In May 2009, in downtown Chicago, the Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) hosted a convening of new and emerging education research partners from areas spanning the country.
The event concept began with a suggestion. A colleague said to (former) CCSR Director John Easton, “You should hold a convening of groups who are interested in replicating some of what CCSR is doing.” An idea was born and a plan put into action.
CCSR decided to explore the possibility of hosting a handful of new or emerging research consortia interested in learning more about how the organization works. Feelers were put out to various colleagues and there was a strong response. In order to maintain a sense of intimacy for optimal interactions at the event, Associate Director for Policy and Outreach Christopher Mazzeo, pared down the list of invitees to those that were closest to actualizing a research consortium of their own. The invited participants included representatives from New York City, Newark, Baltimore, Boston, Detroit, Louisville, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Milwaukee, Dallas, Denver, Long Beach and San Diego, as well as regional partnerships from Rhode Island, California and the greater Kansas City area.
When asked why he thought so many cities were ready in that moment to join together in collaboration in Chicago, Mazzeo explained, “I think it was a convergence of a series of things. There was already an appetite among institutions and organizations to work with their districts to improve their urban schools. The Consortium’s name has become quite recognizable over the years, and we had just released our Model paper (“A New Model for the Role of Research in Supporting Urban School Reform”). And, there was the Arne Duncan/Chicago connection, as well as the news coming out that John (Easton) was going to D.C. to become the Director of the Institute of Education Sciences. It was a bit like a perfect storm.”
The hope was that the event would be an opportunity for CCSR to meet with its peers and gain some exposure for its model; act as a celebration of the recently created consortia in New York, Newark and Baltimore (based on the CCSR model); serve as a catalyst for emerging consortia; and create a peer network that would develop over time.
The convening included presentations, as well as individualized breakout sessions. The end result was an undeniable feeling of momentum and an agreement that another should be held. Mazzeo said, “I was gratified by the interest, enthusiasm and focus displayed by the participants. The event truly exceeded my expectations.”
Enthusiastic ripples spread after the event. Mazzeo received e-mails from participants and non-participants alike praising or inquiring about the material covered. One of these inquiries led to an invitation. Mazzeo was asked to present before the San Francisco Unified School District and its superintendent. He did so in June to a very positive response.
“The effects of the convening have been significant. People are clearly meeting, talking and engaging in these cities now. They are moving from awareness to action, which is what we had always hoped,” said Mazzeo. “Now we take a step back, remain supportive, and let these cities turn their ideas into real work that develops research strategies that can help transform urban education.”