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Education Policy Experts Discuss Cradle-to-Career Pathways As Key to Social and Economic Mobility | News

Education policy experts said cradle-to-career pathways — comprehensive programs which support a student’s education at all stages of their life — were key to addressing the nation’s educational challenges during a Thursday panel at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The panel featured four education policy experts: Russel W. Booker, CEO of the Spartanburg Academic Movement; Cecilia Gutierrez, Managing Director and Portfolio Lead of Blue Meridian Partners; Kwame Owusu-Kesse ’06, CEO of Harlem Children’s Zone; and Sondra Samuels, President and CEO of Northside Achievement Zone.

It was moderated by Paul Reville, a professor of the practice at HGSE and the founding director of EdRedesign, an organization which provides support to cradle-to-career place-based partnerships.

Place-based partnerships, programs which provide localized support networks for students, seek to remedy what Reville called the “factory model” of “teaching to the average” by providing personalized education to students.

“There is no such thing as ‘average,’” Reville said.

Sondra said one of the advantages of place-based models is their ability to target locations in which children have historically been underserved.

“We are failing them,” Sondra said, regarding children who have been neglected by the educational establishment. “I include myself, I include you. But any obstacle to your path becomes the path. If we are the problem we are also the solution. So I have a lot of hope.”

Owusu-Kesse, who grew up in a single-parent household plagued by domestic violence, recounted how his own life was transformed by the opportunity to receive a quality education. After receiving a scholarship earlier in life, Owusu-Kesse went on to graduate from Harvard with a degree in Economics.

“Education changed my life trajectory,” Owusu-Kesse said. “There is something about being surrounded by adults who believe in your potential.”

Gutierrez similarly recounted how she became aware of the importance of education early in life.

“I knew from the age of seven years old that I was the greatest hope for my community and for my family,” said Gutierrez, one of four children of a single immigrant Dominican mother.

While Gutierrez and her sister both hold undergraduate and master’s degrees, Gutierrez’s brothers did not graduate from high school.

“I’ve always wanted to figure out how you can eliminate luck from the equation,” she said.

Gutierrez said her personal experience with education led her to dedicate her life to securing funding for education reform.

“All of us in the social sector space go after the same dollars,” Gutierrez said. “The scarcity mindset needs to be changed to an abundance mindset.”

She said she joined Blue Meridian Partners, a philanthropic model designed to aggregate capital and invest in solutions at scale, in order to ensure continued support for reform projects.

Owusu-Kesse said that policymakers from other countries have come to him for advice on how to reform their local education systems, adding that the solutions he has pursued in the U.S. can be replicated globally.

“We’re not marketing, why are you visiting us?” Owusu-Kesse recalls asking. “Each of them says, ‘we have a minority that we’re trying to figure out how to bring holistic resources so they can thrive.’”

“So this is not just an American story — this is an international story,” he added.

—Staff writer Anna R. Gamburd can be reached at .