Solving pressing education problems at scale, managing challenges posed by geography, engaging the community in school improvement, and sustaining reform efforts beyond federal project funding —these topics and more were tackled by i3 (Investing in Innovation) project directors and other key leaders who gathered in Washington, D.C., this past July. The i3 team held this second annual Project Directors Meeting on July 19-20, bringing together Department staff, i3 project directors and project personnel from the 2010 and 2011 grantee cohorts. Project evaluators and education leaders were also important contributors to this event. The event provided the grantees a range of experiences designed to assist them in their work as OII grantees and to help them build relationships with other i3 projects and personnel.
For those who received i3 support in FY 2011, the opportunity to get advice and guidance from their FY 2010 peers was invaluable. “It was especially great to hear that others were facing some of the same challenges I face,” said first-year project director Toria Williams of the Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools.
In addition to plenary presentations and breakout sessions that targeted specific issues and challenges, project directors and evaluators gathered based on such factors as shared geographic location, the focus of their specific projects, and the particular type of i3 grants they received (i3 “Development” grants are for new and high-potential practices whose impact should be studied further; i3 “Validation” grants verify the effectiveness of programs with moderate levels of evidence; i3 “Scale-up” grants support applicants with the strongest evidence and track records of success). In a plenary session, the project directors were reminded that regardless of the specifics of their i3 undertakings, the process of experimentation is critical to innovation and making breakthroughs regardless of whether the program is a brand-new concept and just getting started or a program with demonstrated effectiveness that is scaling nationally.
The meeting also provided a much-needed opportunity for grantees to reflect on their efforts— both on the work that has taken place and on what’s to come for these five-year projects. “It’s very easy to get caught up in the day-to-day management of the project,” noted Toria Williams, who said the time in D.C. with peers allowed her to think more deeply about the sustainability of her i3 project.
The competition for almost $150 million in i3 project support in FY 2012 is currently entering its final phase, with the announcement of new grantees expected by the end of the year.