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New IEL Leaders Pledge to Speak Up for the Disadvantaged, Integrate Programs

The Institute for Educational Leadership, the 53-year-old Washington-based organization that runs leadership-training programs, a community schools initiative, and other workforce development initiatives, has new leadership.

The new leaders are pledging to be more vocal about issues that affect "disadvantaged communities," and to speak out about topics that affect immigrant, poor, and refugee communities, and individuals with disabilities. They have also vowed to streamline the myriad of programs under the group's umbrella in ways that will allow the initiatives to complement each other and ultimately strengthen the IEL's impact.  

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"We are trying to be much more forward thinking and make sure that folks have a full sense of what we do in this 53-year-old organization," said Kwesi Rollins, the director of leadership programs, who has been with the organization for 17 years.

Leading the change are some relatively new hires: Johan Uvin, a former acting assistant secretary of education in the Obama administration, who replaced the IEL's longtime president Martin Blank in February, and José Muñoz, who led the ABC Community School Partnership in Albuquerque before being tapped as director of the Coalition for Community Schools in September. (Blank also served as director of the Coalition for Community Schools.)

Uvin and Muñoz are part of a team that's taking a top-to-bottom look at the organization and will develop a strategic plan to carve out the direction of the IEL's operations over the next few decades. The plan is expected to be released by the end of the year, they said

The pledge to be more outspoken is a departure from the past, during which the non-partisan organization had refrained from publicly wading into hot-button issues.

"I am deeply committed to making sure that we are vocal and that we are not silent when it comes to advancing opportunities for the most vulnerable populations in our country," Uvin said.Jose Munoz.jpg

"We are one America, we are one group of people," he continued. "We care about black and brown students. We care about the undocumented youth. We care about immigrants and refugees. We care about the Muslim-American community. We care about people with disabilities—visible and invisible disabilities. We care about our families. And our goal is to lend our voice as the Institute for Educational Leadership to the public discourse around these issues."

The IEL's programs run the gamut from its flagship Education Policy Fellowship Program, a leadership development program that operates in 16 states and the District of Columbia; the Coalition for Community Schools, which provides research and training to individuals in schools and communities that are providing wraparound services to students and families; Family & Community Engagement Network; and The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth. (Disclosure: I attended the Washington, D.C. Education Policy Fellowship Program.)

As the organization begins developing a long-term plan, one concern that has already emerged is the need for the IEL to do a better job of integrating the many services that it provides to have a deeper impact in the communities in which it works.

Muñoz is drawing from some of his own experiences. He said he found the IEL to be a huge help while he was working on community schools and neighborhood partnerships in New Mexico, but he could have benefited a lot from tapping into the organization's other areas of expertise on disabilities and workforce development, he said. An integrated approach will make the community schools program much more robust, he said.

The organization may also tinker with its leadership programs to ensure that they are delivering the right content and experiences to prepare their graduates for the world in which they will work, Uvin.

"This transition represents the possibility to do an even better job of having coordinated impact," Rollins said.

Uvin, whose background includes working with "disconnected" or "opportunity" youths—about 5.5 million Americans between the ages of 16 to 25 who are not in school or in the workforce—and career and technical education, plans to bring that expertise to IEL's programming.

In that arena, the IEL is working on retooling apprenticeship programs into an "earn and learn model" to create avenues for opportunity youths to get paid while they are learning and obtain jobs when they complete the programs. A second initiative under consideration is providing mentoring opportunities for disconnected youths that will help them to start micro-enterprises in areas in which they have already expressed interest, such as setting up recording businesses.

"We are thinking right now about what could be the next iteration of these very effective mentoring programs that we have for 'opportunity youths' that will speak to the interests that they have," Uvin said. The IEL is considering possible pilot sites for the apprenticeship and mentoring programs in areas where the group already has deep ties, including Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.

Photo captions: 

1. Johan Uvin, president of the Institute for Educational Leadership

2. José Muñoz, director of the Coalition for Community Schools 

Photos courtesy the Institute for Educational Leadership 

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