By Eddie Koen
Two weeks ago, I had the pleasure of joining over 3,500 people at the Los Angeles Convention Center, where we came together to share, learn, and inspire one another in the work we do to build leadership around educational equity. For many, it was the first time in almost three years we could convene in such a way – hugging or high-fiving friends and colleagues from across the country and across the education ecosystem.
Rounding out my fourth month as IEL President, I met many great people from our networks and partnerships, but also saw old friends and familiar faces from my days in Cincinnati, Denver, and beyond. As I’m settling back in at my new home in the Nation’s Capital post-conference, I’m thinking about the new knowledge, wisdom, and motivation we have all taken back with us to our communities, schools, and workplaces across the country, and couldn’t be more excited about the coalitions and alignment we are building!
IEL’s Community Schools and Family Engagement conferences are always wonderful opportunities for professional development and connection, but this year’s combined conference topped them all. Leaders from IEL networks and our partner organizations hosted 138 different workshops over three days, offering skill-building and innovative implementation strategies and solutions, sharing research, and applying knowledge across our eight different conference strands.
Before the conference even officially began, almost 700 folks also joined our pre-conference sessions to build a foundation on core topics like collaborative leadership and structures that support Community Schools, as well as learn how to leverage other key strategies to improve student outcomes.
I loved seeing the excited faces of the almost 600 people who were boarding buses to one of our 16 different site visits in nearby communities as well, where they got to observe first-hand how Community Schools and family engagement strategies are being implemented on the ground and speak with those directly implementing or benefitting from the work! I myself thoroughly enjoyed an opportunity to visit students, teachers, and program partners at nearby Griffith STEAM Magnet Middle School, a Los Angeles Education Partnership Community School, alongside Deputy Secretary of Education Dr. Cindy Marten.
This year also happens to be the 25th year since the Coalition for Community Schools was created. The turnout at this year’s conference shows how much the networks that make up the Coalition have grown, and how we have collectively built this powerful movement to transform education and improve outcomes for children and families. We have much to do and far to go, but together as leaders – whether parents or youth, school or district, community organizers or union activists, elected officials, Community School coordinators or initiative leaders, education, justice or health system professionals, early childhood educators or university partners, disability advocates, or researchers – we are building a better education system for ALL students, especially from our underserved communities.