The IDEA Blog

It May Be Cold Outside, But We’re Just Warming Up



It May Be Cold Outside,
But We're Just Warming Up

There is so much happening in the education landscape today. From school children in Michigan being told by a state court that they have no right to a quality education to the decision by a court in South Carolina that it’s school system is violating students’ constitutional rights by inadequately funding the public school system there. In a larger social context, all eyes are on Ferguson as we await word on the outcome of the Darren Wilson indictment decision. Through all the work we must do to protect our schools, our communities and our children we have one of society’s most powerful allies: Parents. Parents are on the frontlines everyday building with teachers, administrators and community leaders and trying to ensure a wholesome quality learning environment for our country’s youth. We at IDEA are proud to know such parents and in this issue we feature two great parent leaders in Natasha Capers and Sheila Warren. Dive into the newsletter and enjoy our exploration of parent power. Thanks - Albert

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Posted on Nov 19, 2014 - 07:49 AM by Shawn Strader

“P-O-WER! We’ve got the POWER…”

Those are the first few words to a well known chant usually heard by different organizations and groups across the country focused on social justice issues. On Wednesday, November 12th, IDEA hosted it’s first Network Learning Call of the year entitled “The Power of Parents & Educational Justice.” We were joined by Natasha Capers of the Coalition for Education Justice and Sheila Warren of Portland Parent Union who definitely work to help parents understand their true P-O-WER!

Network Learning Call Flyer - Nov 12, 2014

Both of the ladies are great examples of women of power within what we call ‘change work.’ As parent, community, and child advocates, these mothers dedicate their lives to educational justice through their work with parents. Natasha shared about her work with parents and the work of CEJ. “It was born out of the parents’ needs and the parent voice of wanting to understand why their schools are being treated a certain way.” She went on to discuss how it is important to recognize the problem and to take the next step by uplifting and moving on a solution. She also went into detail about the work CEJ does within their Power Parent School. Power Parent School is a tool that CEJ uses to help develop the voices, skills, issue expertise and relationships of public school parents and community members.  

While we did experience some technical difficulties to provide space for Sheila, also known as ‘Momma Sheila,’ to share about her work with the Portland Parent Union, her bio (above) speaks for itself. Portland Parent Union is dedicated to organizing parents for better outcomes as it pertains to their child(ren)’s education. PPU works to help parents develop leadership skills, knowledge and responsibility.

Both Natasha and Momma Sheila are very real and down to earth women of color who bring their own personal experience into their work, which makes it all the more powerful. Working with parents around educational issues is very important especially in under-served communities where a lot of...

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Posted on Nov 19, 2014 - 06:54 AM by Crystal Mattison

Welcoming New Beginnings


Welcoming New Beginnings

There is a lot to celebrate right now at IDEA. Some folks are saying we are at a new beginning. For starters, I am excited and honored to be the official new Executive Director of IDEA. Additionally, we are all grateful and proud to welcome Kwesi Rollins as the new Chair of the Board of Directors for IDEA. We also have a brand new website that has been in the works for some time - we think you will find it much more useful. One last update - and maybe you noticed already - we have redesigned the newsletter you are reading right now to increase readability and add some recurring sections to showcase information that can support your work.

We are all excited about what is new at IDEA, and hope you will continue to support us through these transitions. We are committed to supporting you as an educational changemaker as well as we can, and look forward to the journey ahead.  |  Albert Sykes, Executive Director of IDEA


Kwesi Rollins: IDEA's new Chair of Board


Kwesi Rollins has been named the new Chair of the Board of Directors for IDEA, and is already active in his role. Kwesi, a Brooklyn native, currently resides in Washington, DC and serves as Director of Leadership Programs for IEL, and has served on IDEA’s Board for the past year-and-a-half. We are celebrating his new role in IDEA, and looking forward to an IDEA supported by his wisdom and leadership. ...

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Posted on Nov 05, 2014 - 10:28 AM by Shawn Strader

Kwesi Rollins is IDEA’s new Chair of the Board of Directors

Special Announcement
Kwesi Rollins is IDEA's new Chair of the Board of Directors

Kwesi - IEL - Chair of Board.jpg

Kwesi Rollins has been named the new Chair of the Board of Directors for IDEA, and is already active in his role.

Kwesi, a Brooklyn native, currently resides in Washington, DC and serves as Director of Leadership Programs for IEL, and has served on IDEA’s Board for the past year-and-a-half.

As the Director of Leadership Programs for the Institute of Educational Leadership, Kwesi directs several projects that are designed to create and sustain strategic linkages between early childhood education opportunities and community schools. Kwesi has years of experience working with local communities and state agencies to improve cross-sector collaboration and service delivery systems supporting children, youth and families. He has provided technical assistance and training to a range of government agencies, schools, districts, and organizations in projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Working with young people is a personal passion for Kwesi. He has been recognized as the Big Brother of the Year in the District of Columbia; and is an ex-officio member of the Board of Directors of Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the National Capitol Area, serving for 7 years as VP for Program Services. He holds an MSW degree from the University of Maryland at Baltimore School of Social Work where he was a Maternal and Child Health Leadership Training Fellow.

Now, Kwesi is sharing his expertise, wisdom, and passion with IDEA in a leadership role as Chair of the Board of Directors. He officially became the Chair of the Board in September, 2014, taking over the role held for the last 2 years by Santiago Rincón Gallardo, who remains on the IDEA Board.

Here's a link to the official press release of this announcement.

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Posted on Nov 05, 2014 - 07:47 AM by Shawn Strader

Tracking the Testing Reform & Resistance Movement

FairTest, the long-time leading voice on the damage of high-stakes testing and the power of authentic assessment, has just released an excellent resource packed with stories and learning about how communities have resisted and reformed testing policies and practices across the nation.

What makes this report stand out is that it's compiled from interviews with leading activists around the country and that authors Monty Neill and Lisa Guisbond pulled out the stories of strategies that have been successful as well as identifying some of the key obstacles and learning. All of this provides hugely valuable information for educators, young people, community leaders, and policy folks who are struggling against high-stakes tests and looking for ideas and insights to bring to the work in their schools and communities.

Check out the executive summary, the full report, and an article by Monty Neill in Valerie Strauss's Answer Sheet in The Washington Post. And a big thanks to Monty, Lisa, the FairTest staff, and the many individuals and foundations who have supported FairTest's work.

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Posted on Nov 03, 2014 - 03:35 PM by Dana Bennis

LBS Session B: Love and Learning, Boricua Style

IDEA's Learning Breakthrough Series came together in Puerto Rico in September for Learning Session B. We were fifty educators, organizers, and community leaders across seven teams from Mississippi, Oregon, Vermont, New York City, Minnesota, New England, and Puerto Rico, plus National Fellows who function as LBS Advisors, IDEA Staff, and facilitators. This was the second of four gatherings of the LBS, following on the heels of the first of the three Action Periods.

The LBS, as decribed in prior posts about Session A and the first Action Period, is a deep-dive research and action process designed to generate knowledge and learning around a focus question, which for this LBS is:

What connections and approaches to practice, policy, public narrative, and strategy support the meaningful and sustained engagement of all young people and communities in education, while honoring the wisdom and differences of varying local contexts? 

Our challenge over the four days of Session B: to share team progress and challenges, support teams in creating a new plan for the next action period, begin work towards a shared analysis across teams, and ground our work in the culture, history, and reality of the Puerto Rican, or Boricua, nation.  

Our time in Puerto Rico was structured around group learning experiences and conversations alongside team-focused time to reflect and build out local plans of action. Inspired by feedback from Session A and the suggestion by Boricua Team co-Senior Fellow Josué McGrath Rosario, the driver sessions -- time to focus on how change happens in the four drivers of education practice, policy, public narrative, and strategy -- were constructed as opportunities to learn about and engage with ongoing projects and leaders in Puerto Rico. This gave everyone the chance to dive into actual successes and challenges in Puerto Rico, and, in the case of the practice driver, the opportunity to see two powerful schools in action: Diego Vazquez Elementary...

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Posted on Oct 21, 2014 - 11:05 AM by Dana Bennis

Sustainable Schools Project Learns from Puerto Rico

Students at Diego Vazquez School. Photo credit David Loitz (c) 2014(c) David Loitz 2014

This is a guest post by Ryan Morra, community organizer collaborating with a Vermont Team supported by IDEA. Ryan works with Shelburne Farms in Vermont as the Education for Sustainability Partnerships Coordinator and EducatorThis blog was first published on Shelburne Farms' website here.

Laughter, clapping, and salsa music filled the air as students from Escuela Diego Vázquez and Nuestra Escuela in Caguas, Puerto Rico enthusiastically guided us through their schools and got us to play some of their local games like gallitos and Chequi Morena. These students spoke with passion about what it means to have teachers and school leaders who care deeply about who they are as unique individuals. Hearing their stories and seeing the fruits of their actions – a radically changed local park, a new urban agriculture farm, marches for social justice, and students and teachers excited to come to school each day – underscored the importance of student-centered learning. One of the many messages I am taking home from la Isla del Encanto is that educating for sustainability must put youth in the driver’s seat of the learning process.

How was it that I ended up in Puerto Rico representing Shelburne Farms? Well, for the last several years, Shelburne Farms has been part of a team working to transform education in the Green Mountain State and elsewhere. Our Vermont team is one of many brought together through IDEA, the Institute for Democratic Education in America. The trip was part of IDEA’s two-year Learning Breakthrough Series, where teams from around the United States and Puerto Rico host a five-day summit to learn from each others’ practices and to highlight bright spots in education in the host community. Before the Learning Breakthrough Series, Vermont hosted education innovation tours that brought in teams from Puerto Rico, Mississippi, Minnesota, Oregon, and New York.

(c) Ryan Morra 2014During this Learning Breakthrough...

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Posted on Oct 15, 2014 - 01:36 PM by Shawn Strader

“Healing” and “Love”

This is a guest post from long-time friend, organizer, and family member of IDEA, Darcy Bedortha. Her writing comes shortly after a recent visit to Puerto Rico for Session B of IDEA's Learning Breakthrough Series. To read more of Darcy's splendid writing, be sure to see her highly acclaimed piece showcased on Living in Dialogue titled, 15 Months in Virtual Charter Hell: A Teacher's Tale.

It is difficult to capture Puerto Rico in words. I’ve been struggling for a week to do so, wanting to share my experience and yet limited by this language thing... My journey with IDEA began nearly four years ago, in a much different latitude and season, but with the same centering of the heart. This week brought new faces to the table, and found some sadly absent. But life and love and the work move on.

I’m always amazed by the wisdom in the room when IDEA people gather. The presence of these hearts and minds has become a foundation for me, a deeply-rooted refuge I can return to for connection and inspiration when I struggle to make sense of the world. This community grounds me and gives my heart a safe place to rest when seeking shelter from the battlefield of injustice. As I look back over this year with IDEA, and over my own worlds, both professional and personal, the words that stand out are “healing” and “love”. How right that both words also filled the spaces I experienced in Puerto Rico, so thick sometimes I breathed them. I listened to stories of strength, courage and commitment to a vision of self-determination for a people overshadowed for centuries by a series of foreign empires. I saw first-hand the power of love and community in schools, rising against all odds to meet challenges and empower their students to become leaders of social change and justice.

This year has given me an exhausting and exhilarating array of experiences; from heart-warming to heart-breaking it has been a year of growth, change, acceptance and denial... a twelve-month walk-the-talk...

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Posted on Oct 13, 2014 - 03:14 PM by Shawn Strader

Isla del Encanto

This is a guest post by Jenerra Williams, IDEA National Fellow. Jenerra teaches first and second grade at Mission Hill School and lives in Boston, MA. This blog was first published as a submission to Mission Hill's weekly newsletter which can be found on their website and here.

Isla Del Encanto – The Island of Enchantment. Puerto Rico has enchanted me indeed in many ways. From its landscape that is picture perfect no matter where you look to its food that fed my stomach and my soul. The music and the dance still beat within me and I can still hear the ocean just before I sleep. Lastly, the people... warm smiles, and genuine hugs all to make sure that I felt welcome.

My work with IDEA (Institute for Democratic Education in America) is what took me to Puerto Rico. I was asked to help facilitate the second in a series of three conferences they are hosting (Learning Breakthrough Series). These conferences bring teams of community/educational organizers from around the country together to talk about and plan how to move their work forward around four areas: practice, policy, strategy and narrative. These organizers/ educators are amazing people. The passion, sincerity and commitment they pour into their work is exemplary. I felt so honored to be among them and so at home. As a part of the conference we got to tour two schools, both in the city of Caguas: Escuela Diego Vázquez and Nuestra Escuela ( There is not enough room here to tell you about these schools. It would take days! However, I will say this – their work is extraordinary.

Justo Méndez Arámburu, founder of Nuestra Escuela, says that the school is “a community based organization that offers support services – bio, psycho, social, academic – to develop talents and initiatives” and is “founded in love”. Sound familiar? On the tour of both schools, I drew many parallels to MHS – the close knit staff, the strong adult/student relationships, the student led...

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Posted on Oct 07, 2014 - 03:21 PM by Shawn Strader

Special Announcement: IDEA’s New Executive Director

Special Announcement
Albert Sykes is the new Executive Director of IDEA

Albert Sykes has been named the next Executive Director of the Institute for Democratic Education in America (IDEA) and will begin November 1st.

Albert is a native son of Mississippi and led the organization of the National Youth Congress for the 50th Anniversary of Freedom Summer and has been an IDEA organizer and fellow for three years.

Albert has a powerful personal story, one that is rooted in the struggles and search for quality education through community organizing and youth advocacy. The proud father of three sons, Albert grew up in the Shady Oaks community around the corner from where NAACP member and civil rights activist Medgar Evers lived and died. Evers has been one of Sykes’ guiding lights in doing the work needed to move Mississippi and our nation forward. Becoming a student of the Algebra Project and a mentee of Bob Moses brought Evers into Sykes’ life, and made his sacrifices tangible to the then teenager. Through this experience, Sykes gained much firsthand knowledge and understanding of Black Mississippi’s struggle for justice, equity, and full citizenship.

Over the past decade, Albert has served as the Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Young People’s Project, helped organize the “Finding Our Folk Tour” in response to Hurricane Katrina, and has been active in the development of Independent Television Services’ “The Masculinity Project” sponsored by the Ford Foundation.

IDEA’s new Board President, Kwesi Rollins says, “While leadership transitions can be tricky, the Board couldn’t be more pleased about the possibilities under Albert’s leadership. With Albert playing this new leadership role, the IDEA family of staff members, organizers, national fellows, and supporters is in good hands.”

Sykes officially becomes Executive Director of IDEA on November 1, 2014, taking over the role held for the last 4 years by Scott Nine, who remains on the IDEA...

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Posted on Oct 01, 2014 - 10:22 AM by Shawn Strader

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