Reflections on the Council of the Great City Schools Conference

I spent a cold and rainy day in Boston to attend the Council of the Great City Schools national conference. Over 1,000 people registered, a mix of school district personnel, non-profit organizations and for-profit companies that offer services to schools and districts.

I presented with Chris Smith from Boston After School and Beyond, Patrick Duhon from the Providence Public School District and Brean Wright, the proud principal of Roger Williams Middle School in Providence. Together, we represented CBASS (visit for more info). In each city, schools and community organizations are partnering to expand learning for students. I learn whenever I spend time with these guys.

Three things struck me from the rest of the conference:

1. The consensus around the importance of a well-rounded education. The lunch keynote was actor Tony Plana (best known to me as Ignacio Suarez from Ugly Betty, a show I secretly loved) who got a standing ovation after saying how theater production can be used to teach core academics and how critical arts education is to spark learning and make academic content relevant.

2. The lack of concern over the prices of things.Yes, there is no “new money,” so every new effort means cutting back on something else. But, that said, districts still have large budgets and stiff challenges to meet, so conference attendees didn’t seem to shy away from successful efforts that bear a cost if they could help deliver on district goals. (This comes with the caveat that this was merely a conference; I didn’t see anyone tearing up next year’s budget and starting from scratch. But I also didn’t see anyone stop taking notes once they heard something had a cost, which I’ve seen at a lot of other places.)

3. The use of technology. Many people had iPads with them, and downloaded PowerPoints during sessions rather than use hard copies. Adults in education seem to be slowly making the transition, but can we make the same transition for kids, while assuring that they actually benefit from it?