Learning from the Great Schools are Good Business Annual Breakfast

Every year, Colorado Succeeds brings together members and their colleagues, policymakers, and partners to share our progress and hear from top leaders who have a pulse on how our education system must evolve. Opening our program with a brief overview of the challenges and unique opportunities businesses face in the economy, was John Heyliger,  Director of Workforce Programs & Analytics for Lockheed Martin Corporation and a member of Colorado Succeeds. “We are facing a key inflection point in education. We find ourselves at a moment in which learners must develop knowledge, skills, and competencies to succeed in an uncertain future and adapt to a dynamically changing world around them,” says Heyliger.

Alice_Xcel What are the working solutions to addressing our changing world? Colorado Succeeds uses the Vision 2030 framework to guide our initiatives. “At its core, our work is focused on four things. Creating agile learners, agile educators, agile systems, and the conditions that enable that agility,” said Alice Jackson,  President of Xcel Energy – Colorado in the “State of Succeeds” address. Jackson shared that, like Colorado Succeeds, Xcel Energy has ambitious goals to tackle by 2030 and understands how business must invest in education to create a future workforce that will ensure Colorado’s economy will continue to thrive.

Featured speaker Tom Vander Ark has had a long and varied career, with the past couple of decades dedicated to public education as a funder, advocate, and deep thinker. His presentation illustrated how our work to build agile systems, support agile educators, and develop agile learners is taking hold across and the nation, with inspiring examples in Colorado.

For the past three years, Vander Ark and his organization, Getting Smart, has focused on artificial intelligence and the future of work. He shares that their study of the topic led to a surprising conclusion: “This is a big frickin’ deal. It (artificial intelligence) has quickly become ubiquitous in every sector. It is transforming every sector of society.”

Tom Vander Ark, CEO of Getting Smart, shares his research with the audience. Click to view highlights video.

As he explained, the implications then, come down to the three essential skills and habits of mind that will prepare kids for this new world:

  1. Design thinking- a particular way of identifying and solving problems that require creativity, agility, teamwork, and empathy. “It gives kids the muscle memory to walk into complexity with confidence,” he said.
  2. An entrepreneurial mindset, which he defined as “spotting opportunity and delivering impact.” He pointed to One Stone, a private, tuition-free high school in downtown Boise, Idaho, as a school that helps its students become entrepreneurs.
  3. Social-emotional learning – the ability to manage yourself, read social situations, and to collaborate with diverse teams.

He also highlighted four education system-level opportunities to promote agility, some of which are beginning to gain traction, including:

  • Personalized learning, as exemplified by Magaña’s Beacon Network school within Denver Public Schools. 
  • Project-based learning, in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges and acquire a deeper knowledge. This can include the kind of work-based learning experiences that Colorado Succeeds works hard to promote and facilitate.
  • Advisory, a modern variation on what once was called homeroom. Vander Ark described advisory as “building structures that allow you to connect deeply with kids to monitor academic and social progress.” He pointed to local charter network DSST as running a sterling example of an advisory
  • Flexible learning spaces, which Getting Smart identified as the top education trend of 2018. Flexible spaces, flexible seating, doing away with straight rows of uncomfortable chairs has a significant impact on mindset and agility among students.

“It’s an exciting time, and agility is the keyword,” Vander Ark concluded. “I love the agenda you have laid out; the focus on life-long learners, agile systems, and agile educators.”


Framing the conversation, Scott Laband, President of Colorado Succeeds, cited the exciting policy wins from the 2019 legislative session and thanked members for lending their voices at the Capitol. Then, through his introduction of Dr. Penny Eucker, Laband said the organization has learned a tremendous amount through its partnership with the STEM School. “We recognize that public policy is just one tool, and it actually doesn’t impact the student experience, unless you partner with the schools, the people, the families that are at the forefront of this work.”

Standing tall through the fog of tragedy, Dr. Eucker took the stage to share what STEM School Highlands Ranch is truly about and how their approach fosters child inventors like 8th grader Gitanjali Rao. “When you’re out there in the blue ocean, trying to make sense of what could be, you need partnerships that are connected with industry, with legislators, with change agents. Colorado Succeeds has been that partner for us.”

Rao was most recently recognized by Forbes, listed on their 30 Under 30 list for science. She has led projects with her classmates, producing three patent-eligible inventions. “Our generation is growing up seeing problems that never really existed before, like global warming,” Rao said. “It’s time to realize innovation isn’t an option anymore; it is a necessity. My school is taking steps to make that a reality.” Click here to view the highlights video. 

8th grader at STEM School Highlands Ranch and inventor Gitanjali Rao.

If you’re interested in joining us at a future member meeting, please contact Ashley Andersen aandersen@coloradosucceeds.org.

Director of Partnerships and Engagement
Colorado Succeeds