Founding Eskolta, and Leaving Eskolta: Carrying Hope from Schools to Systems

I founded Eskolta School Research and Design a little more than a decade ago. Now, $25 million and more than 200 school and district research and design projects later, I am leaving it. I’ve had this moment to reflect on where we are and where we have come.

I founded Eskolta out of both hope and frustration. My frustration came from what I viewed as an entrenched blame game in education. Many blamed teachers and schools for doing shoddy work; others (often in veiled language) blamed students, particularly nonwhite and low-income students, treating them as failures; still, others blamed the policies that stood in the way.

Eskolta was rooted not in these frustrations but in hope.

The hope that we could tap the talent of professional educators who step into an inordinately challenging job.

The hope that we could understand the real strength of students who have persevered in an inequitable society, developing school cultures of compassion, trust, and high expectations.

The hope that we could create proof points of the possibility of a new approach to drive change more broadly.

What began as little more than a website and a set of hopes has blossomed into a twenty-person staff, a network of 28 schools, a strong board, and a stellar track record of real impact. Eskolta has become a leader in education reform, changing culture, practice, and thinking in education.

The world, too, is changing around us. At a time when our country, our schools, and, indeed, Eskolta itself are grappling with the effects of a history of racism, Eskolta is poised to be a force for antiracism. As the global pandemic is leaving youth more disconnected from school than ever before, Eskolta is poised to be a leader in reengagement.

As I reflected on where we have come over the last decade, I believed conditions were ripe for new leadership to take Eskolta into an exciting next phase of growth — growth that drives the racial equity and justice work that has become so important to Eskolta and to our nation as a whole.

As I set out on the next step in my journey, I will always be grateful for the experiences I have had here with staff and partners who bring incredible passion, compassion, and creativity to the challenges we face together. And I will be ever grateful to the hundreds of individual educators and students who have overcome extreme odds to succeed and, in doing so, confirmed for me that hope can conquer frustration, and a better school system is possible if we all make it so together.

Founder of Eskolta School Research & Design. Education reformer, husband & father living in New York City.