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SLI Day 2: Vanquishing ‘The Opportunity Myth’

If opening day was an appetizer at the 2019 Superintendent’s Leadership Institute, then Day 2 served up the meat of this year’s event “In High Gear: Connecting Theory to Action.” In the July 16 plenary session, school principals and leadership teams welcomed back Liz Suarez of TNTP, who previously worked in Fayette County Public Schools. TNTP is a national nonprofit founded by teachers that focuses on talent, supportive environments, and academics.

Suarez, with TNTP since 2012, oversees academic projects such as “The Opportunity Myth” that aim to ensure all students receive highly effective instruction. The heart of this research was students’ experience of school and the key question: If kids show up and do the work, will they be prepared to achieve their goals? For the 2018 project, TNTP studied about 4,000 students in five diverse districts for an entire school year.  “Our kids showed up and worked their butts off. But the A’s and B’s did not actually reflect readiness for their grade level,” Suarez told the SLI audience at host Bryan Station High School. “Four key resources make a very big difference.”

Access to grade-appropriate assignments – Suarez suggested FCPS make this an urgent priority, to ensure that at least 25 percent of classwork is on grade level, regardless of a student’s ability. “When given the opportunity, they’re successful,” she said. “The problem is, in many, many classrooms, we’re not even giving them the chance to try.”

Strong instruction – It is crucial that teachers equip students to do most of the thinking and interacting in school, Suarez explained, noting how this approach can fuel greater classroom achievement.

Deep engagement – As part of the study, TNTP asked students to complete surveys in the middle of class or assignments to gauge how involved they were with the content. “Ask kids about their experiences, listen to what they say, and act on it,” Suarez suggested.

High expectations – Teachers must believe their students will rise to the demands, regardless of socioeconomic background. Suarez also encouraged the FCPS staffers to regularly ask students about their life goals and talk about how to reach them.

“The Opportunity Myth” might have generated some less than positive data, but several bright-spot schools bolstered the project’s results. Two essential factors that emerged were that schools need a clear vision for academic success and teachers need strategic supports to help them bring that vision to life. “The achievement gap is not a foregone conclusion. We can disrupt the Opportunity Myth by making just a few changes,” Suarez said. “There’s so much hope because it is possible.”

Many of the SLI breakout sessions revolve around Suarez’s four points. Schuronda Morton, the superintendent’s interim chief of staff and chair of the SLI planning committee, urged the attendees to take the TNTP message back to their schools in August. “You are the superheroes,” Morton said. “You’ve got to make it happen for our kids.”


SLI Day 1 coverage (July 15)



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