February 7, 2024

How Akron Public Schools Leverages “Leaps” to Drive Equitable Learning

By Transcend
Photo courtesy of Akron Public Schools

Akron Public Schools (APS) recently underwent a rigorous process to define a strategic plan to “ensure all APS scholars are college, career, and life-ready by providing innovative educational experiences.”

When the plan was publicly launched in December 2023, Superintendent Dr. Michael Robinson said: “Our scholars belong to the entire community. Our work with them today becomes what we will see in our future.”

The APS plan is built around four cornerstones:

  1. Culture of Safety and Belonging
  2. Academic Achievement
  3. Operational Excellence
  4. Partnerships, Family and Community Engagement

Larry W. Johnson Jr., Secondary Principal Supervisor, and Dr. Wanda Lash, Director of Student and Family Services, were on the teams for the first and fourth cornerstones and found a strategic planning partner in our Leaps for 21st Century, Equitable Learning. These 10 Leaps describe the key ways we believe the student experience must change so that schools can prepare all young people to thrive in and transform the world. 

The Strategy Reframed Through Leaps

Johnson first discovered the Leaps when he was involved in middle school transformation at the district a few years ago. The district began using the Leaps Student Voice Survey, a tool designed to help communities understand the experiences of learners through the lens of the Leaps. “The Leaps gave language to what we wanted to define with agency from the perspective of the student,” he says. “It was just so appropriate because agency is all about students’ action, and we didn’t have a better way to define it.”

After that, he says, he was all in on using the Leaps as a framework. In the Culture of Safety and Belonging cornerstone, the leaps of Affirmation of Self & Others and Connection & Community are specifically called out and goals set around increasing the percentage of APS students, staff, and families experiencing a positive and affirming school culture.

When APS staff looked at the data from the survey, they found that students wanted more relevance and connection in their experience. “The data was telling them that the students were really interested in relevant learning and that they wanted more opportunities to use their learning as a point of connection and community,” says Chastity George, a Transcend School Design Partner who supports APS.

Johnson says the Leaps also helped the district fill a language void around its equity work. “We talk about equity; we say we’re equitable,” says Johnson. “But we didn’t have a way to say, ‘This is what equity looks like in Akron Public Schools.’ The way the Leaps were set up from a non-equitable approach to an equitable approach, it gave language and socializing for what we were trying to do with equity.” 

For example, the Connection & Community Leaps represents a shift from a learning environment where building strong relationships is not prioritized to one where learners are deeply known and respected by a variety of adults and peers. 

Wanda and Larry believe this is just the start and envision aligning more of the strategic plan to the Leaps in future iterations. They both see potential to align the academic cornerstone around Relevance, Rigorous Learning, and High Expectations with Unlimited Opportunities. 

APS’s strategic planning process has become more aligned with the data-driven insights provided through Transcend’s Leaps. “Since we came back from break, we have been in multiple sessions with principals just hearing kind of a mid-year check-in with their data: their academic data, their non-academic data,” says Wanda Lash. “Folks are really looking to this data to inform their next steps.”


Transcend supports communities to create and spread extraordinary, equitable learning environments.

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Transcend is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit that operates nationally.