As co-directors of the Public Education Leadership Project (PELP), a longtime collaboration between the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Harvard Business School, John J-H Kim and I were excited about putting on our annual summer institute this July. We had an amazing set of 12 large urban school district teams lined up for what was going to be an intense and productive week, grappling with some of their biggest challenges and fueled by all we know about best practices in management, organizations, and innovation aimed at high performance.
What we did, however, was entirely different. We postponed our week-long residential institute when it became clear that the pandemic wouldn’t allow it and instead invited large urban school districts from across the nation to participate in a virtual community of practice focused on one common challenge: restarting schools. Representing more than 1.1 million schoolchildren, the 11 districts and 240 leaders who joined us gave us a view into the tremendous challenges our nation’s school districts currently face, and what it will take to overcome them.