Hartford business leaders, non-profit partners, educators and students were among the 200 attendees at Achieve Hartford’s annual “inspiration”- raiser, Inspire Hartford.  Presented by UnitedHealthcare – and showcasing the work of students from the Academy of Engineering and Green Technology, Pathways Academy of Technology and Design, and Milner School – the Inspire Hartford event offered a unique opportunity to see what 21st century learning is about.

Held at the Hartford Hilton on March 28, the event also brought to Hartford, Founder and CEO of Chicago Beyond, a youth equity platform that exists so that ALL youth, especially those most vulnerable, will have the opportunity to achieve their fullest human potential. Since its launch in 2016, Chicago Beyond has invested more than $30M in disruptive organizations, ideas and people to make that a reality.

During her timely discussion about the culture of inequity that persists in urban education, Liz recounted her experiences as principal at Fenger High School, known as one of the most violent and underperforming schools  in  the  city  of  Chicago, as where she learned some of her greatest life lessons.

And there were many lessons to learn. Dozier’s first year at Fenger High was featured in the docu-series “Chicago-Land,” where CNN followed her work as principal and many others who faced the challenges of gangs, crime and poverty throughout the school and city.

It was during this time Liz had to make one of her most pivotal decisions.  She received a call from a nationally know education expert who told her the odds were against her making much more of a difference at the troubled school. After that conversation, fear of failure set in, fear for the kids.  “I can’t do enough for them, what’s going to happen to them and the community?”

But it was at this moment Liz stated where you must decide – are you all in or out– you can’t be half way.   Are you willing to create innovative disruption in education for kids in the way Uber has for the transportation industry or Airbnb in lodging?

Liz and her team went to work to devise new approaches – it was a period of trial and error, but they were in pursuit of a really big idea – equity for ALL of Fenger’s students.

What happens when you are All In?

Under Dozier’s leadership, Fenger experienced a decrease in its dropout rate from 19% to 2%, a 40% increase in Freshmen On-Track to graduate, and double digit increases in attendance.

Wanting to make a broader impact Liz left Fenger to launch Chicago Beyond where they work to identify the most disruptive and innovative ideas in youth safety and education to invest in learn from and, most importantly to grow. “Building the connective tissue between the public and private sector to provide wrap around support for students will impact the education ecosystem.”

In Dozier’s parting comment (you can watch here) she stressed that the school district doesn’t have to lead all change to provide an equitable education for all children. “How are you pushing yourself?” School districts can’t do this work alone. “How can we give all kids a chance?”

It’s a question we give you room to reflect on, “Are you ALL IN?”

See Dozier’s full speech here.