Part celebration and part reflection, mayors, superintendents, and school leaders gathered at the Harvard Graduate School of Education this week for the fifth and final By All Means convening, fully knowing that the work had really just begun.
“I’m so appreciative of the work that happened out in the communities over the past two and a half years,” said Professor Paul Reville, founder of the Education Redesign Lab. “We are here and convened because we know it’s going to take more than schools to get this work done.”
Launched in 2016 at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, By All Means, run by the Education Redesign Lab, began as a 2.5-year initiative aimed at supporting mayors and superintendents in leading cities to develop integrated systems of education and child well-being to close achievement gaps. In its initial phase, By All Means focused on six selected cities — Oakland, California; Louisville, Kentucky; Providence, Rhode Island; and Salem, Somerville, and Newton, Massachusetts — which operated as labs to develop comprehensive child wellbeing and education systems. The fifth convening concluded the initial phase of By All Means by exploring the unique opportunities and challenges that come with working on governance and working to create integrated systems of support for children.
“We can’t solve any problems we have working in siloes,” said Angela Glover Blackwell, CEO of PolicyLink and the convening’s keynote speaker, echoing much of what drives BAM’s mission.
During her address, Blackwell called upon everyone to stop standing on the sidelines and to use “radical imagination” in the work. “We really have to focus on the shifting demographics … the fate of the nation depends on people of color — the very people we’ve been leaving behind,” Blackwell said, urging participants to seize this moment.
Improving education will never be enough as long as people continue to be left behind in other ways, she said. “Things need to change on every level,” she said, noting that working together isn’t enough without plans and action across the board.
Over the two-day convening, mayors, superintendents, and school leaders from the selected cities shared the work they’ve undertaken as part of BAM.
Convening participants shared challenges they still face, including how to communicate the mission more broadly, integrate data across systems, and ensure there is diverse representation at the table. But they also highlighted the important work and steps forward each city has made, including reaching children through health initiatives and creating individualized plans for all preK–8 students, as well as other systemic shifts. The work undertaken in each city has been broad and diverse.
Reville acknowledged the challenges of building trusting relationships, the complexity of the work, and the need to communicate the mission to the public. Citing the general messiness of this work, he also offered some hope and insight into the future.
“There’s been a lot accomplished in building the foundation,” Reville said, applauding all the cities’ work in building children’s cabinets with representation across communities, setting goals, sharing data, creating more opportunities on the ground for children, and also just staying focused on the work.
The By All Means initiative will continue with the launch of By All Means 2.0 this spring, which will build off the initiative’s original framework for children’s cabinets and city-based consultants, and continue the established biannual convenings. Reville spoke about a shift toward deeper emphasis on personalization for students through individualized student success plans moving forward.
Ultimately, Reville hopes By All Means creates a demand in communities — particularly from citizens, taxpayers, and parents — for this collaborative work that breaks the “factory model education system” that isn’t working for everyone. Meanwhile, Reville emphasized a need for patience in the work, showing hesitation when asked about what By All Means has solved, noting, “This is generational work. It will take a while to build such a complex system.”
Pictured: Angela Glover Blackwell gives the keynote address. Photo: Casey Bayer