(Re)Design Your Anchor School

By Sara Mierke


Teachers, students, parents, school alumni, and neighbors in communities across the country are calling for schools that are responsive and relevant to local conditions, cultures, economies, and families.

At AnchorEd we believe . . .

  • student learning becomes transformational when a school is deeply integrated with its community
  • schools that model compassion, inclusive local engagement, and equity-informed social impact see those values reflected in their students
  • an alliance of school-community coalitions committed to an equitable, just society can shift education and sustain neighborhood well-being.

The Anchor Schools Project (ASP) is a whole-school change model that supports schools to bring operations, academics, and culture in alignment with their missions, the aspirations of today’s students, and the needs of society. Our goal is to achieve equitable social mobility for all youth.

Our Solution to strengthen school communities through Collaborative Teaching, Learning, and Leadership starts with administrators. (Re)Design Your Anchor School is a place-based learning and design lab for senior school administrators. We take leaders out of the school building and into the community to jump start a renovation process grounded in local relationships and shared priorities. Our curriculum uses human-centered design, equity-informed collaboration practices, and organizational change strategies to support administrators in crafting a roadmap for their school to become a local, impactful anchor in a thriving and resilient community. Participants can choose to work with just their school admin team or they can join a multi-school cohort.

This program focuses on senior school administrators and their needs as impact leaders in communities challenged and changed by the pandemic, economic inequities, and racial reckoning. Our experiential, place-based curriculum [asset-mapping, listening tours, coalition-building] and equity-informed coaching supports administrators in their quest to provide students a quality education that matters. Participants finish (Re)Design Your Anchor School with a tailored Anchor Schools Roadmap, an enhanced local network with other anchor “micro-institutions”, and tools to lead their school’s renovation. Some leaders will choose the DIY approach and get started on their Roadmap on their own. Others will choose a guided process, engaging the AnchorEd team to support continued work. All participants and their schools will be a part of the ASP Alliance, a community of inquiry and action forming across the country.

Expected Impact

Expected Impact

Anchor Schools will be catalysts in the fight for equity in America’s neighborhoods. When school leaders come together — and join other community leaders — to build coalitions, they contribute to local learning ecosystems that are responsive to the education, career, wealth-building, wellness, and life-long learning needs of residents.

The Anchor Schools Project is in the pilot phase. We are working with two school leadership teams in the U.S. as well as the University of Central Asia in Tajikistan. Aspects of the ASP model come from our team’s experience working in diverse settings from a pan-African leadership academy in South Africa to public schools across The Balkans to independent schools in Cleveland, Baltimore, and beyond.

The ASP model and the (Re)Design Your Anchor School program is rooted in core approaches to learning, organizational change, and community development that have demonstrated impact:

Experiential and Place-Based Learning: Administrators will learn by doing in their communities. They engage in a cyclical process of experience-reflection-conceptualizing-experimenting to generate a vision and an action plan for their school.

Design-Thinking: A human-centered design approach ensures that school leaders initiate and learn the tools to engage their teams in ongoing, iterative organizational change that prioritizes organizational alignment, curriculum integration and community responsiveness.

Anchor Strategies: Major universities and medical centers (“Eds and Meds”) around the country that identify themselves as Anchor Institutions have been intentionally investing in their local neighborhoods since the 1980s, leveraging their resources for the well-being of the communities in which they are located. The ASP model resizes this approach to fit a K-12 school — public or private — with the belief that schools can be community anchors, especially when they work in collaboration with other local “micro-institutions”. School leaders build connections to collaborators, co-creating learning ecosystems that lead to equitable social mobility for their community’s youth.

Equity-based Community Development: Schools do not exist in a vacuum. They are a part of local and regional economies. Yet they are often not intentionally integrated into the local economy in a way that best serves students, families and communities. Thriving communities require their institutions to be interconnected, collaborative and intentional in their investments — and rooted in the community’s priorities. School administrators can be active leaders in that collaboration and their schools can be spaces for community action.

Social Capital and Relational Power: These are core requirements for Anchor Schools leaders, both within school walls and crossing into the community context. We seek to bolster what school administrators already do well — connect to kids and adults — and support them to use their positions of influence through collective visioning and action.

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