Lizette B. Suxo, Country Manager, Chile, The 1 World Network of Schools
by Matthew Presser, Ed.L.D. candidate
June 14, 2017
Big-name charter management organizations like KIPP and Uncommon Schools have gotten similar results in urban and rural communities around the U.S. So how might they work abroad?
For the last two years, Lizette B. Suxo, Ed.L.D.’13, has drawn on her experience as a charter school teacher and administrator to support the launch of a KIPP-inspired school in Chile and to train instructional coaches who work with teachers and principals there. As Chile’s country manager for The 1 World Network of Schools, an organization that creates similar schools in six countries, Suxo has seen firsthand what works and what gets lost in translation in a country with a different language and different customs.
“I knew this work would be most impactful if we weren’t just translating documents and PowerPoints and P.D. sessions into English,” she says, “but if we were also really thinking deeply about how all of those things need to look different in a context like Chile.”
Matt Presser: What have you found to be similar about working in charter schools in the U.S. and starting a charter-inspired school in Chile?
Lizette B. Suxo: For me, the most important thing in this translation across countries is that kids are kids are kids are kids. In many ways, poverty in the U.S. looks different from what it looks like in Chile, but the conditions of poverty permeate and exist in very similar ways.
What’s similar is there are children in need, there are teachers craving to learn the best practices that are out there so they can better impact student achievement, and there’s an openness to learning in the communities - among parents and other community partners - that I work with.
MP: And what have you found to be different?
LBS: One thing that is super-different here is that the average Chilean classroom has 40 kids. How are we going to do small group instruction in a classroom with one teacher and 40 kids? At the same time, we know that small group instruction - such as guided reading - is really important to strengthening the intellectual abilities of our students, so we have to adapt.
Also, in the U.S., for many teachers attracted to charter schools, teaching is their life. There’s a different mindset here for teachers. One of the first things I learned from leaders on the ground here is that teachers here expect to have a lot of planning time in their days and they expect to not take work home. We’re asking teachers to do a lot, and we’re asking them to do things differently, and in asking them to do things differently, it takes more time for them to practice and internalize those new skills.
MP: You live and work in Chile full-time, as opposed to visiting as a consultant, like some of your counterparts. How come?
LBS: I think living here has helped tremendously in understanding the context. I find the work extraordinarily dynamic and rewarding. But I do think that, at some point along the way, I became a part of the system. My colleagues who come to visit can step back in and see things with a different perspective. Now - two years into my role - I’m in it, and I rely on my colleagues to come and visit, as they can sometimes perceive things more readily than I can. I’m always a little bit inside and outside the system, but lately I am finding that I’m more in than out.
MP: From this perspective, what do you see as the main lessons to be learned in applying this style of school model to a school in Chile?
LBS: The thing that I’m walking away with is to be careful about what we’re celebrating in the U.S. and what we’re exporting because there’s a whole world watching and there’s a world making decisions based on that.
Some of our schools in low-income neighborhoods in the U.S. are getting great test scores. What does that actually mean? What is working about these schools and school systems and what is not working? We’ve tried to apply that here and we’ve come up with different sets of challenges, but I think there’s also something in those challenges and in those lessons that we could reflect back to help U.S. schools learn. Ideally, there would be a two-way flow of information so that the U.S. schools we learn from could also learn from what we are doing here in Chile and in the other countries we are working with, when we put lessons learned from the U.S. charter movement into practice abroad.
MP: Some of the schools that get the best test scores here are criticized for a perception that those are their only focus.
LBS: An absolute focus on test prep worries me. As a kid, I wasn’t nervous about tests because my teacher would tell us to be confident because we knew the material we were going to be tested on. I really don’t think we ever sat and did test prep, and yet I have observed that in so many schools in the U.S. nowadays. The focus on this in some places, instead of a focus on developing a love of learning, love of knowledge, satiating the curiosity of children is concerning to me.
MP: Back in 2006, you founded a charter school in New York. How did you try to develop that love of learning in your students there?
LBS: One of the questions I would always ask parents who were deciding whether they were going to apply to our school was, ‘Who wants the best possible education for their children?’ Every single hand would go up. I would say it in Spanish too at the start of our info sessions. And all the hands went up then too.
This is what our parents want. This is what our caretakers want. But so many things can get in the way of that. It’s our responsibility as educators to help parents navigate that, to create schools and systems where we’re not putting barriers in their way, but opening up new possibilities to achieve their dreams.
MP: If you asked the same question at a school in Chile, would the parents raise their hands?
LBS: Absolutely. Sin duda.