Interviews with purpose-driven leaders who are dedicated to helping others and making a positive impact in the world.
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
My name is Scott Laband and I’m the president of a nonprofit organization called Colorado Succeeds. We’re a nonpartisan coalition of business leaders committed to ensuring that all of Colorado’s kids have access to a game-changing education and that all of Colorado’s businesses have the skilled, homegrown talent they need to thrive. Through collaboration with business, government, educators, and partners, we work to build an education system that is responsive, agile, and prepares students for a future we can’t predict.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I began my career in the corporate world but came to the realization that I wanted to pursue a career that I was passionate about – something that could bring meaning to my life and value to my community. Coming from a family of educators, I’ve always had immense respect and admiration for their commitment to the next generation. Drawing on that inspiration, I pursued a graduate degree in educational leadership and organizational change at the University of Denver and ended up landing a job as a legislative director in the Colorado State Senate where I gained great policy experience. I then found an opportunity at Colorado Succeeds almost 11 years ago and have been fortunate enough to lead this amazing team of education advocates for the past nine years. What began as a two-person organization focused primarily on policy and advocacy grew into a coalition of more than 100 business leaders focused on not only legislation but also on supporting education practice and philanthropy.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
I stand for economic mobility for all. I believe all children deserve opportunity in life, the kind of opportunity that is only made possible by a great education. However, many students graduating from high school in our state are not adequately prepared for post-secondary opportunities, whether that be higher education or career. And this situation disproportionately impacts low-income students and students of color. If we really want to ensure every kid can reach their full potential, we need to set up an education system that develops the personal, civic, academic, professional, and entrepreneurial competencies that will prepare students to tackle any challenge that might arise in an uncertain future, and one that prioritizes solutions to support those furthest from opportunity.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
Colorado Succeeds’ impact hits three main areas – policy, practice, and philanthropy – all of which are made possible by radical collaboration with many partners and stakeholders.
From a policy perspective, we work with businesses, legislators, advocacy groups, and communities across the political spectrum to advocate for what we call the “Agility Agenda,” or the suite of policy priorities that support a responsive and agile education system. Just this last year, our efforts helped to bring universal preschool to all Colorado four-year-olds, ensured college credit could be given for qualified work experience, and expanded high-quality career-connected learning opportunities to more school districts.
In the area of practice, our Homegrown Talent Initiative – supported by us and our partner Colorado Education Initiative – has brought business leaders, educators, students, and community members together, and invested more than $1,000,000 in funding, to develop and implement plans to bring career-connected learning to seven rural school districts. Even with the challenges of COVID-19, these communities made huge strides towards systems that are better preparing their students for life after graduation.
In partnership with 9NEWS, one of our biggest philanthropic efforts is called The Succeeds Prize, a prestigious awards event for Colorado’s most innovative educators. Last year, we awarded $120,000 to 12 schools modeling agility in education. In addition to the cash grant, we work to amplify and scale their innovations through a year-long storytelling campaign, convenings, and other support. We also collaborate with partners to offer additional funding opportunities, like last year’s Education Innovation Fund that awarded grants to programs with innovative solutions to COVID-19 impacts.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
Young people. Whether it be my own kids; the elementary students at Rocky Mountain Prep who are learning about perseverance, excellence, adventure, and kindness; or the teenagers at the STEM School Highlands Ranch who are inventing new technologies and creating businesses that are making the world a better place, they inspire me to act.
I feel called to work with leaders from education, business, and government to center the student experience and perspective as we re-design the educational system. We know one size doesn’t fit all, and yet many kids are still being forced to conform to a rigid structure that isn’t relevant to them.
What inspires me is unlocking the potential of young people by helping them answer that age-old question of, “Why am I learning this?” or “When will I ever use this material in my life?” When we create relevance for young people and show them the value of their experiences and learning, we give them hope for their future and inspire them to achieve beyond their wildest dreams.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
My hope is that, through a commitment to collaboration and innovation, we can build an agile education system that gives all students – no matter their background or circumstances – the opportunity and support they need to discover their passions and access their own path to success.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
The biggest challenges we’re facing right now are the impacts of COVID-19 on both education and business, and the inequities in our education system and the wider community that are not new but have been exacerbated by the crisis. When the pandemic hit, we found ourselves quickly pivoting to supporting our communities in a variety of ways – addressing food insecurity, technology access, and challenges of remote learning – and we also saw a real need to build deeper relationships with students and families to address not only immediate needs, but to better elevate their voices in policy development processes to ensure more equitable, relevant, and responsive solutions long-term.
These efforts are still a work in progress, but I’m incredibly energized and inspired by the collaboration that has already taken place and the policy ideas that have surfaced as a result – like giving students the resources to learn everywhere, reimagining high school to be more engaging for students, emphasizing equity in education policy design, aligning business and student incentives to expand career-connected learning opportunity, and innovation in higher education to make it more efficient and affordable.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT YOUR CAUSE AND/OR THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
There’s a belief among some that if the current model of learning was good enough for us, it’s good enough for our kids, right? Wrong. The world is simply changing too fast. We need to dream bigger about what’s possible for kids and we need to resist the desire to return to the ways things were. While the pandemic has illuminated and deepened persistent opportunity gaps, it has also opened our minds to new ways for accessing learning through a myriad of different platforms, mediums, and partnerships. Let’s double down on the positives aspects of the hybrid school experience to reinvent education and deliver a truly world class and personalized experience for all kids in the future.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
“I get up every morning determined to both change the world and have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning my day difficult.” ― E.B. White
My life is characterized by a commitment to two values: contribution and joy, and this quote perfectly sums up the enthusiasm and challenge with which I approach every single day.
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
If you’re a business leader, consider joining Colorado Succeeds as a member to connect with influencers and decision-makers committed to continuous improvement of our state’s education system. We’re also looking for organizational partners, local or national, to collaborate with, so don’t hesitate to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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