Leadership is optimism and optimism is action in public education

By Alex Elizondo

The honor was all mine to steer an organization focused on tackling the most important challenge of our time: ensuring all children are set up to achieve and lead lives of choice and opportunity. This pursuit is demanding; however, I believe now more than ever that accelerating the pace of positive change for students is possible. My time as CEO of Good Reason Houston taught me many lessons that I wish to share in this message.

To go farther faster, we must anchor in the notion that leadership is optimism and optimism is action. Leaders must exhibit optimism through actions. Actions must lead to improved student outcomes and experiences.  

In 2023, educators and schools are at the epicenter of society’s toughest challenges – gun violence, identity struggles, and pandemic recovery to name a few. Our bandwidth to address these challenges, the problems of now, is limited by the energy dedicated to topics that should not be disputed. Core topics of assessments, accountability, aggressive interventions in low-performing campuses, and the common qualities that make up high-quality schools no longer require debate. They require action. 

Most debates in public education stall action. These debates are motivated by adult interests, not student welfare. The following truisms should be above debate:

1. Accountability in public education is essential.

Consistent school accountability systems are required to drive quality schools and advance equitable student outcomes. There must be transparent information on how our schools are doing. Low-performing schools are not serving students well. Period. A – F school accountability systems are clear, transparent, and family friendly. C, D, and F schools must be supported to improve. The debate over the measurement systems is a distraction. Instead, energy should be directed toward using the information assessments and accountability systems provide to ameliorate our schools and advance student achievement.

2. Tolerance for multi-year failing schools is unconscionable.

If a school is persistently low-performing, students are constantly missing opportunities to meet their potential. We are cheating children and their families if they only have low-performing schools to attend. The most important role of district leaders is to swiftly and boldly address low-performing campuses. High-quality school deserts should not exist in our city. 

3. The elements of high-quality schools are not a mystery.

There are many types of good schools with different ethos and strengths. However, all high-quality schools have core commonalities. 

  • Adults have high and clear expectations for each other and for students. 
  • School leaders are instructional experts who believe they are responsible for teacher and student success. 
  • Students have access to rigorous on grade level curriculum 
  • Teachers are trained to use curriculum effectively and held accountable for doing so.
  • Assessments to monitor student progress occur regularly and students who are not mastering grade level content receive additional help. 
  • Students and parents are provided transparent updates on progress against academic goals.
  • Cultural, social, and emotional supports exist to augment academic experiences and create safe conditions for students to learn. 

Every day while leading Good Reason Houston I was reminded that strong implementation and detail-oriented execution are the difference makers. Knowing what to do to improve our schools is only part one. The very hard part is consistent and rigorous implementation of the actions needed to build and sustain better learning environments. Corners cannot be cut. Sophisticated management is needed to operationalize the known and needed changes. Our city has many leaders capable of doing this, but we need so many more. And we must not assume good ideas automatically translate to good execution, otherwise we will constantly be baffled by why progress stagnates. 

In conclusion, my hope is fueled by the fact that we know how to drive student achievement, and I believe if adults summon the courage, we can quell the unnecessary debates and partner together to drum up demand for more great schools and increase the supply of great schools through excellent execution of proven policies and practices. Good Reason Houston will always champion and support courageous action-oriented leaders. 

The journey of launching and leading Good Reason Houston over the last five and a half years was humbling and inspiring. I will forever remain a fierce advocate for education progress in our city. I will put my optimism into action daily because I believe in Houstonians of all ages. 

For every child, in every neighborhood,

Alex Elizondo 
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