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Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Right Perspective in this Age of Over-Assessment

     Thanks to Jennifer, our Project Director, for sharing this link with me, which of course, allows me to share it with you.  
     In this culture where it seems some schools spend as much time testing as teaching, comes this breath of fresh air from a colleague in England.  All assessments, yes even those Holy Grail Assessments - PARCC and Smarter Balance (always reminds me of the fake butter) are only snapshots of a child, a small slice of what makes up that individual student.  My brother-in-law, a photographer, used to tell me you have to shoot a whole roll of film to get just one good picture that truly captures the subject.  Snapshots may be out of focus, shot at the wrong angle, or at the wrong time.  Snapshots may or may not reflect the image on the other side of the lens.  The same holds true when assessing children.     

Check out this letter from the principal of a school in England.  I got chills.  I know it will have the same effect on you or else you wouldn't be reading my blog.  Pass this along to other like-minded educators...

After receiving their standardized test results, students at the 
Barrowford Primary School in Lancashire, England received a letter from their principal Rachel Tomlinson. The letter, posted below, reminds students of all the things a standardized test doesn’t measure. The letter was inspired by fellow educator Kimberley Hurd, who penned a blog post last October…: 



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Up and Running, Like 90 Miles an Hour!

     So much for my New Year's resolution to be a better, or at least more regular blogger.   My latest adventure into the charter school world has monopolized my world as of late.  Moving forward, I pledge to try to do a better job of documenting, through my blog, our school's journey in our first year.

     As an life-long educator, opening a Charter School is a dream come true, it's just that you never get to sleep in order to enjoy the dream.  Having spent all of my career in large public school systems, I have also had at my disposal an equally large network of support personnel to handle the A to Z of school operations.  Got an issue?   Pick up the phone and call one of the offices.  Pick up the phone now?  I reach my own voice mail.  In the past two weeks I've learned more about accounting, budgeting, finances, payroll, purchasing, custodial, infrastructure, compliance, ADA, benefits, human resources, and the list goes on and on.  I am a shining example of an old dog being able to learn new tricks.  While at the time I was not so thrilled to be learning all of these new things, as the School Leader, I have a much better handle on the big picture, all of those things that have to be in place so that when those little guys show up on the first day of school, nothing gets in the way of them having a stellar school experience.
     As building upgrades are being completed, infrastructure is being installed and classroom furniture, technology and materials are being delivered, I am now more focused on the teaching and learning aspects of what will make our school so special for our boys and girls.  The vision, so artfully developed and articulated by our Charter Committee, is becoming a reality right before my eyes.  Stay tuned for additional posts chronicling the experience of building a charter school from the ground up.  In about a month, the kids will be arriving at Carolina Voyager Charter School and we'll be ready for the adventure of a lifetime.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Where Do I Get My 411?

     In this day and age, I can’t believe I find myself posing this question.  Where do I get my information?  Online, of course!  Google it, right? 
     I can’t remember the last time I picked up a reference book to search for anything.  As I pack to move to South Carolina, I find myself donating dictionaries, thesauruses, atlases, reference books, and almanacs to the Salvation Army, doubtful that I will have any use for any of them, unless of course the Internet goes down.  In that case, the world would have to shut down anyway.  (Have you seen that South Park episode?)
    So why this post?  As I was walking through my school library today, I observed my Media Specialist teaching a lesson on using print resources materials, posing questions such as, “Which reference book would you look in to find the population of the United States?” Really?  Do you mean the population in 2011 (or even earlier when the book was published), or the real time population today?  If I had a question about population, it would be much more interesting like looking at demographic trends over time in cities, regions or counties in my state or country.  Can you enter these types of variables into your reference book and then resort the data?  Don’t get me wrong.  I love books.  I’m old.  But come on.  Why are we teaching kids to access static print resources when the world is at their fingertips?
    And therein lies the rub and one of the reasons I am looking to lead in a less static environment.   Parents are entrusting me to take care of their children's education when they are away from them.  They don't need their parent's education, most of which is, or soon will be, obsolete. The world is dynamic.  Too many of my colleagues and our schools are not.  
     I want to be able to live and work and explore in the here and now (and the future).  If something needs to change because it doesn’t make sense, I want to be able to do it, without focus groups, curriculum review committees, pilots, let’s wait until next year, and that’s not how we have always done it.  I wish I had made this big move earlier in my career.  But then again, maybe I would not have appreciated it as much as I do today?  
     Make a difference, especially if you are mired in one of the those thousands of bureaucracies across the country known as school systems.  Create change.  If not you, who? 
     In my mind I’m going to Carolina….



Monday, May 19, 2014

Carolina Voyager Charter School in the News

     The vision of Carolina Voyager Charter School is getting closer and closer to reality.  The word is spreading about the innovative and child-centered programs that will be offered to children on the Charleston peninsula.  This past weekend, I appeared on one of the local news shows in Charleston for an interview about our school.  You can check out the piece linked below:

http://www.abcnews4.com/category/192556/lowcountry-live 

     CVCS is going to be a exemplary program, one that is certain to draw a great deal of attention in the coming years.  Continue to follow this blog as I chronicle the process of operationalizing a vision into an actual school program.  My next post will present our curriculum framework, incorporating research-based practices in an innovative platform.  

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Chasing Beautiful Questions

     In a recent address to Howard County Public School Principals, Dr Freeman Hrabowski, President of the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, spoke of the need to develop our student’s curiosity as one of our most important missions.  This same sentiment has been expressed in works by some of the biggest thinkers out there (Tony Wagner in Creating Innovators, Amanda Ripley in The Smartest Kids in the World, Yong Zhao in Catching Up or Leading the Way, and one of the smartest people I know, Stephanie Harvey in Strategies that Work).  Steph also says “Smart isn’t something you are. Smart is something you get.” 
     We need to ensure those kids who enter our school brimming with questions and curiosity, leave our school even more curious and asking even greater, or more beautiful questions.  Unfortunately, too many schools today are not set up to foster this kind of inquiry.  By the time kids leave school, we have retrained their naturally curious brains, requiring them to answer our questions much more frequently than they are encouraged to ask their own questions.  The future will require so much more of our current students.   Information is no longer king, as it can be accessed instantly as needed.  Curiosity is, and will continue to be the new currency.
     The motivation behind this post, besides the years of trying to change the system?  Well oddly enough, it was an article I read in the Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine on one of my recent trips to Charleston.  The article entitled, Chasing Beautiful Questions was written by Warren Berger.  Mr. Berger also published a book entitled, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas.   You can check out the Spirit article below.  Be curious.  Check it out.  Ask some beautiful questions.   Go ahead, you can do it.


Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Charter Schools – Good or Bad for Public Education?

     Being in public education for over 30 years, I had always viewed charter schools as the public school enemy #1, a threat to those of us working hard to be all things to all children regardless of the plethora of challenges they brought with them when they walked through our doors.  If you had asked me if charter schools were good or bad for public education, my answer would have been a definitive - bad!  What I have come to realize is that I was asking the wrong question.  The right question is, Charter schools – good or bad for our children?   Framed that way, the answer is a definitive - good!
     In public education, we have got to get past the notion that charter schools are somehow a threat to public education.  In fact, they may be one of the only ways to save it.  How, you ask? 
     While we have been talking about transforming education since the earth cooled, for the most part, schools still look and function pretty much like they have for decades.  Sure, we’ve gone from rows to table groups and blackboards to white boards, but the basic structure of schools remains unchanged.  That might be fine if the world weren’t changing so quickly.  The uncertainty of what our current students will need to know in the future makes an even stronger case to examine our current (or should I say past) practices and come to the realization that we need to do things differently.
     Change in institutions has been historically slow, painfully so at most times.  Generally speaking, the larger the organization, the greater the resistance and the slower the process when trying to do things differently.  Implementing even relatively minor changes in a public school setting can take years, mindful of involving all constituents in the planning cycle through the use of forums such as focus groups.  After months (or years) of iterations, compromises, pilots, feedback, data reviews, etc., we find the change had little impact on student achievement, as it really wasn’t that big of a “change” to begin with.  So can anyone transform schooling, as we have known it?

     Charter schools present a structure and a culture where innovation is embraced and where significant change can be more rapidly implemented.  As such, charter schools can be an incubator for innovation, a lab school if you will, where real changes can be implemented, quickly evaluated, and disseminated widely not only to their sponsoring districts, but across the globe.  Charters can be the risk takers, the outside the box thinkers, the “we can figure this thing out folks” without the constraints of going through the laborious, and sometimes painful process of implementing change in school systems.  Do we really want to transform education?  Look to charters.  They should be viewed as the best friends of public education, not the enemy.

Monday, April 28, 2014

What If You Ran the Zoo?

What if you had the chance to start a brand new school?  What if you could implement all of those innovative ideas and practices, those things you know you should be doing with and for kids to prepare them not only for the assessment du jour, but more importantly for their lives?  What if in addition to academics, you could focus on those critical social emotional competencies that will ensure your students are able to meet the demands of the uncertain future that lies ahead? What if you were bound to the Common Core, but you were able to decide how you would get the kids to where they needed to be?  What if every child in every classroom had access to a variety of technologies and rich digital content, not only in school, but also at home?  What if you could hire your own staff from scratch, ensuring they shared your vision and passion for innovation?

Would you do it?  

I said, "I'm all in!"  I would like to introduce you to the Founding School Leader of the Carolina Voyager Charter School in Charleston, South Carolina - ME!  CVCS will be an amazing place for our children.  (You can Google us or see an earlier blog post for the link.) Building this school from the ground presents incredible possibilities, as well as daunting challenges.  In the coming months, I will be sharing my experiences through this blog as we operationalize our vision for CVCS.  You may want to follow this process in case you are ever in the enviable position that I find myself in this year.  After 34 years in public education, I am completely re-energized at the opportunity to finally not only think outside the box, but implement outside the box as well.  Stay tuned for the next posting - Are Charter Schools Good or Bad for Public Education?