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Podcast: K12 – A Year in Review with Dr. Nakia Towns and Dr. John Malloy

  • 30 Min Read

In today’s episode, we take a look back at the bigger issues that affected the K-12 industry over the last year with Dr. Nakia Towns and Dr. John Malloy.


Welcome to Episode 6 of Teach & Learn: A podcast for curious educators, brought to you by D2L. Hosted by Dr. Cristi Ford, VP of Academic Affairs at D2L, the show features candid conversations with some of the sharpest minds in the K-20 education space. We discuss trending educational topics, teaching strategies and delve into the issues plaguing our schools and higher education institutions today.

Episode Description

In today’s episode, we look back at some of the issues that affected the K-12 landscape in America over the last year. But we also turn our gaze forward, hopeful about how 2023 will unfold. To discuss this topic further, we welcomed Dr. Nakia Towns, Deputy Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools and Dr. John Malloy, Superintendent of Education (CEO) at the San Ramon Valley Unified School District in California. Our guests and Dr. Ford discussed:

  • The biggest challenges K-12 districts are experiencing in the States today
  • Where the responsibility lies when it comes to social-emotional learning
  • Whether or not blended and hybrid learning models have a future in K-12 classrooms
  • Educational equity and why it matters
  • How teachers, superintendents and other educational staff can approach the year ahead

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Show Notes

  • 01:00: An introduction to Dr. Nakia Towns and Dr. John Malloy.
  • 02:37: Dr. Towns briefly reflects on the year that was, from the lingering impact the pandemic has on students and educators, learning loss, and funding issues.
  • 05:30: Dr. Malloy looks back on 2022, reflecting on burnout, learning as a social enterprise and the importance of reconnecting with one another.
  • 09:47: Dr. Cristi Ford asks who is responsible for implementing social-emotional learning?
  • 19:51: Do blended learning and/or hybrid models have a future in K-12 classrooms?
  • 21:54: Moving into 2023, Dr. Towns and Dr. Malloy discuss the issues that are front of mind for their respective school districts.
  • 27:51: Dr. Towns and Dr. Malloy discuss things educators and admins can do in 2023 to drive home the importance of educational equity.
  • 30:58: Our guests offer a call to action for the year ahead to teachers, superintendents and other educational staff.

Resources Discussed in the Episode

Follow Dr. Nakia Towns on Twitter

Follow Dr. John Malloy on Twitter

Learn more about Dr. Cristi Ford and the Teaching and Learning Studio.

About the Speakers

Dr. Nakia Towns is Deputy Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools, serving the largest district in Georgia. Following a career in the private sector, Dr, Towns transitioned to education. She works to ensure that all divisions are aligned to achieve the district’s strategic plan goals and to improve their graduates’ postsecondary and workforce success. Dr. Towns holds graduate degrees from Vanderbilt University (Ed.D.) and Duke University (M.B.A.), as well as an undergraduate degree in Engineering from Duke University.

Dr. John Malloy is the Superintendent of Education (CEO) at the San Ramon Valley Unified School District in California. Before coming to California, John was the Director of Education at the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). Prior to this, Malloy had a 25-year career in public education as a teacher, guidance counselor, vice-principal and principal. John holds graduate degrees from the University of Toronto (Ed.D, MA) and Xavier University (M.Ed), as well as an undergraduate degree from Dayton University.

Dr. Cristi Ford serves as the Vice President of Academic Affairs at D2L. She brings more than 20 years of cumulative experience in higher education, secondary education, project management, program evaluation, training and student services to her role. Dr. Ford holds a PhD in Educational Leadership from the University of Missouri-Columbia and undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field of Psychology from Hampton University and University of Baltimore, respectively.

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Full Transcript

Dr. Cristi Ford (00:00):

Welcome to Teach and Learn, a podcast for curious educators, brought to you by D2L. I’m your host, Dr. Cristi Ford, VP of Academic Affairs at D2L. Every two weeks I get candid with some of the sharpest minds in the K-20 space. We break down trending educational topics, discuss teaching strategies, and have frank conversations about the issues plaguing our schools and higher education institutions today. Whether it’s ed tech, personalized learning, virtual classrooms, or diversity inclusion, we’re going to cover it all. Sharpen your pencils. Class is about to begin.

So, thanks for joining us today on Teach and Learn. I’m so excited to have both of you joining us for this exciting episode. Listeners, before we jump in, I want to take just a moment to introduce my two guests today. Dr. Nakia Towns is Deputy Superintendent of Gwinnett County Public Schools serving the largest district in Georgia. Following a career in the private sector, Dr. Towns transitioned to education. She works to ensure that all divisions are aligned to achieve the district’s strategic plan goals and to improve their graduates post-secondary and workforce success. Dr. Towns holds degree from Vanderbilt University, Duke University, her MBA from Duke University, as well as an undergraduate degree in engineering from Duke. Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Towns.

Dr. Nakia Towns (01:27):

Thank you.

Dr. Cristi Ford (01:29):

Dr. John Malloy is the superintendent of education at the San Ramon Valley Unified School District in California. Before coming to California, John was the director of education at the Toronto District School Board, TDSB. Prior to this, Dr. Malloy had a 25 year career in public education as a teacher, a guidance counselor, Dr. Malloy, I didn’t know that we have that in common, and a vice principal and principal. Dr. Malloy holds a graduate degree from University of Toronto, Xavier University, where he got his master’s in education as well as an undergraduate degree from Dayton University. Dr. Malloy, thanks for also joining us today.

Dr. John Malloy (02:09):

It’s great to be here.

Dr. Cristi Ford (02:12):

So I want to jump right into this conversation as we are closing out this year, and I was really excited to have both of you share your insights. So Dr. Towns, I want to start with you. As we look back at this year that was, and we’re thinking about some of the biggest learnings or takeaways, what did you see play out and was it as you and your colleagues expected and were there some surprises?

Dr. Nakia Towns (02:37):

Yeah, I think that this has been a year where, when I think about, we came into the year with great expectations around really being able to turn the page from the pandemic and having all of our students back in person, and really wanting to focus on that learning acceleration that we all know is so important given the disruptions of the pandemic. And in a lot of ways we were able to do that from just the logistics and schedules of getting kids back in school. I think that many of us across the country are thinking about the lingering impacts on the social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing of our students.

And so that’s something that we continue to try to think about. What are the investments that we need to make to ensure that all of our kids are supported from a whole child perspective and understanding that we can’t even begin to deal with the cognitive learning loss if our students are not well, and that they’re not ready to learn in terms of, again, ongoing effects of the pandemic.

But I think we’re all thinking about the dollars that we have to spend from Art funding, ESSER funding and how we’re going to make the best use of those as we’re now closing in on the last 18 months of that funding availability as far as we are aware without any word on any extension from the federal government level. But I think it’s been in many ways a good year, a year that we are trying to navigate through and that we continue to try to support students and of course our educators around the work that has to be done knowing that everyone is really trying to manage the exhaustion that’s coming out of the pandemic. And I think those are the big reflections that I have for this school year.

Dr. Cristi Ford (04:41):

So Dr. Towns as you were talking, I thought about this as a year of return. And you talked about educating the whole child and learning loss, and I resonate with that. I think sometimes we forget that as we think about the continuum of learning either K-12 or higher ed, that some of these issues are exactly the same. And so as I heard you share some of what you are thinking about in trends this year, it really resonated with me what I’m hearing from other colleagues in K-12 spaces, but also in higher ed.

Dr. Nakia Towns (05:14):


Dr. Cristi Ford (05:14):

So thank you. Thank you for sharing that. So Dr. Malloy, I’d like to ask you the same question. What do you see playing out? What are some big takeaways and did the year play out the way you thought it would?

Dr. John Malloy (05:30):

So there are a couple of points that I’d like to mention. First of all, we all know that learning is a social enterprise.

Dr. Cristi Ford (05:36):


Dr. John Malloy (05:36):

We learn best when we’re connected. We learn best when we feel safe and supported. And obviously the last while has jeopardized that to some degree. So part of what we’ve been focusing on, and it’s certainly how things are playing out is what does it mean to reconnect? What does it mean to provide that support in our classrooms and in our schools that really help our community return and be ready for learning? And I think that we’ve all been speaking also about our staff, because our staff is coming back to us this year with all kinds of emotions, reactions, and experiences. And we’re hearing a lot about the burnout and possibly even using the term, the great resignation. And that’s something we’re paying attention to because we know that if we can provide the best learning and working conditions for our staff and really listen to them to think about what does that mean, they’re going to be that much stronger in terms of how they support our students. So that whole community building, the whole social enterprise, the reconnecting has been a foundational piece.

And then the other piece I want to add is that we really are thinking about what does it mean to understand where our students are in terms of their learning? How do we be as precise as possible in terms of the instruction and interventions that we offer? And then how can we ascertain how effectively our efforts are so that we can ensure that our students are moving in the positive direction in terms of their learning? But I have to say that there is an air of optimism that I appreciate, but there’s also some concerns that we can’t ignore.

Dr. Cristi Ford (07:23):

I appreciate those comments, John. And I think that I’m going to skip ahead a little bit here because you touched on something I was going to ask you about. As I was looking at a recent 2022 Gallup poll that found that K-12 teachers are experiencing unprecedented levels of burnout, the highest in the country among those that were surveyed of different industries. And they’re leaving the profession in droves. So when you talk about reconnection, when you talk about supporting educators, I think that’s a critical point. Are there other things that as our listeners, either on the district level or the school level or even educators, what can we do to better support educators to be able to stop this flow that we’re seeing in terms of the burnout?

Dr. John Malloy (08:06):

And I’ll start just by saying, I do believe that we have to return to our roots, which is schools are the hub and heart of a community, and the relationships that exist there are key. And we just have to accept the fact that for all kinds of reasons, the relationships and the culture in our schools and in our districts has been impacted sometimes negatively by what’s going on over the last while. And I don’t mean to sound too simplistic, but that notion of civility and courtesy and compassion and empathy are things that here in my district, and I know many of my colleagues are speaking the same way, we’re trying to be exceptionally intentional about how we focus a light on those important characteristics that have always been the foundation of schools that aren’t so much the case in every school and district now.

And I would suggest that yes, obviously people appreciate appropriate salaries, for example. And yes, they want to be in school communities where their colleagues work collaboratively, and they need to be in school communities where they are trusted, where they are supported by our families, because we’re trying to do this work in partnership with them, where that’s not the case, where that has eroded, I am seeing a greater level of burnout than when, of course, those connections and relationships are still intact. So we are really focusing on that relational piece while we’re focusing on the instructional and learning piece, because without both, and I think Nakia said this earlier, we’re not going to get to where we need to go.

Dr. Cristi Ford (09:47):

Yeah. Yeah. Really critical point, John. And I want to jump in and tie this Nakia to what you’ve been doing in Gwinnett County. You talked earlier about the social-emotional wellbeing of your students, and there’s so much that’s been said about social-emotional learning. I guess I really want to understand from your perspective, whose responsibility is it to implement it in class? Are teachers receiving training necessary to teach these components to make sure that you’re thinking about the wellbeing of your students?

Dr. Nakia Towns (10:18):

Yeah, absolutely. I think part of it is that we’re really, the point that John was making about learning being a social construct. And at the core of it, we want to see that empathy and compassion come through in the relationships that are built. So in many ways, though we talk about social-emotional learning as if it’s its own thing on the side, it has to be part of the integral way that we do school, that we have to make sure that in everyday instruction, obviously the care is being taken and teachers are equipped with strategies and tools to make those social-emotional learning connections, as well as the entire school climate and culture really being oriented around creating that sense of belonging and safety for every child. That’s the only way that we’re going to unlock that academic potential and create schools that I think we want to be places of joy, places of exploration.

And I think that’s some of what we’ve lost during the pandemic as there was a lot of anxiety that was there around just the health concerns and then, of course, the social isolation that many of our students went through and so did our teachers and families. And so now it’s about how do we restore from that place and get back to the kind of learning environments that really do leverage the connection between folks. And I think it’s not lost, as John said, we are optimistic. We look forward to looking at the bright side if you will, but part of our challenge has been, even though this is such a core piece of our work in terms of integrating those relationships and the social-emotional learning, it has certainly not been without controversy when you think about the political framing of some of this.

Dr. Cristi Ford (12:20):


Dr. Nakia Towns (12:21):

And we certainly in our district have had to explain and defend the notion that we need to take care of students and their overall wellbeing as well as our staff and their overall wellbeing in order for us to be successful. And that’s certainly the term SEL even in of itself-.

Dr. Cristi Ford (12:41):


Dr. Nakia Towns (12:41):

…has been weaponized politically. And so we’ve certainly had to navigate those orders as it’s become in our minds more important than ever to make sure that we’re paying attention to the needs of the whole child, the whole teacher, regardless of what you want to label it. We have to deal with the fact that we’re a human enterprise and we want to make, create more humane schools where we take care of the people inside of the buildings.

Dr. Cristi Ford (13:08):

I really appreciate you, Dr. Towns mentioning that piece, because I think that one of the things I was going to ask both of you about around the political nature of SEL is how you’re handling your districts. And so it’s so good to hear that you have tackled that head on and thinking about what does it mean for… How do you handle it with leadership development? And what impact does this have on how we lead well and how do we create spaces and opportunities for us to be able to talk about these issues is really something I’m grappling with, because as I listen to both of you talk about this year of return and social, the construction of learning being social, these are the kinds of components that are really critical to the wellbeing of a student. And so it’s good to hear you talk about that piece for sure.

So I want to jump in a little bit and ask both of you. I feel like I was talking with some colleagues last week that we are in the post peak pandemic, but we’re not out of the pandemic yet. So we’re in this pandemic recoveries period. And I think I’ve noticed we’re a bit of a crossroads with this respect to K-12 education in many ways. And while I think we’re all very hopeful that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, how do you see some of the impacts of this work? And you talked about learning loss earlier, are there other things that will continue to impact the future of K-12, at least for the next two or three years? I’d love to hear from either one of you around that topic.

Dr. John Malloy (14:45):

Well, I’ll jump in first and just say that we are really trying to refocus on our core purpose. With all of the things that have gone on, it’s caused some distractions. And our core purpose is very clear. I’m sure most districts have their strategic plan or their focus forward, and that is, we are committed to deep learning and we’ve defined deep learning as our kids thinking and creating and collaborating and communicating and being contributing citizens, as I spoke about compassion and empathy before, that is our North Star.

And we know that when we are driving that learning process with those characteristics in mind, it’s so student centered and it’s so important. And we know that we can’t get to that learning, that learning that is so required because our world continues to change rapidly, technology continues to transform, global problems continue to exist both at the community level, the national level and beyond. So our kids are going to need so much in our world to be able to provide what is needed.

But that’s where you talked about social-emotional learning. Our kids can engage in deep learning when they don’t feel well, when we talk about access and ensuring that all kids have what they need to succeed, that’s necessary. I know that we’ve heard a lot of political discussions around this, but I’ve tried to say very clearly, our kids must have the most effective instruction. They need the most precise intervention, and they need to feel safety and care and respect in their learning environments. So that’s driving us. Deep learning is our focus, and we know that wherever kids are on the continuum of learning, we’ve got to find them. We’ve got to focus there and we’ve got to help them get to the next level.

And I know that part of what that takes is really helping our community focus because there’s so much going on that’s pulling us in so many different directions, and I think we all know the components of improvement science, that if you’re trying to do too much, you’re not going to get anything accomplished. So that’s been our focus going forward at this point.

Dr. Cristi Ford (17:06):

Yeah. Good comments. Dr. Towns, what are your thoughts?

Dr. Nakia Towns (17:10):

Yeah, I totally agree in terms of the focus piece, we’ve certainly been distracted over the last couple of years, and we do need to regroup around the notion of student-centered and making sure that first and foremost, we’re taking care of our learners and the needs of our learners as we do prepare them for an increasingly complex society with an ever-evolving workforce and knowledge base. It’s the speed at which knowledge is increasing such that we are positioned as public school entities to think less about being able to have a canon of knowledge, if you will, that students are responsible for, but making sure that they’re prepared to be literally continuous learners and really understand how they learn, because that’s how they’re going to be most successful in ever-changing, ever-evolving society.

When I think about the post pandemic long-term effects, I hope that we recognize some of the things that I think that we saw during the pandemic that we should continue to think about is the agility with which we were able to navigate and be able to leverage digital tools to be able to provide more flexibility and really speak to individual needs, even the ways in which we engage with families and making sure that in the long term we continue to try to make sure that we meet families where they are, and that if we were able to do parent conferences via Zoom during the pandemic, there’s no reason why if a parent needs the flexibility should be able to connect with us online that we don’t require that they come into our buildings to try to build those connections. But I also think we’re challenged long-term thinking about really what is the school model?

Dr. Cristi Ford (19:13):


Dr. Nakia Towns (19:14):

And how are we going to really move into the next half of the century and beyond in terms of the way that we approach education, knowing for all the reasons contextually that we’ve mentioned in terms of the complexities of the world and the challenges that our students are going to have to solve. It feels like we have a great opportunity to accelerate the evolution around what school looks like and how can we better meet the needs of our learners and prepare them for their futures after graduation.

Dr. Cristi Ford (19:51):

Yeah. I really appreciate your comments around challenging the educational model, and I know there are lots of components to do that. And I also, John, thought about your comments around deep learning. I love D Fink and Kim Bain’s work that talk about that distinction between deep and surface learning. But I wonder from both of you, when you think about challenging the educational model, does blended learning or hybrid programs have a place in that model? And if so, how do we optimize that?

Dr. John Malloy (20:23):

So I would say that we need to focus on each learner. I know we’ve talked about personalized learning for decades, and we continue to, I hope, move in that direction. For some students, they need to be in school face-to-face all the time. That’s how they learn, that’s how they improve. For some students, they actually require other paradigms and structures. And I think we need to be open to that. It’s not just though at the school or the district level, it’s also at the policy level, because some states would have policy that wouldn’t necessarily allow us to explore some of those personalized strategies that I’ve mentioned.

I would suggest that yes, the pandemic taught us that we are capable of providing learning in a number of different ways, but it also taught us who benefits from some of those strategies and who may not. And then it reminds us that we still need to focus on each and every student, the student’s strengths, interests, passions, and then needs and ensure that the instructional program that we’re offering provides those foundational skills, which every student must have to be successful and invites them into those higher order skills, if you will, that are very much connected to different ways of providing the learning. So those learning opportunities do need to be very wide so that we can meet the needs of each and every student.

Dr. Cristi Ford (21:54):

Yeah. And that differentiation is going to be critical. And I appreciate that you talked about the continuum of our learners and being flexible and having that approach to the personalized of you. And I think we’re still, in education more generally, trying to figure out how to do that well quite frankly, in different avenues and how to make sure that we’re doing it in ways that provide various on-ramps and off-ramps for students in their learning experiences. And so as I’ve listened to both of you talk, there’s so many things happening in K-12 today. We touched on SEL, but I’ve chatted with both of you and I’ve heard you talk about literacy wars and mental health fallout. As you’re preparing your districts and you’re thinking about moving into 2023, what are some things that are front of mind for you in terms of your agenda that you know that we’ve done some great work, but we still have quite a bit of work to do.

Dr. Nakia Towns (22:53):

Yeah. I think even as we were saying, the conversation about being able to individualize and respond to the needs of students. At its base, that’s what equity is. And so I think our ongoing challenge is how do we create the systems and structures such that we can be responsive to the needs of the individual learners such that we can support them all to high levels of learning and success after graduation? When I think about the challenges before us, certainly literacy is one that we’re focused on and trying to make sure that we follow the evidence in terms of how children learn to read and that we equip our teachers with the right resources and the right professional development and capacity building around that. I think we’re going to continue to be in the throes of the political conversations that have put schools in the middle.

And even in this midterm election cycle, I think there were a lot of school boards and elections that were certainly about different philosophies when it comes to education and the divides on how do we prepare students and what should they have access to. So I think we’re going to continue to have to grapple with that notion of how we keep the focus and are mindful of the politics as we try to be responsive to each and every child, and really fully realize our vision for educational equity. I do think that the pandemic exposed what was already there in a way that became much more tangible for a lot of stakeholders who really did not understand at a particular level, at a close enough level what we are struggling with in terms of being able to meet the needs of each and every learner.

So it’s my hope and contention that we continue to put that at the forefront and help our communities understand how they can support us as districts and schools to be able to meet the needs of each learner. So those are the things that I’m thinking about as we go into 2023.

Dr. Cristi Ford (25:23):

All great. Go ahead, John.

Dr. John Malloy (25:24):

And I’ll add that, and I totally agree with everything Nakia just said, and I’m going to add that we learned a really important lesson this past July when I brought a student panel to our leadership day and our students were exceptionally articulate about what they needed and why. They talked a lot about connection. They talked a lot about really engaging programs that they would be interested to participate in. They talked about being seen and heard. They talked about, in some cases, not being seen and heard. And their voices have really resonated with us. And when things start to become more politicized or divided, we go back to those voices of our students who are really calling us to a place that says, listen, we need to focus on you, our students. We need to do what it takes to help you get to the next level in terms of your learning.

And we’ve got to ensure that we’re partnering with our families and community in a way that we’re getting as many people to the table as possible. So the way we are navigating some of the different views and some of the different politics and some of the different perspectives is to say, all right, we are a diverse community, but where do we agree? Well, we agree that all kids need to be safe. We agree that all kids need to be included and respected, and we accept the fact and we have the data to show that that’s not always the case. So can we focus there? Another example, when we look at our data around achievement and learning, we can’t ignore that. Some of our data suggests that there are certain demographics within our district that do not learn as well because of us. It’s our job. It’s not about the student, it’s about our service to that student.

So regardless of how you feel about some of these issues, can we accept that we have a discrepancy that needs to be dealt with? So where I’m going here, Cristi, is that yes, there will always be divisions and there will always be diverse perspectives, but we’ve got a job to do. And that job is focused on students and their voice matters and our data tells a story. And can we use that data to tell a story in a way that brings more people around the table, not to the corners? Not always successful, but that is at least the goal that we’re striving for.

Dr. Cristi Ford (27:51):

John, I really appreciate that, and I really appreciate the focus in providing students with agency. I think that, that it is empowering to see that and to hear that. And I want to just plant my flag here for a minute because I’ve heard from both of you talk about educational equity, and as I listened to you offer some thoughts, John, and hearing from you both of you around this work, I really feel like we need some change agents and disruptors in this space because we all know there’s no one silver bullet. So hearing that we are using data to tell the story and the narrative, but what are some other things that we can do in 2023 to really drive home the importance of educational equity and really finding solutions to this wicked challenge?

Dr. Nakia Towns (28:40):

I think that John positioned it when we think about focusing on the needs of the children and the fact that these children that we have in our schools right now are the future leaders. They’re the future workers, they’re the future entrepreneurs. We are going to be depending on them to be able to solve the complex problems and issues and to sustain a thriving democracy that we have. So when you put the frame of how do we invest in these children because we know that the stakes are so high in terms of what they’re going to be called upon for their own individual happiness and success, but also for what it means to society, for us to be able to make sure that our students are well educated. And to John’s point, when we look at our data, we see that there are groups of students whose results show us that we need to change the way that we are serving them to be able to meet their needs so that we have these equitable outcomes. The data is not the problem, it is a symptom of the problem.

And so we have to really rally people around, we cannot continue to have an increasingly diverse student population as our country is increasingly diverse, which is a beautiful thing, and still continue to see these big disparities, discrepancies, gaps in opportunities and access, because it’s going to then play out in whether or not those students are able to really sustain and contribute again to this thriving democracy, to our economy, to support society at large. And so I feel like that’s the real, I believe, compelling argument that equity is something that we all should be talking about and should be supportive of, because at the end of the day, our public schools, we are the talent engine, we are the human capital, the development engine of the country. And we are going to need to make sure that we are launching students into their lives to be able to sustain the kind of country, society, communities that we want.

Dr. Cristi Ford (30:58):

I really appreciate that reflection, and I think that it really leads in well, I think that both of you have offered such great leadership at the superintendent level, but we have listeners that are teachers who are faculty that are in those mid-level roles. And so as you think about the work that you have ahead of you, is there a call to action? Are there things that you would recommend that as everybody looks at their space of agency and power and control and their vantage point that they can do to make this just a little bit easier as we move into 2023?

Dr. John Malloy (31:37):

I think Cristi, that’s a great question. And I would focus anyone in the district, wherever they are in the district on this point. We can create the conditions for each and every student to be successful, which means that we need to, in some cases, change our practice to make that happen. And we will as a district support that change as required. And that when we think about each and every student being successful, we’re also bumping up against some of the old foundations of our system, which is some kids are successful and others aren’t. It’s almost as if it’s baked into our foundation from centuries ago, which is what we are contradicting and trying to change. But truthfully, there are some that still believe in the age old bell curve that some kids will be proficient, other kids will be in the middle and other kids won’t be, and that’s not acceptable. But we’re bumping up against that when we speak about equity. And I simply say, each and every student has to be successful, and it’s on us to figure that out.

So wherever you are in the organization, you can hold that focus. Think about your own practice. As long as we’ve created the conditions in our district so that people can be professionally vulnerable, which is what our goal is, you can ask for help without fear, and that we’ll be able to figure out then ways to bring that support to our staff so that we can keep that laser-like focus on each and every student being successful. Because by providing that, it doesn’t actually mean, and I’m not trying to be idealistic, it doesn’t have to mean that anyone loses, but we sometimes get into this dynamic then that when we’re trying to fulfill that, each and every student is going to be successful, we get the feedback, well, are you watering down the program, or are you just making everybody the same? And that’s bumping into that historical stuff that is part of what I think we also need to confront as well.

Dr. Nakia Towns (33:51):

Absolutely. I’m going to amen what John just said, and that would certainly be at the top of my call to action list. And I’m only going to bootstrap onto that, that for all of us who see the value, the importance, and have a commitment to public education in our country, and schooling at large, quality schooling regardless of the public, private, parochial, charter, whatever. My call to action is for those folks to civically engage, that we need to focus on education as a priority and see it as an investment, not an entitlement. And that for people to engage in their voting and local elections especially, school boards and county commissions that have way more influence frankly on education than does a federal level or state level, politics of state level is important as well. And I think that John mentioned that a lot of what we are constrained by has to do with public policy.

Dr. Cristi Ford (35:08):


Dr. Nakia Towns (35:08):

And so if folks feel that they want to see certain priorities or changes, then they’ve got to get engaged so that the policymakers are being influenced, and that education becomes a number one voter issue that people really start to talk about, because I do think that that is the way that we’re going to get the right leadership and the right policy prescriptions that help ease our path, if you will, towards all the things that John talked about, that individually we can focus on each and every child, but we got to remove barriers and make sure that we set up a policy context that enables us to do that job well.

Dr. Cristi Ford (35:56):

So can I just say, first of all, I appreciate knowing that education is in the hands of two of you. I leave this conversation feeling very encouraged, and I hope our listeners have heard that there are opportunities to lead from where you are. Dr. Towns, you talked about the importance of getting engaged. And Dr. Malloy, I really appreciated you helping us think about education as a positive sum game and that there can be an opportunity for all to prosper and to be successful as opposed to there being some winners and some losers. And so I just want to take a moment to thank you both for helping us think about this conversation as we wrap up 2022 and move into 2023. And so as we close out, I just want to take a moment to pause and ask, is there anything else you’d like to share with our listeners as we close out our session today?

Dr. John Malloy (36:52):

Well, Cristi, I’ll just say that to summarize what I am believing is our next step, and it has been our steps, would be to connect. Relationships are so important to create. The status quo isn’t good enough, and we know that, and our data shows it, and we’ve got to make those transformations and to celebrate because there are great things happening in our schools and sometimes we forget. And I think that that celebration is the momentum that gives us the energy to do the heavy lifting, which I think is required here. So that has become my own mantra of how I’m inviting everyone in our district to think about the work ahead.

Dr. Nakia Towns (37:34):

Yeah, we’re picking up on that celebrate point I would say for all of us who are engaged in K-12 public education, to just sound a note of appreciation for the work that everybody’s doing and what we’ve endured over the last two years, and to elevate the respect that I have and that I know that so many have for our profession. I just really think that we need to stay encouraged and really understand what a privilege it is to be able to be a part of this enterprise where we are really helping to shape and develop young people and the influence that we have on our communities. And there is no other profession that can say like teachers, that they can contribute to everything else that happens in terms of every other industry and enterprise.

I really just want our colleagues to be encouraged and know that they are appreciated and that there are so many who profoundly respect the work that is being done and that we do each and every day.

Dr. Cristi Ford (38:50):

Such wise and thoughtful words. Dr. Towns. Dr. Malloy, I really appreciate you taking the time as we’re coming to the close of this year to just have this conversation with me. I thank you for your time today. Thank you for taking the time to share your expertise and insight with our listeners. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and I look forward to staying in connection with both of you.

Dr. John Malloy (39:14):

Thank you, Cristi, and thank you Nakia. Appreciated being here.

Dr. Nakia Towns (39:17):

Absolutely. It’s been a joy. Thank you, John, and thank you, Cristi for having us.

Dr. Cristi Ford (39:21):

Thanks so much.

You’ve been listening to Teach and Learn, a podcast for Curious Educators. This episode was produced by D2L, a global learning innovation company, helping organizations reshape the future of educational work. To learn more about our solutions for both K-20 and corporate institutions, please visit You can also find us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. And remember to hit that subscribe button so you can stay up to date with all new episodes. Thanks for joining us, and until next time, school’s out.

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