From Agora to PA-Sharing Our Lens on Learning
Agora’s rich archive of stories are full of accounts demonstrating the ways our people, approach and culture have made a positive impact on the lives of our students and their families. Every day, we are humbled by experiencing ways we’ve contributed to the growth and success of youth who have entrusted us with their education and future. Certainly, these outcomes comprise our greatest sense of pride and drive us to continually elevate our capabilities, creativity and opportunities for achieving educational excellence.
Lesser heard are stories of Agora’s steady impact not only on education within our own classrooms and the community, but far beyond them. What we have done as a family at Agora has gained the attention—and respect—of leaders and influencers throughout the educational community. They recognize Agora’s ability to integrate classroom and extracurricular learning with student-centric programming offering individualized solutions. They see our innovation and courage to push traditional limits resulting in exciting and valuable opportunities for students, teachers and the world of learning. And, they have come to understand that what we do at Agora transcends any one educational platform. From cyber to charter to brick and mortar—and from elementary to high school—what Agora brings to our students and family every day has application far and wide.
As a result of all of this, Agora has been called upon multiple times to help “educate the educators.” We are approached by learning professionals responsible for improving the educational experience and outcomes across the board, as well as for tackling emerging challenges. And we are asked to help lead discussions, workshops and other engagements designed to provide educators and administrators with insights, tools and inspiration that will allow them to design then implement stronger solutions in their own schools. These requests are quite an honor and present a huge opportunity for Agora to bring greater awareness to our school as well as reinforce the importance of collaboration in a world where all educators share one mission—empowering students in life.
Here are two recent examples of ways Agora team members were called to share their expertise and help lead the way for other educators and institutions.
Future Ready Schools Leadership Forum—University of Pennsylvania
November 10, 2022
Dr. Katy Giovanisci, Agora’s Director of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment was invited to present at the forum which had a theme of “Creating a Culture of Excellence and Innovation.” The university was familiar territory for Dr. Giovanisci, who several years ago, ran graduate-level courses on fundamental practices of reading and writing for the Penn Literacy Network. For her participation in the Future Ready Forum, Dr. Giovanisci drew on many of her experiences at Agora—especially her involvement designing a Professional Development program that integrated diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), academics and literacy. Through this Professional Development initiative, Dr. Giovanisci zeroed in on the need for a school to work with leadership, the whole staff and a cohort of teachers invested in the concept. It was this plan that, in fact, caught the eye of the associate director of the Future Ready Forum and prompted the request for Dr. Giovanisci to participate on a panel about innovation.
“I was on a panel with superintendents and was the only representative for cyber education,” said Dr. Giovanisci. “I wondered if I was the right person to speak here. But I was guided by a golden rule at Agora. We don’t push forward with the goal of being innovative. Rather our goal is meeting the needs of our students and community. Innovation—as well as our drive to never be satisfied with the status quo—design our path to success.”
With this as her roadmap, Dr. Giovanisci crafted her panel responses around ways of creating a healthy digital culture. However, the information she imparted were presented in ways that demonstrated usefulness to any form of learning. Her insights for educators at the forum included how to live in innovative moments and use them to support students individually and as a whole; meeting students where they are and in ways that inspire growth whether through traditional learning, cyber or other means; the importance of parental learning/mentorship and the role of family coaches; the critical role of tracking results and adapting based on what these results tell you; and the need to eliminate the top-down approach, replacing it with a commitment to whole-team involvement. And most of all she emphasized that the key for a healthy digital culture is academic, social and emotional balance.
“The opportunity was humbling, flattering and validating. I sat next to educators I respect and shared ideas as well as showcased initiatives that Agora takes part in in a very significant way. We are all in improvement mode and continuing to grow and learn from one another to meet needs of students. What that looks like is different in respective spaces but what a golden opportunity I had to hear some of that creative thinking and, ultimately, be able to return with validation and fresh eyes on what we’re doing at Agora.”
Pennsylvania Department of Education Standards Aligned System (SAS) Institute
December 5-6, 2022
Dr. Giovanisci and Ms. Lauren Wilson, Agora Literacy Coordinator, collaborated with Pennsylvania Department of Education (DOE) school improvement specialists to present the breakout session, “The 3 P’s of Plan Implementation: Plans, People, and Processes.” The request for their participation in this two-day educational summit stemmed from outstanding work Ms. Wilson, Dr. Giovanisci and three other Agora staff members—Robin Hartman, Allison Keefe, Becky Millspa—did at a Department of Education workshop earlier this summer.
Knowing that the annual SAS Institute event’s mission is to educate leaders from across the state to share innovation and best practices to advance student learning, Ms. Wilson and Dr. Giovanisci decided to put Agora’s School Improvement Plan (SIP) at the heart of their presentation. Agora’s SIP is all based on engagement and advancing disciplinary literacy in each core area—from 9th and 10th graders working toward graduation to transfer students to elementary grade students just starting their education journey.
“Agora’s plan started with one question—when a student comes to us, how do we prepare them for their educational journey and keep them on track?” said Dr. Giovanisci. “Our plan has nine defined goals, each with 30 different action steps to reaching it. Needless to say, the plan is quite large, making a system of accountability critical. We have all this in place at Agora—we know how to recognize, learn from, and overcome barriers as well as, on the flip side, see what’s really going well and dissect why as a means for improvement in other areas.”
Because SAS organizers became familiar with Agora’s SIP—and its successes—they approached Ms. Wilson and Dr. Giovanisci to bring their voice to the table to offer it as a model for other schools.
“We built a plan that integrates what the state requires of all schools and, consequently advances the school improvement mission,” said Ms. Wilson. “Yes, we have something special here for Agora, but the structure, and especially the accountability, can benefit any learning environments. The process can be happening in all learning environments.”