FOR RELEASE ON: March 10, 2021
Jane Feinberg, Full Frame Communications
Tower Foundation Recommits to Essex County Learning Community Network for Educators to Better Meet Students’ Diverse Assets and Needs Addresses Post-Pandemic Realities and Opportunities
March 9, 2021 — At its most recent Board meeting, Trustees of the Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation voted to continue funding the Essex County Learning Community (ECLC) for another five years, beginning in January 2022. The ECLC, which has been funded by the Foundation since 2018, supports educators in meeting the diverse learning assets and needs of students in the County’s public schools, especially those with learning disabilities, learning and attention issues, and exposure to trauma—as well those who have not been served well under past and current systems because of structural inequities based on race, culture, income, language, and gender.
The ECLC was created in response to several interrelated challenges that fall under one umbrella: too many students in our public schools today do not receive the learning and skills they need in order to thrive as adults – while too many teachers in today’s public schools lack what they need to help students succeed. A 2019 national study revealed only 17% of educators feel “very prepared” to teach diverse learners.
“We are committed to building the brightest future possible for Essex County, which translates to providing all young people with what they need in order to sustain themselves and strengthen their families and communities. The pandemic has only exacerbated the already-existing challenges,” said Tracy Sawicki, Executive Director of the Tower Foundation. “The ECLC has demonstrated that it is well-positioned to meet students’ needs by providing gold-standard professional development to educators and offering them a collaborative space to embrace shared challenges.”
Currently, the ECLC consists of 11 school districts. Each district constitutes a team of approximately a dozen members, including superintendents, assistant superintendents, department directors, principals, data specialists, guidance counselors, and general/special education teachers. This cross-fertilization ensures that the cutting-edge inclusive practices are diffused across each district and across Essex County. Members participate in a two-year intensive professional development journey. Thereafter, they continue to participate in a variety of learning and leadership development experiences. To date, two cohorts of districts have participated. Cohort 1 includes Beverly, Danvers, Gloucester, Haverhill, Rockport, and Swampscott. Cohort 2 districts are Andover, Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School, Hamilton-Wenham, Manchester-Essex, and Saugus. Recruitment for Cohort 3 will begin in May 2021.
Small and medium-sized school districts such as those in Essex County are especially hard-pressed to innovate on their own. The ECLC serves as an innovation laboratory for member school districts—creating the time and space for facilitated conversation and reflection, state-of-the-art learning with national and regional experts, and customized coaching. Topics include inclusive instruction, racial equity, and change leadership, as well as social emotional learning and mental health for both educators and students. Evaluation results show that the ECLC increases both cross- and in-district collaboration; promotes positive mindset and changes in practice; and empowers participants to receive more support and resources to better balance the demands of their jobs. One educator described it as “the best professional development of my career…empowering, energizing, and inspiring.”
The ECLC is directed by Full Frame Communications in partnership with the Center for Collaborative Education, a national non-profit. Additional funding for the ECLC is provided by the Essex County Community Foundation.
“On the heels of a pandemic, we must think carefully about how to optimize the talents of every young person and our educators are pivotal in our youths’ success,,” said Beth Francis, President of the Essex County Community Foundation. “Our support of ECLC’s mission and work ensures that our educators are equipped to serve the whole child and counter the stigma that attaches to far too many students. We believe that in difference lies strength and with additional supports from ECLC, our educators can achieve success for students.”