CharterFolk Contributor Sebastian Cognetta – Trusting in Expertise and Empowering Innovation: A Dynamic Balance of Alignment and Autonomy

Greetings, CharterFolk!

Today we are pleased to share a contributor column from Sebastian Cognetta, Chief Executive Officer of Allegiance STEAM Academy (ASA) Thrive.

Sebastian Cognetta, Chief Executive Officer of Allegiance STEAM Academy (ASA) Thrive.

I provide Sebastian’s brief bio below.

Sebastian Cognetta is the Founding CEO of Allegiance STEAM Academy Charter Schools and holds a Doctoral Degree in Educational Leadership from the USC Rossier School of Education. At Allegiance STEAM Academy Charter Schools, Dr. Cognetta works with an exceptional team of educators driven to unleash students’ natural potential for creativity and innovation through our STEAM-based model. Prior to helping a team of passionate parents found Allegiance STEAM Academy, Dr. Cognetta helped design and lead Aveson Charter Schools in Altadena, CA. 

Dr. Cognetta is a vocal advocate for school choice. He actively participates in local and state initiatives, championing policies that empower families to choose the educational path that best suits their child’s unique needs and potential.

Trusting in Expertise and Empowering Innovation: A Dynamic Balance of Alignment and Autonomy

Allegiance STEAM Academy, Inc., a Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation, with the purpose of providing public education and expanding school choice, operates public charter schools in California designed to prepare all students using a STEAM-aligned instructional model. You can learn more about our vision, mission, and core values here.

At Allegiance STEAM Academy, we’ve witnessed the transformative power of a dedicated staff firsthand. For over five years, our teacher retention rate has soared above 92%. While we’re far from perfect and recognize there’s a way to go, seeing that number inspires us to keep learning and refining our approach. We’re discovering what truly resonates with our staff and finding what practices translate into lasting commitment. Today, I’m thrilled to share some of the guiding principles and lessons learned that might contribute to our shared endeavor to attract and retain the best of the best.

Trusting in Expertise and Empowering Innovation: A Dynamic Balance of Alignment and Autonomy

Our belief in the inherent expertise and dedication of our staff nurtures a dynamic balance between alignment and autonomy, fostering both consistency and innovation. This approach recognizes that effective education involves leveraging established knowledge while also embracing the potential for improvement through individual ingenuity.

Leveraging the Power of Existing Knowledge:

We draw upon well-established best practices informed by research, providing clear frameworks and resources to maintain consistency and effectiveness (Darling-Hammond & Brathwaite, 2020). This might involve:

  • Sharing research-backed instructional strategies supported by studies such as Hattie & Zierer’s (2016) Visible Learning.
  • Implementing standardized assessment protocols aligned with national or state standards.

Embracing the Thrill of Discovery:

In areas where best practices are evolving or undefined, we empower our educators to explore, experiment, and innovate (Fullan & Hargreaves, 2014). This fosters individual initiative and agency, supporting:

  • Action research projects that contribute to the knowledge base, as advocated by Cochran-Smith & Lytle (2009).
  • Pilot programs and classroom-based experimentation to test new approaches and ideas.
  • Celebration of creative solutions and best practices developed by our own staff, enriching the entire school community.


We nurture a collaborative and supportive environment. Strong relationships with colleagues and administrators are a bedrock, reducing stress and isolation commonly cited as factors for teacher burnout (National Commission on Teaching & America’s Future, 2020). Open communication, regular feedback, and opportunities for peer collaboration are central to building this supportive climate.


We value both passion and expertise. Competitive wages, robust benefits, and creative incentives like student loan repayment programs serve as tangible expressions of our commitment to their well-being and financial security (Randolph & Reeves, 2018).

  • Saying the quiet part out loud: Be clear about not just who you are, but who you aren’t. Sharing core values alongside what you stand against empowers professionals to make informed choices and fosters a culture of alignment. I’ve learned that being explicit about who you are not is vital.
  • Modeling positive intent: Trust your staff. Assume they’re making decisions with the best information available and guide them to make even better ones. This cultivates a climate of autonomy and mutual respect.
  • Surrounding with excellence: Show how much you value your staff by surrounding them with extraordinary people. A well-chosen team elevates everyone, creating a ripple effect of inspiration and growth.

While our retention rate is encouraging, challenges remain. The lure of higher salaries from surrounding school districts and growing anti-charter activity across our state by those threatened by our existence demand constant vigilance. But by sharing knowledge and learning from each other, we can create a united front to ensure that our most valuable asset – our dedicated staff – thrives.

We are a collaborative network, sharing best practices and offering support. Together, we can illuminate a path where educators feel valued, inspired, and committed to staying in the classrooms where they make the biggest difference.

Join the conversation! Share your experiences and let Jed know you want to share your insights with CharterFolk in a future column.