Getting Started with Co-Design: A Nested Regional Network

An update from the 2023–2024 Region 16 Comprehensive Center-Family Leadership Design Collaborative Co-Design Fellowship cohort

“Instead of approaching people and communities with solutions thought of in their absence, we should be in conversation with people and communities to co-construct and implement solutions based on local knowledges and realities” (San Pedro & Kinloch, 2017).

Region 16 Comprehensive Center and the Family Leadership Design Collaborative (FLDC) are proud to partner on the year-long, inaugural Co-design Fellowship. The fellowship supports diverse educational systems in Alaska, Washington, and Oregon in co-designing with youth, families, and communities. Region 16 would like to thank our advisory board for its guidance, which led us to the exemplary work of Drs. Ann Ishimaru, Megan Bang, and Melanie Quaempts.

This is the first installment of a four-part series about the Co-design Fellowship intended to support fellowship teams in their work. This series also serves as a resource for educators and systems leaders in the region — and beyond — who seek to work with Indigenous and racially minoritized youth and communities, rather than for them. 

A Regionwide Priority on Collaborating with Families and Communities

The process of selecting the 2023–2024 Co-design cohort was no small task, as nearly three times as many teams applied as we were able to accept. The nine teams invited to participate in the Region 16 Co-design Fellowship range from school districts, Tribal communities, and community coalitions to educational service districts (ESDs) and city and state agencies. All applicant teams communicated a compelling vision and desire for support in centering the expertise of youth, families, and communities — work that is as crucial as it is challenging.

Region 16 remains committed to supporting the teams who applied, including those not awarded a fellowship this year. The groundswell of interest aligns with Region 16’s priority of partnering with families and communities, particularly those underserved in our education systems.

Co-design lies at the heart of Region 16’s commitment to improving educational equity through initiatives that:

  • Think systemically
  • Center communities, families, and students
  • Share focus and understanding
  • Convene diverse actors across our region and system

For example, Region 16’s upcoming Professional Book Studies series will feature fellowship coach Ann Ishimaru’s book, Just Schools: Building Equitable Collaborations with Families and Communities. Stay tuned to learn more about this opportunity for educators, administrators, parents, and community leaders to deepen their knowledge about collaborating for educational equity.

Diverse Systems, Shared Commitments

Teams strategically selected for the 2023-2024 Co-design Fellowship cohort represent an intentional diversity of communities, systems, and geographies “nested” within each of the three states. In selecting these teams, we hope to nurture a network across these nested systems that will sustain beyond a single year of resources, coaching, and learning.

All of the Co-design fellowship teams are developing their capacity to lead in partnership with Indigenous and racially minoritized youth, families, and communities to foster educational justice and community well-being in their unique contexts:

Regional and State Level

  • Washington Department of Children, Youth, and Families (DCYF) — lead Michelle Roberts (Washington)
  • Indigenous State Leadership with Region 16 Comprehensive Center  — leads Joel Isaak, Bernie Sorenson, and Patsy Whitefoot (Alaska, Oregon, and Washington)

ESD and Intrastate Level 

  • Willamette Education Services District — lead Maria Chavez-Haroldson (Oregon)
  • Columbia Gorge ESD — lead Mauree Donahue Revier (Oregon)
  • Sealaska Heritage Institute — lead Jamie Shanley (Alaska)

District and Local Level

  • Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District — lead Chastitie Cork (Alaska)
  • La Conner School District — lead William Makoyiisaaminaa Nelson (Washington)
  • Mt. Adams District/White Swan Coalition — lead Julie Schillref (Washington)
  • City of Seattle’s Department of Education & Early Learning — leads Mustafa Bulale and Amelia Moore (Washington)

Teams have expressed a clear vision for applying their learning to equitably partner with youth, families, and communities in their unique contexts:

“We are hoping to gain knowledge and skills we can use to be more effective in engaging and elevating community voice in all of our decision-making processes. We have community members and educational leaders who are interested in facilitating deeper, more authentic relationships, and we’re looking for support and guidance to allow us to move forward in a productive and collaborative way. ” – Julie Schillreff, Mount Adams School District“Our participation in this fellowship is an opportunity for cross-agency collaboration to strengthen our voices in redesigning local- and state-wide education systems. Our community of educators and cultural leaders have a shared vision for the education and support of Alaska Native children and families. We are hoping to learn evidence-based approaches working with Native families. Having a designated space, time and mentorship for this work is essential.”  – Jamie Shanley, Sealaska Heritage Institute

In the next three parts of this four-part series, we will highlight how fellows are undertaking solidarity-driven co-design through three key steps:

  1. Take a different approach to partnering with youth, families, and communities
  2. Begin with families and communities to identify a center of gravity for co-design
  3. Build a co-design team with diverse expertise


San Pedro, T., & Kinloch, V. (2017). Toward projects in humanization: Research on co-creating and sustaining dialogic relationships. American Educational Research Journal, 54(1_suppl), 373S-394S.

Ann Ishimaru (yonsei/Japanese American) seeks to foster joyful learning in educationally just schools and communities. As a researcher and professor of educational foundations, leadership, and policy at the University of Washington College of Education, she cultivates the leadership and solidarities of educators and racially minoritized youth, families, and communities to co-design humanizing educational systems and futures.

Megan Bang (Ojibwe & Italian Descent) has an interest and passion for interdisciplinary approaches and methods that bring her into people’s lived experiences and spaces. She has extensive knowledge in community-based design research and Indigenous epistemologies.

​​Melanie Quaempts (Pacific Islander, Japanese, and Irish) brings a school district administrator lens to her practice of cognitive studies. She has a desire to understand and dismantle systemic racism with a deep understanding of the complexities of the work. She believes in the power of collective learning and has experience designing learning experiences that draw out participants’ strengths to lead district and school-based teams.

Published October 9, 2023

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