Kennan Scott is a civil engineer turned teacher with aspirations to someday open his own school. As a Northeastern graduate who spent over ten years in transportation engineering, Scott was ultimately encouraged to enter the classroom by his mother, a 31-year veteran teacher of New York Public Schools. Currently teaching Intro to Computer Science at West Oakland Middle School, Scott always knew he wanted to make a greater impact in his community.
While teaching his computer science class Scott realized how engaged and creative his students were, and how some who were excelling in computer science weren’t necessarily excelling in other subjects. This observation led Scott to design an engagement model using computer science around every subject. Now he wants to push this model to see what academic improvements can be made and what are some of the nuances that need be added make this a full-fledged school model. We sat down with with Scott to learn about his aspirations and what his journey has been like so far.
Edgility: What have you learned about students and communities where you are applying to your school’s model?
Scott: What we’ve noticed during this pilot that was really cool was pulling together different resources and allowing students to express to themselves in multiple ways to show their understanding of a subject is really the “magic sauce.” That’s what is driving their retention and just their love for learning and their desire to learn new topics.
It was really interesting to watch students go through the creative process of creating a storyline as a basis for coding and designing their own video games. Watching student’s agency around a story because it was the meat and potatoes of their video game was really fun to watch. The ownership, the pride that students take over their work, you know, even in just presenting on a famous engineer, but having to do so in multiple ways really speaks volumes to how students need to have that care for their work or need to feel that their work has importance. With Coded, giving students the opportunity to express, to make, or create clearly answers the why about what they’re learning.
Edgility: What are some of the broader trends that are helping or creating roadblocks for schools like yours in Oakland and similar communities?
Scott: The first barrier is language, and it’s vocabulary, and it’s the word “charter.” What I’ve learned is that when you say that you want to open a charter school it immediately polarizes people and they have an opinion right away. Some people are like “heck yeah, I’m with you,” but some people are the total opposite. If you change the language, if the narrative is different and you say “I want to open an innovative school that helps the kids of Oakland,” then people are kinda like well that sounds tight.I have to find out a way around this “charter barrier” and this political hardship that it is to open a school in Oakland. I believe that will be the number one challenge until the day we get approved.
The other is really in building community and really having enough of the stakeholders at the table to help you create a really thoughtful program. I find that creating a really thoughtful program that is an “us development”, not a me bringing it to you, really a collaborative effort to create a real school that’s going to impact change, you gotta get those people. You you have to find the right people and be open to whatever feedback that they’re going to give you and really just run with it.
The last barrier and I’m trying to get over it now is time. Having the time and the ability financially to go a hundred percent on this project is huge. Once I can figure that piece that out then I know I’ll be able to make change and make progression really rapidly, but right now I’m doing it part-time and in my after hours and you know so that’s really a challenge.
Edgility: How do you think the availability of talent for your organization (your ability to attract talented educators) will affect the success of your school?
Scott: I’ve been amazed by this, and I tell people this all the time, is that the best things happening in education are happening in the classroom. There are teachers that are driving excellence. I thoroughly believe in the amazing talent pool that we already have here in Oakland and I was able to pull three incredible teachers that I used in my pilot that had no computer science experience at all.
I’m working with this idea that there’s a wealth of talent out there that I just need to find. The real criteria I’m looking for are honesty, communication, desire, and drive more than computer science knowledge or specific know-how. I’m excited to see what we can do with the teachers that we already have and then try to pull people from the professional world in and I’m one of those so I know there are people out there who are ready to make a change and do more positive work.
As I partner with Salesforce, and most recently we partnered with Reddit, I meet people who are like “Can I come into your classroom, can I be a part of the knowledge that’s happening, what can I do?” I think that they are a ton of professionals that are willing to give up their time and there are businesses that want to give up their time for social good so there’s a huge wealth of opportunity there for speakers and experts to come in and do specific daily functions or do a three-week workshop.
I’m really excited for people because people seem to really want to do this kind of work with kids. It validates their (students) desire to learn.
Edgility: What counsel would you give other school entrepreneurs who are considering this journey?
Scott: The biggest change in me was when I stopped saying I might open a school to I am going to open a school and just that change in language catapulted me into a whole new way of thinking that it wasn’t a possibility, but a definite that it’s going to happen and that’s huge.
I would definitely recommend to find fellowships where the fellowship is about building community because it’s very lonely to be an entrepreneur when you’re working from 10p.m. to 1a.m. on your project and you’re feeling really tired and burned out. Those people, that community that you’ve built, that you can lean on if you have a hard question like “how do I file a 501(c)(3) to become a non-profit?” I was able to rely on an entire community of people could provide me with templates, and information.
The last thing I would say is keep putting it out there. The more people you tell about your vision, the more likely that you’ll meet people that a coalesced or excited about what you do and that’s the fuel to keep going. You talk to a family and they’re hyped about your ideas and then you’re twenty times more hyped to reach out to four more families. You teach a kid how to code one thing, and they go home and show their parents, and their parents give you a positive phone call, you get juiced and realize this is worth it!
All No’s start to fade and instead become new directions. People know their journeys and want to share and help.