In May of 2012, a diverse group of professionals with a deep commitment to educational equity and social change met for the first time to discuss their vision for new way of educating students in Massachusetts and beyond. The team was convened by Frank DeVito, a life-long educator. For over twenty-five years, Frank has been committed to educational equity as a teacher, school leader, and education consultant. Frank had a dream to create a movement that would serve as a catalyst for systemic changes in education in MA and beyond. He recruited individuals who were invested in diverse communities and were involved in innovative professional projects that spanned education, art, technology, science, health/human services, media/communications, and business/finance.
Equity Lab Community Learning invested eight years to develop and refine our organization's mission and educational model. The process involved the following phases:
Phase 1: Deep Dive into Effective Education Research Practices (May 2012 to February 2014). Our team conducted a deep dive into the research-based educational practices that led to our desired student outcomes: completion of higher education, economic viability, and commitment to social change. The team originally envisioned opening Equity Lab as a public charter school in Lynn, MA. We completed a needs assessment of Lynn parents to learn about their educational priorities and aspirations for their children. Our school design was informed both by extensive educational research and the needs of Lynn families.
Phase 2: Visiting Schools Using Our Education Design Elements (March 2014 to January 2016). We visited schools successful urban schools across the country and high performing Massachusetts Charter Schools. The purpose was to see where elements of our school model had been successfully implemented in cities that served diverse and underserved populations.
Phase 3: National School Design Competition and Grant Awards (February 2016 to October 2018). The XQ Super School Project provided an important platform to publicize our education model on a national level. Laurene Powell, the widow of the late Steve Jobs, co-sponsored a national competition to design innovative schools for the 21st century- the XQ Super School Project. Out of 700 school design proposals submitted, our design was chosen to advance to the final round. In 2017, Equity Lab was awarded highly competitive local and national grants to support school planning and team capacity building activities. The Equity Lab team formed a non-profit as a vehicle to support school planning and start-up activities.
Phase 4: Unsuccessful Attempts to Open Equity Lab as a Charter School (February 2018 to April 2019). During the 2017-2018 charter application cycle, Jeff Wulfson, the Interim Commissioner of the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, had planned on awarding Equity Lab a charter for Lynn because our application "substantially met the criteria for approval." However, the commissioner could not award a charter to Equity Lab because the Lynn Public Schools had exited the lowest 10% in district ranking-- eliminating available charter school seats because the charter school statute required a reduction in the net school spending cap from 18% to 9%. After careful consideration, we applied to open a Commonwealth Charter School serving Lawrence because of the opportunity to make a powerful educational and social impact in the Merrimack region. The Merrimack region was part of our twenty-year long term scaling plan because we had developed a school design to serve diverse student populations—especially in gateway communities. Beginning in March of 2018, we conducted in depth community research about the educational needs and priorities of Lawrence students and families and connected with Lawrence schools and community organizations to discuss how Equity Lab could support their goals to bring about educational and social change. We made the decision to withdraw our charter application because we realized that the timeline to open a charter school in Lawrence in less than a year was overly ambitious. While we had invested considerable work in cultivating community connections and partnerships, additional time was required to deepen our relationships with community stakeholders.
Phase 5: Choosing a Viral Strategy to Spread Equity Lab (May 2019 to Present). While we were processing lessons learned in Lynn and Lawrence, we made the decision to shift the focus of our mission to working with Pre-K to 12 schools, community organizations, and colleges/universities to pilot and scale our model. Essentially, we chose a viral strategy (in a good way) to transform educational systems both locally and globally.