Helping Schools Work: Ledyard McFadden, Ed.M.'93
In the mid-1990s, Ledyard McFadden, Ed.M.'93, left the classroom as an ESL teacher in Chelsea, Mass., to serve as the director of operations at City on a Hill Charter School during its startup and first few years of operation. The experience, he says, helped him realize his love for new projects and inspired him to eventually work for Beacon Education Management, one of the first educational management organizations in the country.
"While working at Beacon, my friends and family kept telling me that I should start my own business, that I loved the variety of project-based work and should follow that passion," he says.
In 1998, McFadden followed their advice and started SchoolWorks, an educational consulting firm in Beverly, Mass. "It was the beginning of a lot of charter school law and charter school openings across the country, and at that time there was an opportunity to be a part of starting the accountability system," he says of the inspiration behind the company.
SchoolWorks provides support to educators at all levels, from individual schools to districts, state departments of education, and private foundations. The company provides clients with teams of consultants who assess their strengths and areas for improvement.
"We focus on helping them assess their current practices, plan for improvement, and really achieve that improvement through leadership coaching and intensive workshops," McFadden says.
The company has grown significantly from its initial focus on charter schools and accountability to a much wider client base. For example, SchoolWorks has placed a greater emphasis on leadership and school coaching as a way to sustain client relationships and increase their ongoing impact on student achievement. In addition, as a result of its reputation within the educational consulting sector, the organization has also developed a relationship with the prestigious Broad Prize, which annually awards one million dollars to the top performing urban school districts in the United States. SchoolWorks is responsible for conducting the qualitative analysis of the finalist districts, and then a national panel determines the recipients based on that analysis.
McFadden credits the Ed School and its individualized master's program (now Special Studies) with helping him determine what aspect of education he ultimately wanted to pursue.
"I taught in Costa Rica for a few years after college and knew that I wanted to continue in education, but I wanted to be in a program that would allow me to be flexible and try different things," he says. "The Ed School program really fit with where I was in my career, and it gave me a very good sense of educational theory." Furthermore, he says the connections he made while studying there have been invaluable in making SchoolWorks successful and effective.
Having just celebrated SchoolWorks' 10th anniversary, McFadden and his colleagues are now reflecting on their overall success. "Our focus right now is on asking the question, What is our impact on student achievement, on educator practice, and on policy?" This self-assessment is essential to McFadden's vision for his company and to SchoolWorks' sustained influence. "We are striving to be an organization that can understand and measure our impact in those areas," he says.