Ryan Fellow Blog: Assessments Show the Tough Path Forward

Oct 31, 2017

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Gretchen Larsen

Class of 2018 Ryan Fellow

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Back when I was a Dean of Students, I was asked quite frequently to clean up vomit. It happened so often, in fact, that I was formally recognized as a stellar barf-cleaner-upper (you can read about that here). This week when I received feedback from my advisor after my first formative assessment, I found myself longing for the sweet, bygone days of cleaning vomit off the playground. Oh, how simple life was then!

The Ryan Fellowship’s assessment process is an intense look at the strengths of my school to determine how I can best be of service to the students and staff, as well as an assessment of my growth as a leader.

The Ryan Fellowship’s assessment process is an intense look at the strengths of my school to determine how I can best be of service to the students and staff, as well as an assessment of my growth as a leader. I first used several assessment tools to zoom in on things like school culture and curriculum, then zoomed out for a bird’s eye view of the school’s strengths and weaknesses. The school I work at is in turnaround, meaning Democracy Prep took over the existing Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy. Turnarounds are difficult because expectations for students and staff are often completely new and it typically takes three years to see progress. Democracy Prep at the Agassi Campus doesn’t have three years, though; these kids need an effective school today. Our school assessment identified all the things that the school is doing to make that happen. Kate, my Advisor, helped me create a strategic plan for the school. My focus will be working with the 5th grade team to improve student achievement in math. 

Accelerate Institute provides the kind of thorough, candid feedback that is hard to come by in education but is necessary for growth.

I could not have anticipated the amount of work that would be necessary after my assessment. Accelerate Institute provides the kind of thorough, candid feedback that is hard to come by in education but is necessary for growth. I have a lot to do to prepare to lead my own school, and Kate outlined the specific action steps that I will use to guide my learning. Looking at all the ways in which I’m not ready to lead a school was difficult, but the path forward is now very clear to me.

In the coming months I’ll work harder than I ever have. Cleaning up vomit was easy compared to what lies ahead, but the end result is worth it. This is what it takes to be a transformational leader! May we grow good schools that grow good people, and may our barf always land in the appropriate receptacle! 



Gretchen Larsen relocated from the Phoenix, AZ area to join our 2018 Las Vegas cohort. After working as a teacher’s aide and obtaining her BA in Secondary Education/English, Gretchen taught for Tempe Elementary School District for three years, then Mesa Public Schools for three years. She stepped into a leadership role as a Lead Teacher with Maricopa County Regional School District, where she managed day-to-day operations as well as observed and coached teachers. Since 2014 she has served as the Founding Dean of Scholars with EAGLE College Preparatory Schools: Mesa. In this role, Gretchen led a staff of 20, using data to drive coaching and targeted professional development. Gretchen took a culture focus in this role as well, teaching social and emotional management skills, fostering relationships with parents and students, and building community partnerships.


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