Reflections from 2012

Eric Schwarz is the Co-Founder and CEO of Citizen Schools. 2012 began with numerous trips to Chicago, where I visited a school across the street from the United Center (where the Bulls play), took the El, had several cold (and yes "Windy") walks down Michigan Avenue, and got to know a great Italian restaurant at O’Hare airport. The year also saw an increased Citizen Schools focus on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math), cool partnerships with the White House on several STEM projects, the addition of new corporate partners and board members, and some impressive impact results.

It’s been an exciting year with lots to celebrate, so as we enter this holiday season I want to say thank you to everyone who makes Citizen Schools such a special place, and such a force for expanded opportunity.

1. Launches.

All of those trips to Chicago led to the Citizen Schools expansion to Illinois where we now provide programming at two partner schools-- one in the Back of the Yards neighborhood, and one in Pilsen/Little Village. Chicago organizations such as A Better Chicago, AOL, MB Financial, Deloitte, Google, Cognizant, Cisco and United Airlines embraced our mission, stepping out of the office and into the classroom to impact public education.

Continuing down that road of new beginnings, in October we launched a bold three-year initiative called Catalyst, which will mobilize 7,500 professionals in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields to lead apprenticeships in middle schools across the country. With support from partners Google, Cognizant and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, thousands of students will be able to experience a catalyst moment– that spark of discovery that ignites a lasting passion for learning. As the need for improvement in STEM education becomes increasingly apparent, Citizen Schools is at the forefront of impacting systemic change, working closely with the White House to replicate our Citizen Teacher and Teaching Fellow models.

2. Partnerships.

This fall we welcomed a new National Leadership Partner, the Walmart Foundation. Their investment will help us reach even more students and boost achievement in reading and math over the next two years. Walmart has a deep commitment to improving education in America, donating more than $50 million to fund education initiatives in 2011.

In November, Citizen Schools was recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a top applicant in the Investing in Innovation (i3) Competition. This recognition speaks to the growing belief in our ELT model and demonstrates the powerful impact of private-public partnerships on education. Pending a 15% match from the private sector this $3 million grant will jump start momentum for the Catalyst Initiative.

This year we also witnessed the power of partnership in school districts–expanding our program to six new partner schools across the country. This growth speaks to the leadership of our partner districts and the commitment to our joint goal to close the opportunity and achievement gaps faced by our nation’s students. We also had the immense pleasure of welcoming Steven Schwartz of Cognizant and Peter Gorman of Amplify (and the former superintendent of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools) to our national Board of Directors.

3. Evidence of Impact. 

This fall Citizen Schools released impressive results from the first two years of a three year Expanded Learning Time pilot. Schools that were previously low-performing, experienced significant growth under the ELT model. With an average proficiency gain in English language arts and math of 10.4 percentage points over the past two years, Citizen Schools is a proven model of turnaround success according to U.S. Department of Education standards.

We could never have built lasting partnerships, sparked big ideas or achieved this amazing success without the support from our staff, volunteers, funders, families, school districts, school partners and most importantly our amazing students. Despite challenges both large and small and a few forks in the road, it has been a remarkable year in Citizen Schools history.

Thank you for your continued belief that we can change public education America. Here's hoping for an even better 2013.