Joining students and faculty in the Allbritton Center last Thursday, Feb. 6, Harber Fellow in the Center for the Study of Public Life Jack Leonard hosted a presentation on entrepreneurial leadership in America.

Leonard dove right into his presentation by discussing the debate between entrepreneurship and education and addressing the need for innovation. To connect with the audience, he provided examples of innovation such as online education, personalized learning, unlimited course offerings, and web-based assessments.

“There is a call for innovation in education,” Leonard said. “Education is generally larger than we think, and one of the biggest innovations in the past few years has been the charter schools.”

Throughout the presentation, Leonard noted the importance of entrepreneurial leaders in K-12 schooling. He also tackled the contradictory skepticism about entrepreneurism in education.

“When people hear entrepreneurism, they think the business world,” Leonard said. “When I present talks about entrepreneurism leadership, I run into a lot of skepticism.  When people hear entrepreneurism, they think business world and larger-than-life leaders who are fiercely competitive, focused on efficiency, and more concerned about profit than the public good.”

Leonard encouraged the audience to think about the main questions we should be asking ourselves concerning education and entrepreneurism.

“The question we should be asking ourselves is, what are our goals for American children?” Leonard asked. “What is working for our children? How can we develop entrepreneurial school leaders and teachers? How can we develop an innovative and entrepreneurial organization? How can we improve the outcome for all children? My question to you, though, is do we want a society where the welfare of our children is addressed segmentally and competitively, or do we believe that it takes a village to raise a child?”

Andrews Professor of Economics and Dean of the Social Sciences and Director of Global Initiatives Joyce Jacobsen attended the event.

“The talk was very informative and interesting, particularly regarding the different types of entrepreneurs and also Leonard’s examples of innovating school systems,” Jacobsen said.

Following the presentation, Leonard allowed audience members to ask him questions regarding his research.

“What I thought was interesting about Dr. Leonard’s talk was his emphasis on the fact that many people, including myself at first, fear the idea of involving entrepreneurship and for-profit businesses in education,” said Elizabeth Shackney ’17. “He talked about how he had to break a lot of rules and ignore a lot of the bureaucracy involved, and I think that applies to most situations when you want to make a real difference. The public school system was designed to educate all students, and I think that’s something we need to remember today as we put a new emphasis on school choice and accountability.”

Leonard is currently teaching a course at the University titled CSPL 345: Entrepreneurship in Education: Past,  Present and Future. This class examines the historic roots of entrepreneurism in education by comparing the social and the business aspects of entrepreneurism. He lectures on the current debates regarding the connection between business and education and the risks associated with it. Additionally, he previously held the title of Headmaster at the Noonan Business Academy in Boston from 2003-2008.

“[At the Noonan Business Academy, we] had partnerships. It was a no-brainer that you should get all the help you could, not simply because we were a business academy, we just needed help,” Leonard said. “These companies provided internships for my students during the school year, they provided summer jobs, they provided workshops for my students and guest speakers in my school. They would send thousand of dollars’ worth of supplies to my school.”

Shackney commented on how Leonard’s past experiences help him successfully correlate business and education.

“[Leonard made me think] how, in the school that he ran, he formed innovative partnerships with for-profits, non-profits, and other organizations in order to provide many much-needed services, such as healthcare, to build more of a community and [a] holistic education experience,” Shackney said. “I hadn’t really thought of how beneficial these partnerships could be, and it made me realize how you really do have to think outside of the box and be creative when it comes to improving today’s public education system.”

Concluding his presentation, Leonard left one final remark for the audience to consider.

“As long as education is increasingly valued and available, evidence indicates that the current policies and practices are not meeting the demands, then there will be a need for innovation in education,” he said. “…We cannot do this alone.”

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