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The 180 Blog Feb 12, 2018

Staff Spotlight: Gretchen Livesey

Gretchen Livesey joined Turnaround in 2017 as the Partnership Director in Washington, D.C. In this role, she builds the knowledge and capacity of district and charter organization leaders to support Turnaround systems and strategies in their schools. Gretchen currently collaborates with three clusters of principals in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS). She also manages Turnaround’s partnership with KIPP DC, working at the network level and with two schools: Quest and AIM academies.

THE 180: Had you always known you wanted to work in education?

GRETCHEN LIVESEY: Yes and no. Many in my family are educators, and of course, as a young person you just say, “I’m never going into education because everybody I know is in education!” I actually wanted to restore great art works. I was an art history major originally in college. But when I didn’t do well in chemistry, I grew afraid I might end up destroying great art rather than restoring it. So, I changed my major to English. I also went into a pre-professional program for teaching just to try something practical my senior year of college and I totally fell in love with it. I became a teacher and I’ve spent 29 years now working in education. So yes, I guess I always knew I was supposed to be an educator, although I fought against that destiny for a while.

THE 180: What do you like most about working at Turnaround?

GRETCHEN LIVESEY: Having worked in public education for so many years, I’ve dealt with a lot of outside partners who wanted to bring innovations to schools. Recently, one of my jobs was to vet those people and to keep a lot of them away from my school leaders, especially when I worked for the Oakland Unified School District. I became attuned to “value add” partners who could align with the initiatives we were committed to within our school district. What drew me to Turnaround was the instant gut feeling I had when I first read about the organization – Turnaround is the kind of partner I would have welcomed in Oakland! What I love about working at Turnaround is the recognition of the value we bring when I am presenting our content to school leaders. I can’t tell you how many times training participants have said, “Hallelujah! It’s about time!” after I’ve delivered our key messages about brain science. I love being a “value add” to schools and districts.

THE 180: Can you tell us more about your role as a partnership director?

GRETCHEN LIVESEY: I work in two related but different capacities. First, I provide training in Turnaround content and tools to school leaders across D.C. I work with three principal “clusters” in DC Public Schools, and with all of the school leaders in the KIPP DC network. I’ll meet with these leader cohorts about six times over this school year, and I’m targeting building their capacity and skill in three key areas: leadership team development, change management and the development of schoolwide Proactive Behavior Plans. I also work with the leadership and the student support teams at two different schools within the KIPP DC network. I’m at each school about two times a month, working very intensely with them, setting up Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. It’s similar to the work we do in our school innovation partnerships where we embed a program director, an instructional coach and a social work consultant into a school to build sustainable, healthy conditions for learning and development. I am those three roles in one person!

THE 180: Working with KIPP DC is a new partnership for Turnaround. What are some of the challenges and opportunities you see working at the network level from your experience?

GRETCHEN LIVESEY: One opportunity I’ve seen so far has to do with a concept I learned from Richard Elmore (Research Professor of Educational Leadership at Harvard University) called “nested” systems of learning. Elmore has theorized that for any initiative to take hold, all levels of the organization must engage in learning about that initiative at the same time so that all levels can be aligned and support each other. This is what we have been able to achieve with KIPP DC. Network leaders have been trained in and value the learning and tools Turnaround provides. Therefore, when we train school leaders, they have full network support to prioritize our frameworks and tools.

The other opportunity I see is the symbiotic relationship between the schools I’m working with twice a month, and the school leader cohort I train once a month, which includes the leaders of the two schools. Anything I train the full cohort can be applied to the two schools with my support, and any learning that happens from those experiences can be shared with the whole cohort the next time we meet.

THE 180: Looking forward, where would you like to see public education in America move in the next ten years?

GRETCHEN LIVESEY: I hope in ten years that more organizations like Turnaround are supporting the development of a more human and humane education system that serves all of our children. I hope that increasing numbers of schools are caring and predictable places where children and adults feel safe enough to take the vulnerable stance of a learner, and hold the belief that they, and all others, have the capacity to grow and change for the better.