Rice Education Entrepreneurship Program convenes Houston-area education leaders
For the past six years in July, Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business has turned into a two-week hub for talented leaders in public K-12 schools who are eager to learn about applying management and leadership concepts to their organizations. New this year, the Rice University Education Entrepreneurship Program (REEP) invited a group of district central-office teams from the Houston area for the inaugural, one-day Senior Leader Summer Institute.
Tailored for superintendents, assistant superintendents, board trustees, chief academic officers and other senior district leaders, the July 15 institute was titled “Redefining Reform and Encouraging Entrepreneurship.” The interactive forum aimed to maximize REEP investment in the districts’ REEP-trained principals and aspiring leaders, according to Andrea Hodge, REEP’s executive director.
“We combine business-school training and methodology with a very deep education entrepreneurship curriculum,” Hodge said when introducing REEP’s mission. “It’s a nice marriage of different concepts and possibilities, because we’re focused on developing school leaders who really can effect change on their campuses.”
Founded in 2008 as part of the Jones School, REEP allows full-time teachers and administrators to pursue either a two-year MBA or a one-year fellowship through the Jones School’s Executive Education training program. It also offers the REEP Summer Institute in July. REEP complements a number of other Rice programs focused on improving the quality of education in the Houston community, Texas and the country. REEP has developed more than 280 current and aspiring leaders from 13 school districts and two charter management organizations. The 139 principals who have completed REEP serve 143,000 students in the Greater Houston area.
The program views the role of a school principal as that of a CEO who deploys capital, both human and financial, to meet the needs of the community. “Education is largely a people-based business, but how do we get the most out of the resources, the time and the effort that we put into this work?” Hodge asked participants.
The institute featured alumni of the REEP program and leading national speakers with real-time knowledge of issues facing education leaders. At the end of the day, attendees would have both a deeper understanding of REEP and how an entrepreneurial mindset will improve learning environments in their organizations.
For Angie Wedlick, a REEP program alumna who recently became the school leader at Ripley House Elementary School in Houston’s East End, the program taught her the need for leaders to constantly engage with their students, colleagues and various stakeholders. “We carry a tremendous responsibility as school leaders and learning to do our work better matters so much,” Wedlick said. “You got to ask the right questions and you got to know which ones to ask and you got to ask a lot of them. So I ask the question, ‘But why are we doing it that way?’”
Rick Hess, an educator and author who studies K-12 and higher-education issues, stressed the role of REEP program graduates as creative problem solvers who steer clear of the “I” word – “innovation.” “At REEP, we are hostile to innovation,” said Hess, who is a lead faculty member for REEP and author of the book “Cage-Busting Leadership.”
“Entrepreneurs are not innovators; entrepreneurs are problem solvers,” he said. “There is a difference. An innovator is somebody who tells someone at a school to do something differently. Problem solvers are people who try to figure out what you need to do that is going to help make people’s lives be better and how you can do that.”
Marguerite Roza, director of Georgetown University’s Edunomics Lab and senior research affiliate at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, spoke to the importance of distinguishing between perception and reality when considering education funding and school outcomes and to never losing sight of the human element.
“Normally when we construct factories in manufacturing, if you replicate the factory, you actually can replicate the outcomes,” Roza said. “Schools are not factories. If we continue to treat schools like factories, then we’re missing out on this huge, important element of schools, which is all of the human interactions which are involved. … The idea is how do you start to harness … all the humanness inside that (school) building, and instead of pretending it doesn’t exist, you actually weave that into your model of schooling.”
Feedback from attendees indicated a desire for continued engagement with REEP experts and programming. “I feel better-equipped to support principals who have gone through or are going through the program,” one attendee wrote, while another participant suggested offering an annual course to “continue to educate central office staff on critical topics and hear different presenters.”
For more information about REEP, visit https://business.rice.edu/reep.aspx.