Back to school isn’t what it used to be: A Communicast convo with Andru Volinsky and Khaleel Shreet

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Back to school isn’t what it used to be.  And while we’re on the subject, should we ever expect it to return exactly to the way it was?

With education top of mind for so many as September approaches, I brought together Andru Volinsky, a voice of deep New Hampshire experience in the many facets of education, and Khaleel Shreet representing Duet, a relatively new to New Hampshire startup that recently became a vendor to Southern New Hampshire University. Andy Volinsky is well known for his four decades of advocacy for equalizing educational opportunity across communities. Service to others has always been a lifelong component of what makes him tick and his persistence is well demonstrated in his recent success in getting the State of Alabama to revert a death sentence to life without parole for his client after a 30-year (pro bono) quest for justice.

Andrew Volinsky & Khaleel Shreet joined me in a #communicast discussion about education and success in life. Both come from challenging socio-economic backgrounds. Self-drive and educational opportunity got each of them to where they are today.

For a community to prosper, we need to tap into the best that each resident has to offer and to create an environment where it is possible and relatively easy to share, to grow and to pass those learnings and skills along to the next generation. In business, you hire a candidate who has the capacity to grow into the job you have available and also is capable of seeing and contributing to new growth paths for the enterprise. We touched on “remote learning” vs.  “on-line learning” and “hybrid models” but also of high concern, addressing the human day to day impact on parents and students.

Schools might have taken on the role of child care service provider but they also can be a launchpad for our tech-fueled future. Both sides of this equation have surfaced since that day in March when every student was sent to learn-at-home.

Back-to-school this year comes with a lot of uncertainty and that translates to frustration and dealing with disruptions that are uncomfortable for all parties involved.  Entrepreneurs, however, see disruptions as a perfect time to interject new ways of thinking, acting and doing things. They offer new methods and tools that can drop into an existing workflow process with hopefully new efficiencies and improvements.

Both Volinsky and Shreet are passionate about education and finding better ways to deliver more success stories to our communities.  Andy Volinsky is a New Hampshire father, husband, and advocate for social justice serving on the Executive Council representing District 2, which covers Keene to Concord to Rochester. He is running for Governor in 2020. He is also a success case for the power of education and personal determination. Khaleel Shreet arrived here in Manchester from Syria seven years ago and is thankful for the education he received here. Today he is senior coach and Director of Duet’s NH program running in partnership with SNHU.

Our discussion centered around community and education. Andy knows the long tail of community, education and funding and Khaleel speaks the newer tale of technology enhanced with a human touch that can make a difference as society goes forward. Together we three looked at how communities might learn from the higher education pivot to help improve the delivery of education in the grades leading up to and including high school.

All three of us agree that education is one clearly defined path to improving one’s economic station in life – particularly as technology plays an ever increasingly important role in society.

With the Duet program at Southern New Hampshire University as a starting point, we discussed the role of Success Partners and mentors as a safety net and a confidence builder for students to excel on their own. “Only 27 percent of college students today are traditional full-time students,” said Khaleel. Most have families and work responsibilities as well. Duet assigns a coach to help students address all types of obstacles as they arise and at SNHU their degree is awarded after completing an agreed to project-based curriculum. This works well when you are self-motivated and mature enough to simultaneously deal with family, career and educational needs.

As all parents of high school age children and below learned very quickly, there’s a lot to juggle when everyone is working from the same house. Success partners invested in family success could be a whole new enterprise.

Allocations for personal computers, Chromebooks, textbooks and delivery vehicles such as video conferences and high-speed internet connections all require funding now and down the road.  Eight-year-old students have strong feelings about “i-ready” and other tools. I know this first hand. Have we really engaged them in the conversation? We should. The lessons of TikTok as an alternative communication tool embraced by a younger set who at any age have become entrepreneurs and social media influencers should be part of the equation.

And this is where COVID-19 has opened the door to deeper discussions. Perhaps we should not be trying to put together things the way they were because things will never be exactly the same as they were when we adults went to school. We need a partnership between students, entrepreneurs, parents, schools, businesses and government to make it all work.

About this Author


Keith Spiro

Advisor & ContributorManchester InkLink

Business Strategist, Community Builder with a keen interest in working with high-impact startups and other organizations that can make a difference in community and health.