?
I am a product of struggling, under-resourced inner-city schools. My family represents the profile of many of the families we serve. I switched elementary schools six times by the middle of fourth grade, and I know well the obstacles poverty places in front of kids who want better opportunities. That experience drives me to push for equity and excellence for all kids, no matter what zip code or circumstances they find themselves in.

As the Memphis Education Fund's first CEO, what drew you to the opportunity and what are you most excited about bringing to bear from an organizational perspective?

[In Indianapolis], I thoroughly enjoyed my experience leading schools that defy the odds. It was a gift to go to a place everyday where the schools were both high poverty and high performing. However, the Memphis Education Fund affords me the opportunity to contemplate and advocate for the scaling of high quality reforms across an entire educational landscape. We hope to be partners for progress in how leaders are developed, teachers are trained, and students are taught.

What do you want people to know about the transition from Teacher Town to the Memphis Education Fund?

We remain committed to the idea and the spirit of Memphis being Teacher Town, a place that draws the best and brightest educators from across the United States. We did find that as we were moving strategically into other areas (such as school supply, advocacy, and wrap-around services for families), people were surprised that we were concerned about anything other than teachers.
Shifting to the Memphis Education Fund allows us to fully embrace all of the major pillars we feel are so important to the creation of high quality educational options for kids in Memphis.

You were the leader of a high-performing charter network. How does that influence your focus and priorities for the Memphis Education Fund?

I bring that quality bar to the table in all of our interactions with our partners in West Tennessee. Essentially, we want to build schools that don't merely outperform the district, but are distinguished as some of the best in the country. I believe we can co-opt best practices from the very best charter and district operators in the country, and train our district, CMO, and single-site operators to take their practice from good to great. Filling in the content gaps (both academic and operational) so that our leaders can have access to best practice is a top priority.

Are there any lessons you learned as an education leader in Indianapolis that you hope to carry over in Memphis?

I learned that alignment is key to moving reform quickly and effectively. When the quarterback can connect the dots between the district, charter operators, and advocacy partners, our reforms can not only get approved faster, but they have a much higher probability of enduring.

In Memphis, much of that groundwork has been laid to get Shelby County Schools, the Achievement School District, charter leaders, and philanthropy thinking about common goals. Next will be to unite everyone around a common set of operating principles, expectations, and evaluations to create a level playing field for each operator to perform optimally.

Can you tell us more about the Memphis Education Fund's goal of improving the lowest-performing 10 percent of schools in the city?
We believe that when we prove we can lift schools out of the lowest performing tier, we will have created a model for urban schooling that can be replicated and scaled across the country. Extremely low performance masks a level of poverty and despair that is more severe than most urban markets nationally. It does mean that we will have to bring different resources to bear. It does mean that we have to be more creative with our pedagogy and seat time. It does mean that we have to have reforms that extend beyond the walls of the school. But we believe that in the end we will have created a paradigm that can be easily exported to places of high need.

What might (someone) be surprised to know about you?                                         
If I weren't in education, I would probably commit myself to a life in musical theater (although I would probably need to take many lessons). My dream role is Mufasa from the Lion King.

Kudos to...
New Schools for Chicago helped more than 250 families navigate one of the most complex enrollment systems in the country, through its free Kids First Chicago workshops. The Chicago Sun Times profiled this great example of empowering families to find the best education options for their child.

News Spotlight
The Progressive Policy Institute a national research and think tank organization, praises The Mind Trust and explores the educational revolution happening in Indianapolis.


NSNO joined Xavier University of Louisiana to announce the launch of the Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency --  a partnership between Xavier and five New Orleans charter organizations: Choice Foundation Schools, FirstLine Schools, InspireNOLA, KIPP New Orleans, and New Orleans College Prep. This is the first teacher residency partnership between an HBCU and charter management organizations in the country.

With the generous help and support of the National Center for Teacher Residencies (NCTR) SEED grant and support from both national and local philanthropy, The Norman C. Francis Teacher Residency will be an avenue for local graduates to pursue a career in teaching through a one-year apprenticeship and two years of graduate coursework at Xavier.

Project Renaissance welcomes its newest team member, Neonta Williams . Neonta will lead Nashville Rise, which focuses on parent engagement and empowerment. As the Director, she will oversee efforts to inform, empower and engage parents in the education conversation throughout Nashville.

After more than two years of community organizing with the national nonprofit Black Alliance For Educational Options (BAEO) and more than a decade of building training programs, Neonta brings a sense of urgency to parent advocacy that is sure to impact the community at large.

For the second year in a row, the Bay Area trails the state in test scores for low-income Latino and African American students; however, 47 local schools are bucking the trend. Innovate Public Schools highlighted them in its latest report, Top Bay Area Public Schools for Underserved Students. Checkout a video of their recent celebration to honor the schools that are beating the odds for Bay Area students.

Answering local high-performing teachers' demand for a way to learn more about school leadership, Opportunity 180 has partnered with TNTP  to develop Lead Nevada Academy . Thanks to a generous donation from Windsong Trust, Opportunity 180 reached out to TNTP to design a solution that gives Las Vegas's best teachers a chance to have a no-cost and low-stakes opportunity to determine if school leadership is right for them. To learn more about the partnership visit  www.leadeadnevada.org .  

Ending 2016 strong, The Chicago Public Education Fund unveiled its third annual School Leadership Report on finding The Right Match: A Strong Leader in Every Public School and the launch of The Chicago Principal Partnership, a partnership with Chicago Public Schools. The report describes challenges with principal hiring and recommends solutions to ensure the right principal match for all of Chicago's public schools. The Chicago Principal Partnership is a new city-wide effort that aims to ensure that every public school in Chicago is led by a strong principal.

Educate78 is proud to support Oakland's transition to a modernized enrollment process that is more family-friendly, transparent, and equitable. Because of collaboration across the city, this year's enrollment process will be better for families. Check out the highlights on Educate78's blog: bit.ly/OakPSEnrollment.

Check out a few recent pieces from the Center on Reinventing Public Education: Measures of Last Resort: Assessing Strategies for State-Initiated Turnarounds, The SEA of the Future: Maximizing Opportunities Under ESSA, and Unifying Enrollment in Camden: How Families Experience the New Enrollment System.
Career Opportunities

Education Matters

The Skillman Foundation
Program Officer, Education

Philadelphia School Partnership

Innovate Public Schools

ReSchool Colorado
Learning Architect

Thomas B. Fordham Institute