William Browning is currently the Board President for KIPP Colorado Schools and manages a local consulting firm which focuses on solutions for the public sector.
I recently wrote here about educational reconstruction efforts in Haiti, and since my last article, I have had the distinct honor to serve with a team to help develop a new strategy for public education in Haiti.
I wanted to share my past month’s experience with the educational community in Denver; there have been some interesting developments. As some of you may be aware, the story out of Haiti on Sunday was the commitment from the Inter-American Development Bank of $2 billion to support a five year strategy for education in Haiti which was strongly endorsed by President René Préval.
A month ago I visited Haiti and was fortunate enough to connect with Paul Vallas, the Superintendent of the New Orleans Recovery School District. Vallas was about to visit Haiti under the invitation of First Lady Préval to provide his perspective on the Katrina recovery efforts in New Orleans and how these lessons could be applied to the Haiti recovery.
A group working with Haitian education officials had developed an initial strategy, and I was happy to assist in the refinement of this plan. This strategy outlined a path for radical change founded on the principle that every child in Haiti should have access to a publicly funded education.
Most children in Haiti attend private schools; nearly 500,000 attend no school at all. After the earthquake, most educational institutions in Haiti were destroyed and I have seen first-hand the heartbreaking conditions that currently exist in Port-Au-Prince.
Under Vallas’s leadership, a team of experts was assembled (all volunteers) to produce a conceptual strategy that called for a centralized authority to manage the reform efforts and specifically outlined a plan to:
- Establish transparent accounting standards to ensure public funds are reaching the schools;
- Establish standards for school building and implement a core team to expedite the building of facilities to these standards;
- Institute national curriculum standards, with a focus on multiple languages;
- Allow for multiple programs and school types to flourish;
- Build international partnerships with leading educational programs to produce highly effective schools and programs;
- Establish a best-of-class human capital model to develop more effective school leaders and teachers;
- Implement early childhood and in-school social services to better support communities.
The Haitian leadership reviewed the plan and gave it preliminary support. We were asked to work with Jacky Lumarque, who served as the leader of the Presidential Commission on Education, which was responsible for producing recommendations to improve education in Haiti.
Lumarque flew to New Orleans and shared his own perspective on educational reform in Haiti. This included ensuring that higher education was part of the plan. He called for the creation of a Ministry of Higher Education and development of partnerships with international universities. He advocated for a decentralization of ministry functions – allowing more provincial or sectional empowerment on building new schools, which is a critical national strategy in line with developing the provinces to reduce stress and demand in Port-Au-Prince.
Lumarque also endorsed the creation of a centralized authority for building school facilities. The nation’s current school construction capabilities are weak at best.
Most importantly, Lumarque called for an Education Commission to support the government, consisting of key Haitian and international education experts to support the necessary reforms. The following organization was conceived as part of the plan:
Working around the clock, an international team following the lead of Lumarque and Vallas, and supported by the Inter-American Development Bank, produced an updated national strategy along with a more detailed operational plan. On Saturday last week, this strategy was presented to President Préval in Haiti in the only functional building left standing at the Presidential Palace.
The meeting room was crowded as Lumarque shared his plan and vision with the support of Vallas and the president of the Inter-American Development Bank, Luis Alberto Moreno. The plan was presented and there were questions about implementation. President Préval mandated the immediate implementation of the strategy.
The leadership and bravery of Lumarque to challenge the status quo with such a bold Haitian plan combined with the sheer energy and generosity of Vallas was nothing short of inspirational. Haiti remains in horrible condition with the endless tent cities and countless children wandering the streets who clearly should be in school.
But now we may have a glimmer of hope for a future where education is properly funded, international expertise is more properly harnessed, facilities are built to standards, and the children of Haiti may just have a chance to learn as all children should.
After we left the meeting in the palace on Saturday, we ate lunch near a school that consisted of old buses donated from the Dominican Republic which were converted into classrooms. As the children greeted us with waves and smiles from the classrooms, it made this glimmer seems all the more critical for a nation so troubled and distressed.
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