Thursday, February 26, 2015

Let's Welcome Back Eric Gurna, LA's BEST New President & CEO

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Eric Gurna returns to LA's BEST and his old stomping ground to serve as President & CEO of LA's BEST, one of the largest and most influential afterschool initiatives in the country. LA's BEST was founded by Carla Sanger, who was a strong leader in California and across the country, helping to propel the afterschool movement.

Eric has been a long-time friend and colleague and we are excited to have him back on the West Coast. Below, we asked Eric a few questions about his transition to LA's BEST. You can learn more about Eric by clicking here.

Eric Gurna
President & CEO
Q: Welcome back to California. Can you say a little bit about your roots in California and with LA’s BEST
A: Thank you! I definitely consider myself a California boy. While I was born in New York and have lived on the East Coast for many years, I moved to Oakland, CA when I was nine years old, and graduated from public high school and university here. My family still lives in the Bay Area, so even when I’ve been living in the East I’ve always been out West on a regular basis. 

I moved to Los Angeles shortly after finishing graduate school in New York City, in 1998. I met with a few people in the youth development field and all of them mentioned LA’s BEST, so I knew I had to learn more. I joined the organization as Director of Staff Development and though I only worked in that position for a couple of years, I was lucky enough to be around for one of the first major organizational growth periods, and gained incredible experience being part of a team that was dedicated to increasing access and the scale of the program, while maintaining the spirit, culture and values that had made the program great to begin with. I continued working with the LA’s BEST team over the years from the outside, assisting with staff development, curriculum and other program resources.

Q: You created a very successful organization in New York, Development Without Limits, providing training and curriculum for afterschool programs. Can you say a little about why you left this to take over the reins at LA’s BEST? 
A: This was too huge of an honor, and opportunity, to pass up. I loved the work I was doing with the Development Without Limits (DWL) team, and am thrilled that the organization is in great hands and continues to thrive. Now I am so excited to get to work with the LA’s BEST team and all its partners, and the chance to lead the organization through this transition, and into the future. 

For the past fifteen years with DWL, I have worked with dozens of youth organizations and programs across the country in all kinds of settings, so I also see this new role as a chance to incorporate some of the innovative practices I’ve seen into LA’s BEST. Really what I’m most excited about, and what made me feel it was worth it to uproot my family and move across the country, is the LA’s BEST team – it is in amazing group of people who put young people and community at the center of everything they do.

Q: You are stepping into some large shoes. I am referring to the shoes of Carla Sanger. Can you say something about her influence on the field? 
Carla Sanger
Founder & Former CEO
A: Throughout this transition, it is amazing how many times people mention Carla’s shoes! Carla’s influence on the field is tremendous - she has been a key part of the driving force that has created statewide and local afterschool infrastructure and resources in California that just don’t exist (yet!) in other states. 

She’s been a force nationally as well – bringing the fresh air of honest dialogue, humility and inspiration to every conversation and collaboration she is a part of. But I think her biggest influence is on the many individuals she has worked with – she’s shown that you can be courageous and outspoken without having a large ego, that you can be sensitive enough to care deeply about how young people feel, but fierce enough to fight the good fight when you have to. For me personally, she has been my most important mentor, and someone I admire endlessly. To my good fortune, I still have her number, and I plan to use it as needed!

Q: What do you see as the next step for LA’s BEST? 
A: I don’t know yet! I only just started in this role February 17, and I don’t come into this with a preconceived notion of what changes are needed, or next steps. I need to learn a lot more about how things work – and maybe what isn’t working so well internally and in the field, before I can have that sort of plan. I do know that I want us always to be striving to create even warmer environments for kids, to listen closer to young people and to each other, and to be more creative in how we do so much with relatively little. In terms of the field, I’d love for LA’s BEST to connect with other afterschool programs more, to collaborate and build us all stronger.

Q: Could you comment on the LIAS learning principles?
A: I’ve been a fan of the LIAS learning principles from the beginning. I think they are a clear and succinct articulation of the values of most out of school time programs, and I think providing that language is very helpful as youth professionals interact with all the important stakeholders, and need to express what we are about and what we do. 
Eric Gurna joined LA’s BEST as CEO and President in February 2015. LA’s BEST Afterschool Enrichment Program, is a partnership between the City of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the private sector that operates in 195 schools. 

Previous to his arrival, Eric founded DWL in 2000 with the vision of supporting youth programs and schools to improve the quality of their work and create more youth-centered environments. There, he hosted the podcast, Please Speak Freely: Honest Conversations About Youth Development and Education, during which he interviews leaders and practitioners to shed light on key issues and explore different perspectives. Before founding DWL, Eric served as Director of Staff Development for LA´s BEST. He cofounded the LA Partnership for After School Education. Eric also worked for Educators for Social Responsibility and Rheedlen Centers for Children and Families (now Harlem Children’s Zone).

Eric holds a B.A. in Political Science from the University of California at Irvine and an M.S. in Urban Policy Analysis and Management from the New School for Social Research. He lives in Los Angeles, CA with his wife Elia, who is an artist, their two children, Rosalie and Rafael, and their two cats.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Looking into the Future: Words of Important Afterschool and Education Leaders

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha

To welcome in the new year, we posted a blog asking a number of afterschool leaders, "Looking into the future, what do you believe are the most important challenges and opportunities facing the afterschool movement?". Below is part 2, where we share responses of other afterschool leaders. 

Lucy Friedman,
The After School Corporation
"The challenge facing the after-school movement is that too many educators, funders and policy makers want to judge its quality by standardized test scores alone. And in the desire to close the achievement gap, there's too much emphasis on test prep and not enough focus on the life-enriching activities that foster curiosity, instill confidence, and ultimately lead to a passion for learning. Research, and anyone who’s ever watched a kid grow up, tells us that these characteristics are critically important for a successful adulthood." 

Pedro Noguera
Professor of Education
New York University
"The biggest challenge facing the afterschool movement involve equity; equity in access, equity in the quality of what is provided to children, equity in the skills and training of those who provide services to children.  Lack of equity is ultimately the critical factor driving disparities in learning outcomes (i.e. the so-called achievement gap), and it is manifest in the afterschool sector as well.  Access to high quality afterschool programs could also play a decisive role in reducing educational disparities but this will only occur if we remain vigilant in advocating for equity in the sector.  Clearly, it's not good enough for afterschool educators to do good work.  We must be sure that access to good, stimulating learning experiences are available to all children, regardless of where they live, what language they speak, who their parents are, or how much money they earn. This is really the civil rights issue of the 21st century.  The question we must ask ourselves is: how can each of us play a role in advancing equity in the communities where we work and live?"

Jane Quinn,
Vice President and Director of
National Center for Community Schools
Children's Aid Society
“Opportunities: Build on the emerging positive results from a variety of approaches, models and programs; capitalize on young people’s interests in high quality, active learning experiences; and help principals, teachers and other educators understand that after-school staff can be allies in helping young people rise to the occasion presented by the Common Core State Standards.

Challenges: Competition for funding; over-emphasis on standardized testing as the only measure of success; policy-makers searching for the quick fix rather than the real deal; and growing inequality as represented in nearly every phase of American life.”

Chris Smith
President & ED
Boston After School
and Beyond
"The greatest opportunity seems to be the broader recognition of the developmental and environmental factors that contribute to learning.  This should create a big opening for those in the after-school movement that are ready to put their approaches to the test in measurable ways.  In Boston, we are measuring critical aspects of the learning environment (aka, program quality) and transferable skills such as self-management, critical thinking, collaboration, and perseverance, which we call “power skills.”  When we begin to use the same vocabulary, we will see that the skills we focus on after school and during the summer are the very same ones that that young people need to succeed in college and the ones that employers value.

The major challenge we face is the field’s fragmented nature.  However, this challenge can become an opportunity when you look see fragmentation as diversity of approach and consider the vastly different learning needs of young people.  For this to happen, we need to unify ourselves in ways that allow policy-makers, school leaders, and funders to pursue a coherent and scalable solution.  In Boston, we do this through common standards and measurement.  In a sense, we are creating the equivalent of a box score for baseball or an exchange for the stock market.  This shared measurement platform allows programs to shine.  More than 50 organizations, serving thousands of young people, have stepped up to meet this challenge by collecting and sharing data so that we can identify programs’ strengths and address challenges, both as individual programs and as a unified network of providers."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

"Expanded" or "Extended" Learning: An Interview with President and Co-Founder of the National Center on Time & Learning

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
The afterschool and summer learning movement is not immune from collecting new jargon. As we move forward, there are two new terms that are being used in often confusing ways. Those terms are "expanded learning" and "extended learning". How are these terms different and are they meant to replace "afterschool" and "summer learning" programs. To add to the confusion, they are being used in different ways depending on what part of the country you come from.

To help us better understand these terms, we interviewed a host of afterschool leaders to ask them to help clarify. Below is an interview with Jennifer Davis, Co-Founder & President at The National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL). We offered a previous blog on this topic that included an interview with Jennifer Peck (Partnership for Children and Youth) and a second one that featured Lucy Friedman (TASC). 

Q: The term “expanded learning” is used differently by different people in different parts of the country. Can you give your definition of “expanded learning time and programs”?

Jennifer Davis,
Co-Founder & President
The National Center
on Time & Learning
A: NCTL’s definition of expanded learning time (ELT) is a school redesign model that provides students significantly more and better learning opportunities within an expanded school day and year. High quality expanded learning time schools provide students more individualized instruction and a well-rounded education that includes art, music, robotics, drama, sports, step dance and many other enrichments that make learning fun and engaging. In many ELT schools, community partners run these activities.  Adding significantly more time to the school calendar makes these things possible and also enables teachers to have more collaboration time to strengthen their craft.  Overall these school models are designed to ensure that all children in the high poverty schools have the opportunities they need to succeed. I recommend Wikipedia’s page on expanded learning time since it provides an overview and history of the movement. 

Q: In your mind, what is the difference between the terms “expanded learning” and “extended learning”?

A: In my experience, I have found that parents, teachers, and students rightfully fear “more of the same” and that’s exactly what “extended learning” conveys. However, “expanded learning” connotes offering children broader educational experiences, which is what NCTL advocates for. Everyone agrees, we can’t simply tack time on to the school calendar and expect to see our schools improve and our students to be engaged. Instead, expanded learning time enables schools to truly rethink the entire school day/year and produce significant improvements in the overall design of the school that can result in much more engaged learning that better prepares students for their futures.
Q: Are you hoping that the field begins using the terms “expanded learning programs” to replace “afterschool and summer programs”? 

A: No. I think it’s important to differentiate between these terms even though after-school, summer and ELT programs are all important and parents should have choices among these options.  Expanded learning time differs from afterschool and summer programs because ELT requires all students in a given school to attend the longer day and/or year, and the additional time becomes a dependent component of the school’s educational practices and objectives. Afterschool and summer programs are crucial as well but they are voluntary.

For twenty years, Jennifer Davis has held positions at the federal, state, and local levels focused on improving educational opportunities for children across the United States. Jennifer’s previous positions have included serving as U.S. Department of Education Deputy Assistant Secretary, Special Assistant to U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, Special Assistant to the Executive Director of the National Governors Association, and Executive Director of Boston Mayor Tom Menino’s after-school learning initiative.  

In 2000, Jennifer became the co-founder and president of Massachusetts 2020, an education organization dedicated to expanding learning opportunities for children across Massachusetts. Massachusetts 2020 led eight strategic initiatives to improve education and after-school learning opportunities for high poverty students across the state. 

On October 2, 2007, Massachusetts 2020 launched a national organization, the National Center on Time & Learning (NCTL), which is dedicated to expanding and modernizing the American school calendar to meet the needs of students in the 21st century. 

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