The roots of Ledyard McFadden’s exposure to school reform came by way of Costa Rica. After teaching there as part of a Harvard-affiliated program called World Teach, the SchoolWorks founder took a job as a high school ESL teacher in Chelsea, Mass., at around the same time the district was put into receivership by the state.
“By chance, I was thrust into an early experiment in school reform and takeovers,” McFadden says. “It brought to my awareness that we were entering a time when there would be a big emphasis on education reform. I had the opportunity to be part of planning for a new school-within-a-school academy at Chelsea High School. That experience of starting from scratch changed my professional life.”
After participating in the launching of the Bridge School in Chelsea, he helped to open City on a Hill Charter School in Boston, before becoming regional manager for Beacon Education Management, where he oversaw the application process and opening of several charter schools. ”These experiences helped me discover that I am a project person at my best,” McFadden says. “Starting SchoolWorks fit my skills.”
Rapid growth in the company’s early years was followed by an articulation of its mission and core values—that SchoolWorks serves its clients best by learning with them and applies global knowledge to local contexts without imposing one-size-fits-all solutions, as well as the idea that progress requires an ongoing process of continuous improvement. “We know the correlates of great schools, but they don’t manifest themselves the same way in every school,” McFadden explains. “Each school has to match the community it serves. Our work is about helping schools apply best practices in their unique situations.”
McFadden has overseen many of SchoolWorks’ milestone projects, including early relationships with the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the School District of Philadelphia, and the Broad Foundation, as well as ongoing work with the Coalition of Schools Educating Boys of Color. As the company continued to grow, he focused on building additional leadership capacity and focusing his attention on business development and strategic planning. “I am a project person, but others are better managers of an established organization,” McFadden says.
McFadden says that the company he founded has reached a point where its core values have been ingrained into everything it does. “For a while, the mission and vision were words on paper,” he says. “But as the company has grown, we’ve build a common understanding and a real commitment to them. More exciting, there are many talented people at SchoolWorks who will add to and evolve our work.”