May 25 — 2:41 pm, 2011

Introducing our new blogger: Ryan Bowers

First, I’d like to acknowledge what an honor it is to join the Notebook’s blogging community. I’m looking forward to making a small contribution to the growing debate around school choice, a topic of importance to me both personally and professionally.

I’m starting to feel the weight of school choice at home as my wife and I are faced with figuring out where we’ll send our 4½-year-old son to kindergarten next year. I’m taking a hard look at our neighborhood school, as well other options that might be on the table.

Although I’m currently consumed by the puzzle of navigating the best educational choice for my son, my experience in the education field goes back a few years from several vantage points.

Just out of college, I taught 6th grade at Potter Thomas Elementary (at the time run by Edison Schools) through Teach for America. Later I worked with a few hundred community-based organizations through the process of becoming qualified providers of supplemental educational services (SES). You might remember SES, the free-market model created by No Child Left Behind that sparked stiff competition among tutoring services for low-income students. I worked under a grant from the White House Office of Faith-based Initiatives, helping community-based organizations throughout the country qualify and compete against larger for-profit providers.

Later, I worked with the Philadelphia Mayor’s Office of Education, doing community engagement in the early days of the Nutter administration. It was during my time at City Hall that I became involved in one of the planning working groups that guided the development of the School District’s Imagine 2014 strategic plan. By sheer circumstance the working group I was on happened to be tasked with developing the blueprint for one of the most high profile parts of the strategic plan, the Renaissance Schools Initiative.

After my stint in the Mayor’s Office I became a partner in a small social change consulting organization, Frontline Solutions, working with non-profits and foundations across the country to improve the quality of life in low-income communities. One day while at Frontline I got a call from the District’s Charter School Office asking for help supporting the fledgling School Advisory Councils for the Renaissance Schools initiative. That was two years ago and I’m just now wrapping up the second round of managing the facilitation of the Renaissance SACs.

Through the Notebook I’m eager to write about the unbelievably brilliant, caring, and savvy parents in our communities who are weighing the various school choice initiatives that are popping up and increasingly impacting our communities. To me, nothing would be more exciting than creating a space to hear parents’ ideas about improving schools, in a way that honors them not as passive objects of school reform but as having valuable insight into what makes their communities thrive.

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