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Three Words from Geoffrey Canada: Time, Resources and Accountability

Last week, I had the privilege of hearing from Geoffrey Canada, the inspirational leader behind the Harlem Children’s Zone, along with 400 community leaders and philanthropists in Jacksonville.

JPEF invited Mr. Canada to share a message about how communities can embrace public education and help close the achievement gap in our inaugural EDTalks event, a speaker series we launched to bring thought leaders to Jacksonville.

For our first speaker, we wanted to bring someone who has proven how much is possible in education when we set an ambitious goal and work together, as Dr. Diana Greene, our new superintendent, has done in her first few months.

Mr. Canada’s organization has achieved remarkable results for children in one of the most impoverished neighborhoods in New York City, with more than 90 percent of high school seniors accepted to college. His model depends heavily on supporting students both in and out of school, a whole-community approach that can be a model for Jacksonville as we continue our journey to an excellent education for every child.

What did I take away from his speech?

Three words were ringing in my ears: Time, resources and accountability.

Mr. Canada said we cannot expect to improve public education without investing time. It takes time to see results, and we must give school and system leaders time to work with the community to develop and implement a powerful vision and see the fruits of their labor. If we are impatient, we risk losing the progress that’s underway.

It also takes resources. Mr. Canada estimated that Harlem Children’s Zone invests about $3,000 per child to support students in addition to the funding their schools receive to educate them. He said you can’t expect to educate students “in the deep end” of the pool with the same resources you spend on children in the shallow end - students who come from advantaged families and neighborhoods.

And finally, accountability. When we do invest the time and resources, we must hold ourselves and our schools accountable for producing results. But it’s unfair to hold schools accountable when we haven’t given them the necessary inputs to see results.

It’s not just Geoffrey Canada’s results that inspire me. It’s also his call for equity. Mr. Canada points out the double standard we too often have for children from poor and wealthy families. We don’t second guess whether a student from a wealthy family should expect to go to college. So why would we for any other student? The Harlem Children’s Zone relies on data to make itself accountable, but it also doesn’t use data to question whether its children deserve to participate in dance class or to go to summer camp.

If that’s what we’d want for our own children, why would we want anything different for other children?