April 9, 2015

Take Me Out to the Ballgame

I recently spent time with a good friend who helps manage a major league baseball team at their spring training facilities in Arizona. Aside from the beautiful weather, endless hours of chewing sunflower seeds and watching baseball, I had a front row seat to the business side of assembling and managing a team with hopes of making the playoffs and winning a championship.Three lessons about the business of building a successful baseball franchise stood out to me in relation to the education ecosystem team we are building together in Baton Rouge.First, successful sports organizations are unvarnished in the evaluation of their team and the organization’s effectiveness top to bottom. They take a hard look at where they are performance wise across personnel, management, and organizational structures and systems and commit to a plan to increase the only measure that matters: winning.Second, the team understands that the effort to continuously prospect new and develop existing talent to address gaps on and off the field is the highest priority. Talent requires investment and often bets on the promise of that talent, but great teams seem to tie their valuation of talent more on proven attributes than promise. In other words, teams will determine their level of investment in a player based primarily on the evidence of past accomplishment and secondarily on the likelihood of that talent delivering on untapped potential.Finally, at the major league level, talent alone is not enough to make a successful team; rather it is the player’s ability to fit within the designs of the team and have the mentality to work towards a larger vision that will earn a roster spot and playing time. Every player at this level is phenomenally talented and freakishly big (I’ll leave thoughts on performance enhancers and a stretch analogy to education reform for another time). For teams to work, players are asked to sacrifice and play roles that may not be the most comfortable or desirable – come off the bench, hit lower in the order than one thinks they deserve, bunt instead of swinging for the fences. This is all required to serve the best interests of the team and improve the odds of winning.When I returned from this trip, we held our second annual Education Ecosystem Summit. More than 200 individuals representing nearly 75 school, talent, philanthropic, and other organizations gathered to take stock of where we are as a team in Baton Rouge striving to win – which for us means to provide every kid access to a great school. We have built a team of nearly a dozen all star caliber school operators who have already and will open new schools over the next four years. We dissected our gaps in supporting these schools and made plans to fill them by helping talent, community, and other necessary partnerships replicate past success. Most importantly, and humbling, was the recognition and commitment by those assembled that to win will require partnering in ways that are bigger than any one organization or the way we may have played the game before. Baton Rouge is ready for the big leagues, and our emerging team of partners, as demonstrated at this year’s Summit, are ready to play whatever role necessary to ensure that the more than half of the kids in Baton Rouge who attend low-performing schools and those families that have felt compelled to opt out of public education have a chance to be part of this winning team.

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