We believe learning happens in community, in context, and in conversation.
For this reason, our community co-design process is designed to be an ongoing, iterative, and inclusive conversation. Any time an important school-wide decision is made, there is an opportunity for input from a representative sample of the school community. During this part of the planning process, we listen and learn from our community. Listening and learning from these conversations will always be the foundation of our plans.
We believe learning communities must be diverse, inclusive, and equitable environments where every perspective is valued.
The conversations we have in the earliest phases of planning will always aim to represent and elevate the voices of our stakeholders – particularly the perspective of our students who are furthest from opportunity. At our core, we are an organization that exists to support student growth and success. Any plan we make, or partnership we form, will need to appropriately address the developmental needs of our students.
We believe evidence-based, data-driven, instructional practices are essential.
Our organizational approach to learning is to continuously improve. We follow the Carnegie Mellon model of rapid improvement cycles. We incorporate Plan, Do, Study, and Act (PDSA) cycles into our planning processes, informed by the conversations we have with our community. This process will ensure that we are rigorously planning for positive change, executing the plan with fidelity, studying the efficacy of the plan, and acting with transparency to share the outcomes with our community.
We believe excellence requires preparation and reflection.
Our learning community will be excellent; excellence is not a coincidence. Excellence requires rigorous preparation. We prepare for our planning by listening and learning from the community. We prepare for our work through detailed planning practices. We prepare for our evaluations by setting clear and measurable goals that can be evaluated both qualitatively and quantitatively.
Excellence also requires intentional reflection. We consider the perspectives heard in community conversations. We make time to study our actions and draw conclusions about their efficacy. We share our reflections with the community to ensure they resonate.
Spring 2020 – We started wondering how schools can be more responsive to their key stakeholders – parents, caregivers, students, educators, and community partners. We began asking questions like: how are schools listening to, and learning from, their communities? We asked school and community development leaders what authentic community co-design looks like. We learned from models of school co-design across the country. We brainstormed important foundational questions that we would ask in our community engagement work. We also researched organizing principles that could guide our community development efforts.
Fall 2020 – We engaged with hundreds of community members – including educators, parents, students, civic leaders, business leaders, and nonprofit leaders to deepen our understanding of the existing assets and strengths in Atlanta. We did our own research – reading articles, journals, reports, and parent manifestos to hear additional voices in the community. As we listened, we also formed our founding community co-design team. You can read more about the members of our co-design team on the Our Team page of our website. This team is expanding our ability to listen to, and learn from, the community.
January 2021 – Our community co-design team began meeting. This team exists to ensure that a wide range of stakeholder perspectives are considered and invited into our school planning process. The outcome of our first meeting was a guiding set of planning principles and a working set of norms for our collaboration together. We are committed to human centered, inclusive, continuous planning and improvement processes. We will return to these principles and norms regularly as we plan with stakeholders across the community. You can read more about our guiding planning principles on the Home Page of our website.
February 2021 – Our co-design team met to create a shared equity vision for our collective work moving forward. This statement went through multiple rounds of review and revision. We started with our aspirations to co-create a shared sense of purpose and direction for our design work. We wrote with the intention of returning to our shared commitment regularly. We grounded our conversation in the words of Dr. Pedro Noguera, “That’s at the core of equity: understanding who your kids are and how to meet their needs. You are still focused on outcomes, but the path to get there may not be the same for each one.”
March 2021 – Our co-design team met to plan some of the details of our first public workshop titled, “how should school feel?” We started with this question to understand the human experience with school. It was important for us to consider the range of emotions schools should generate for students, parents, caregivers, teachers, and members of the community before we begin making any firm commitments to educational programming. We also used our time together to consider facilitation methods that elevate the voices of all members of the community in our public workshops. Finally, through stakeholder mapping we created a strategic outreach plan to include the voices of students, parents, educators, and community members.
April 2021 – Our co-design team hosted and facilitated a community conversation titled, “how should school feel?” In one of our breakout groups, students were given the prompt to “create 3-5 drawings that represent your K-12 experience and describe the feelings you associate with those moments.” Over 50 people (students, parents, educators, and community members) participated in the workshop in one way or another. Whether we were unpacking our co-design process or listening to various perspectives about how school should feel, we remained focused on centering students and building towards equity and justice through education. Doing right by the youngest among us.
May 2021 – Our co-design team synthesized what we heard during our first public workshop. It’s inspiring to envision a school that feels like the one we imagined together! Our synthesis process involved an iterative review of all of the data we gathered during the conversation last month. As we reviewed the data we looked for patterns. We organized repeated words and phrases and feelings into larger categories – what we are calling themes. We interrogated our own biases to ensure we weren’t reading what we wanted to into the data – but instead were reflecting what was actually being said. We checked our work with people who did and did not participate in the event to make sure these themes were actually evident in the data and experienced in the conversation. Our draft conversation report is embedded below as a slideshow. Please interact with the content to learn more about our initial findings.
June 2021 – This month marked the beginning of summer in more ways than one. The heat is turning up outside and most students are on summer break right now. Organizations across the metro Atlanta region are thinking creatively about how to offer safe summer programming for youth and families in response to ongoing concerns about the pandemic. We joined in the efforts by planning two virtual summer coding sessions for rising 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students in the metro Atlanta region. Participants learned the fundamentals of Python through art, simulations, and game design. They developed their skills as coders exploring algorithms, loops, debugging, and conditional statements.
July 2021 – Our design team lead, Dr. Josh Pinto Taylor, joined the Georgia Charter School Association’s Incubator Fellowship this month. He will be participating in this cohort-based fellowship to learn from school leaders across the state and to prepare our charter application. The fellowship will cover topics including school governance, community engagement, and organizational leadership. This partnership will help us prepare an application that puts us on a path to be authorized!
August 2021 – Our co-design team hosted and facilitated another community conversation titled, “what is most important for students to learn in school?” Prior to the event, participants were given the prompt to “identify 2-3 of the most important things for students to learn in school.” Over 60 people (students, parents, college success professionals, hiring managers, and community members) participated in the workshop in one way or another. We remain focused on centering the stakeholders who are best equipped to answer our big questions. This workshop helped us imagine what we are building towards as a school community.