Editor’s note: This article was written by Kat Ling, Moonshot edVenture’s Chief Executive Officer. She joined Moonshot in 2019 as Chief of Staff, later serving as Chief Program Officer, where she facilitated the Moonshot Fellowship for Cohorts 3 and 4, including a re-design of the Fellowship into a virtual format during the pandemic. Kat became CEO in November 2021 after serving as Interim CEO. Before Moonshot, Kat was a Managing Director of Alumni at Teach For America – Greater Delta. She began her career in education as a 4th-grade teacher in rural Mississippi.
Despite the pandemic, ever-increasing political strife, and ongoing attacks on the civil rights of our most marginalized communities, there are leaders working tirelessly to innovate and implement solutions that bring affirming, rigorous learning to our communities.
And yet, as in the broader workforce, leaders of color continue to face inequitable expectations in education.
They are often required to be so urgent on results that they trade off on long-term impact, and so unfailing that there is no room for experimentation or creativity. These expectations play out in everything from funding to management, hiring, and promotions.
Leadership is an activity of failure and being a leader requires learning how to fail. It means hearing hard feedback without losing your sense of purpose. It means understanding your strengths and what you bring to the table.
A leader should be able to pilot an idea, fail, improve the idea, and try again without fear of reprisal or rejection. While white leaders often have decades of time to fail forward, leaders of color are given fewer chances and opportunities to learn from failure and try again.
At Moonshot edVentures, we are disrupting this status quo. We recognize the necessity of building long-term relationships with leaders and communities of color, and we create a space for people to experiment safely and develop skills for long-term impact.
Our leaders learn through our programs whether entrepreneurship is the right fit for them, and regardless of what they decide, they become a part of a local community of values-aligned and equity-driven leaders.
No two communities are alike, so we support leaders in designing and piloting innovative strategies within their local environments. This iterative experimentation and learning process allows for the co-creation of effective, culturally relevant, and sustainable solutions.
Through our programs, leaders have a safe container in which to fail. Across three phases in our core Fellowship Program, leaders pilot their ideas four times, with each pilot incorporating the feedback and ideas of learners and families and strengthening the design of their learning environment.
Moonshot edVentures was born out of dozens of empathy interviews with leaders of color who asked for a space to build an affirming community and resources to actualize their solutions for education. In six years, Moonshot has supported 100 leaders who have founded over 40 new and innovative learning environments for K-12 students, serving over 5,000 students each school year in Metro Denver, including charter schools, micro-schools, after-school and summer programs, community centers, and mobile learning units.
Moonshot aims to solve several interconnected problems. We aim to address the achievement gap for students of color, which we believe is driven by the lack of diversity in leadership and the type of learning environments learners can access. Although 75% of students in Denver are students of color, 71% of the teaching force and 60% of school leaders are white.
Academic outcomes have worsened in the past three years, and low-income families and families of color have the least access to affordable, high-quality, out-of-school learning opportunities. Moonshot believes that if we invest in a community of local, historically marginalized leaders and support them in designing and launching learning models that look dramatically different and are tailored to meet the needs of students and families, we can transform outcomes for students marginalized by our education system.
As an entrepreneur pacemaker organization, we accompany our entrepreneurs throughout their careers, supporting them to launch and sustain high-quality, innovative schools and programs. Our programming focuses on leadership development, liberatory model design, and accessing pathways to launch, including developing robust networks and communities that provide political and social capital.
True transformation in education will not be achieved through isolated initiatives, “drop-in” mentalities, or hasty reforms. It will require a long-term commitment and cultivating the skills of a community of leaders who are equipped to navigate the complexities of the education sector and are empowered to implement solutions that address the root cause of these disparities.