At least that is what I would like to believe.
This past September, America Succeeds hosted its inaugural conference in Boise, Idaho. Actually it was billed as an "EDventure"— a thinly veiled swipe at the typical conference fare we all know too well—involving endless groups of panelists promising to limit their remarks to a few minutes only to be shocked, just shocked, when the unfailingly polite (meek) moderator suggests wrapping it up ("But I still have 10 slides to go!!"). Anyway, the wonderful Tim Taylor who is busily growing America Succeeds asked me to come, so I happily signed up.
At some point at EDventure there was probably some education talky talk, but I was more intrigued by the "Recess" session, featuring our choice of fly fishing, mountain biking, rock climbing or bird watching. (I was incensed to learn that my assistant signed me up for bird watching and in a huff switched myself to rock climbing. For heaven's sake, I'm not THAT old!)
Even more alluring was the Shark Tank Pitch. Head honchos from Gates, Helmsley and Albertson foundations were on hand to hear and respond to anyone's 5-minute pitch for a great education idea and fund it on the spot. No 10-page proposal, no string of unanswered emails, no sucking up. Instead, an instantaneous $50,000 grant! Take a look at the video. Awesome!
Anyway, I wasn't able to go because a very heavy Adirondack chair dropped on top of my head, sending me out of commission with a mild concussion. I lost my chance not only to rock climb (which, to be honest, was a questionable choice), but also to pitch an idea which I had absolutely no doubt NCTQ would have won, and we are now $50,000 poorer for it.
Who won my $50,000? Brenda Berg, who's leading America Succeed's newest affiliate, BEST NC. Brenda isn't your typical TFA-Charter-Ed-Reformer, having recently sold her own successful manufacturing company (baby furniture). If PIE had an award for "Most Likely to Succeed" (take note, Suzanne Kubach), Brenda would be my bet.
Brenda won $50,000 even though not everyone on the funders' panel was gung ho. In fact, Brenda was, as she put it, the only one to get "shark bit" when Jamie MacMillan from Albertson summarily dismissed Brenda's idea. Brenda's pitch was about funding a large-scale effort involving some 180 stakeholders in North Carolina, convening them to collaborate and reach a consensus on a major comprehensive reform plan in the state. That's not an idea most of us in the ed reform world love. As Michelle Rhee famously said, "Collaboration is overrated." In declining to fund BEST NC, Jamie (likely echoed by most everyone else in the room) said this: "... it's too nice for me."
However, a few weeks ago, Brenda sold the ultimate (albeit penniless) skeptic: me. I swear it was not the long-term effects of the concussion. I was mostly just really impressed with her clearly capable persona coupled with steely determination. She also reminded me of something we reformers are too quick to forget —that consensus building has actually been known to work and in some remarkable and sustainable ways, both in Massachusetts in the early '90s and Tennessee in this decade. Brenda with her extensive staff of one, former CarolinaCan director Julie Kowal, has put in place a wildly ambitious, furiously paced timeline involving 54 subcommittee meetings, which convene three times over three months. Ouch. They intend to leave even these role models in the dust (okay on that point, I'll reserve judgment).
So my bet is on Brenda. And I can probably speak for Jamie that she would be more than glad to be proven wrong.