Communities In Schools Graduates

Opinion

The First 100 Days: Lessons from My Learning Tour

Dale Erquiaga, Communities In Schools

This blog is part of the #Recommit2Kids campaign, marking the 20th anniversary of America’s Promise Alliance and calling the nation to recommit to action on behalf of children and youth.

Dale Erquiaga and kidsOn November 1, the learning began.

That’s the day I became the president & CEO of Communities In Schools. Working directly in more than 2,300 public schools in 25 states and the District of Columbia, Communities In Schools builds relationships that empower students to stay in school and succeed in life. 

As a new president, I decided not to see how much I could get done in my first 100 days but how much I could learn.

I saw the firmly set jaw of a young man who wept as he told how a CIS employee was the first person to believe in him, to motivate him, to give him a glimpse of how bright the future can be.

I heard the word “trauma” far too many times, demonstrating it is a very real presence in the lives of so many disadvantaged students.

I felt the devotion of our dedicated staffers who live our core values - honesty, transparency, integrity, respect and trust - and work to instill them in the lives of the children they serve

I smiled, when one young learner proudly showed me a sign she’d prepared to welcome me to her school; she even spelled my name right.

I cried, when a newly arrived young learner from Honduras narrated the story of the first time he saw his mother after being separated from her for 11 years.

I played a game of “Feelings Candyland” with three young learners who face challenges so deep they don’t have the vocabulary to express their emotions about their circumstances.

And I learned that kids are kids.  They show up every day the best way they know how.  The barriers they face may differ, but they are all optimistic and strong individuals.

All these moments, small but incredibly meaningful, helped me grow as a leader who takes seriously the charge of helping steward the future of millions of young people in this nation.

It’s been a remarkable 100 Days, not for what I accomplished but for what I came to understand and appreciate.  And now we are ready to roll up our sleeves for the work that’s coming this year. Here’s our agenda.

  • We’re creating a blueprint that will shape how CIS will grow over the next several years and lead a movement of organizations who are equipped to serve the needs of the 14.5 million kids who live in poverty.
  • We’ll begin focusing more on issues of equity, inclusion and diversity – particularly around leveraging differences related to race and poverty – so that students of every background have an equal shot in life.  
  • We’ll deepen our work with our affiliates, education leaders and policy makers to unlock more of the federal funding made possible through the enhanced flexibility of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
  • And we’ll share the inspiring stories of our students, site coordinators and alumni through a marketing campaign that we hope will spark a national conversation about CIS and the powerful potential we unleash in kids by working with them every day inside schools. 

We’re also going to go right on learning, because I understand we don’t have all the answers and that we cannot do it alone.

We’ll join – and encourage you to join – with America’s Promise Alliance in its #Recommit2Kids campaign marking 20 years of putting kids first by urging all of us to up our game and recommit to making life better for the nation’s young people.

I’m encouraged and eager to move forward. Together we can make great strides. Together we can go all in for kids.