I recently had the privilege of attending a conference of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO), a gathering of extraordinary young leaders (the minimum requirements for entry are typically being younger than 45, having 100 employees and more than $10 million in revenue).
While the conference addressed such standard topics as best practices, new technology and developing strategies for profit maximization, I was struck by the focus on our communities, especially our failing public education system, and what leaders can do about it.
John Deasy, the former Superintendent of both Prince George’s County Public Schools and the Los Angeles Unified School District, shared grim statistics about the state of education and how he started every morning as LA’s Superintendent learning about the children in the district who had died the day before – and in four years, he did not go a single day without a child’s death.
He shared the many ways the U.S. is falling behind but highlighted the number we do lead in: more adults are incarcerated per capita in the United States of America than any other nation. He talked about the school-to-prison pipeline and discussed how, if you are a low-income student in this country, you can no longer be a part of the “American Dream” because of a failing school system. He talked about the accountability needed to change this – the legislation, the impact litigation and the decision-making power that must be given to local teachers and schools.
The message I received loud and clear is that public education is NOT a spectator sport. Everyone is frustrated by the challenges of “the system” and the lack of educational options for many of our low-income communities. We all need to engage in work for fundamental reform. This a component of why I founded BUILD, an entrepreneurship-based high school program that helps students develop the skills for success in high school, college and career. We need vehicles to help non-educators engage with our youth and change their life trajectories.
At BUILD, we require deep engagement from our partners and our communities. We are looking for thousands of volunteers to get involved and support our students as mentors, volunteers and business plan judges. We work within the schools – not on the sidelines – as partners and allies. We encourage the extended BUILD family to engage with our students and learn from their experiences and unbridled innovative spirit.
I invite you to join us at www.BUILD.org or another organization serving our youth that sings to you. We cannot simply complain about what is ailing our system – we need to participate in its improvement.
We need to get off the sidelines, get in the game and stop seeing public education as a spectator sport.