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Rodel’s Jackie Norton on priorities, compromise and the evolution of education


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  • Lisa Irish/Arizona Education News Service

Jackie Norton HP

Jackie Norton says bringing together Arizona leaders is key to help create a world-class system of public schools in Arizona.

As president and CEO of Rodel Foundation of Arizona, Norton leads statewide initiatives to do just that by improving student achievement in math,  preparing student teachers through mentors to become successful teachers in high-poverty schools and assisting aspiring principals through mentoring to become administrators at high-need schools.

“Arizona will become a great education state once we have identified our resources and strengths, and have built a strong community that is willing to make the investments that can guide education’s evolution thoughtfully,” Norton said.

Despite calls for education reform from both sides of the political aisle, Norton said that’s not the answer.

Rodel’s Jackie Norton on priorities, compromise and the evolution of education Jackie-NortonInside

Jackie Norton says bringing together Arizona leaders is key to help create a world-class system of public schools in Arizona. As president and CEO of Rodel Foundation of Arizona, she leads statewide initiatives to do just that.

“The reality is education does not need reformation. We don’t need to tear it down and start again, but education and the entities that support it must continually evolve,” Norton said.

Instead, she said the answer lies in the classroom, where great teaching and learning take place, and in administrators’ and leaders’ support to ensure that great teachers are able to lead student success.

“It is support from the Legislature and the communities in Arizona that ensure our schools will have the tools to be accountable for leading successful citizens in the 21st century,” Norton said.

Q: As Rodel Foundation of Arizona strives to make Arizona’s Pre-K through 12 public education system one of the best in the country by 2020, what three things need to happen and what three things need to be overcome?

A: If we were to narrow the long list of things that need to happen to improve Arizona’s education system to Rodel’s top three priorities they would be the following:

  1. Take all that we’ve learned from a decade of work in the elementary school math space and leverage it into a statewide initiative aimed at building competency in math for teachers and students in the early years of education. Math success is as strong an indicator of future academic success as reading and literacy, yet we don’t focus early enough on building a strong mathematical foundation.
  2. Build upon the success of our Teacher and Principal Initiatives to improve overall teacher quality and create a pipeline of exceptional school leaders in every district. We know that, as in any profession, people who develop a strong foundation, learn from effective mentors and are supported from the start are more likely to succeed and remain invested in their career choice. Likewise, seasoned professionals are more likely to work to advance their careers or provide guidance for beginners if they are acknowledged and recognize their own success. We need to attract, select, develop and advance the human capital in education.
  3. When we find an effective educational program or strategy, we need to figure out how to replicate it in schools that are not as successful in that area. If we are going to move the needle on education in Arizona, we need to always be on the lookout for new ways to prepare all students for success and be ready to collaborate and invest in programs and strategies that bring these opportunities to fruition.

In order for us to make these priorities a reality, the following three challenges need to be overcome:

  1. We can no longer rely on the myth of inborn genetic math ability. There is no such thing as a “math person,” there are only people who have learned through developing confidence, persistence and a willingness to work hard. We need to make sure teachers, students and families know that anyone can do math if they have the right tools and believe it is worth their time and energy.
  2. Education needs to be viewed as a profession, as well as a vocation. This mindset should be evident in educators as well as in the larger community.
  3. The polarization of the country as reflected in the education debate. How we choose to educate our children is never free of disagreement, but without continued collaboration and compromise no one solution will ever gain the traction that it needs to improve the system.

Q: Education can’t reach these ambitious goals alone. Rodel’s support is an example of this. How does Rodel, a private foundation, get other organizations, and people in education, philanthropy and business involved?

A: Rodel is committed to collaborating with other groups and individuals who share our commitment.

All A’s for Arizona was an early effort to convene educators, philanthropists, business men and women, and elected officials to discuss challenges and look for shared solutions to improve our education system.

An example of this is our partnership with Expect More Arizona, with whom we host bi-annual meetings to discuss various challenges and solutions in Arizona’s education system.

We must continue to look for new ways to leverage our years of experience and strong foundation of integrity to bring organizations and people together. The scale and complexity of our education system cannot be solved by any individual organization.

Public-private partnerships and collective impact models are essential to moving the needle on education in Arizona.