Saturday, December 27, 2014

Got Code? Carolina Voyager in the News (Again)

Great news for anyone still reading my blog.  I am not dead.  Just dead tired from trying to change the world...

Opening this new charter school is more work than I could have ever imagined.  But, more importantly, the most important work I have never done.  Ah, the world of charters.  The stories I could tell, and I will, once I don't have  to play nicely with folks who say they stand for children and clearly do not.  But, I'm in the South and one of the first rules of Southern civility is to be nice even to people who are not nice to you or the charter movement.  I wish they followed the same rules. There's a book in here.  Just not now.

Now, it's about my amazing staff and students and the work we are all doing down here in South Carolina.  Here's the most recent piece from the Charlestown Post and Courier.  Check it out below:

I won't promise again that I will post more often as I barely have time to come up for air (and Cabernet).

Public education is in trouble.  Charters so want to help. We are not the enemy...

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Updated Contact Information

     A number of people have reached out requesting updated contact information.  I am now the Proud Principal of Carolina Voyager Charter School in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. You can reach me at or by phone at (843) 203-3891.  Please feel free to reach out to collaborate.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Carolina Voyager Charter School in the News

A big thank you goes out to Amanda Kerr, Education Reporter, for the article she penned in Charleston's Post and Courier newspaper.   The article, published yesterday, highlighted the blending learning program we are implementing with our kindergarten, first and second graders.  You can read the article at the following link: 

This will be the first of many articles published highlighting the great work being done by our children, teacher and parents.  Stay tuned..... 

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: 

     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?

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Phone Books? Really?

     So I arrived home this afternoon to a brand new phone book in a plastic bag dropped on my front porch.  I could see if I had ordered it, or if someone had called from the phone company and asked if I was in need of one, but there it was, unsolicited and definitely unwanted.  Okay, now I admit to be a bit over the hill.  I even remember pulling the yellow pages out of the kitchen junk drawer to find a plumber, but why are they still printing phone books today? Or at the very least, why are the printing them and distributing them to everyone?  So maybe today's kids' alphabetizing skills are not as developed as mine and most probably couldn't tell you what a guide words is, but so what?  Obsolete is as obsolete does (a twist on Forrest Gump). 
     Now don't get me wrong, I wouldn't classify myself as a tree hugger or environmentalist (although I faithfully recycle), but what a waste of natural resources!  I've got myself on no call lists.  How do I get on the no phone book list?

Are you a 21st Century Teacher?

You first reaction is likely, "Why of course I am!"  I read about the latest innovations in teaching, learning, and technology.  I follow a number of bloggers, collaborating on promising practices.  I own and iPad and an iPhone and I have an iTunes account.  In order to ensure you are setting the bar high enough, check out this post from Lisa on the blog, I Love EdTech.  I thought I was pretty savvy, but I have a lot of room for growth.  How about you? 

Technology Underutilized?

    So I'm sitting in an airport on my third weather delay (one delay was because we had to wait to swap out our airplane for a different one because the windshield wiper was broken -seriously) and I am sitting across from four elderly ladies (yes much older than even me), each of which have their own iPhones in their respective zebra, mirror, bejeweled, and one understated plain case, and I'm thinking to myself, how cool is that?  Are they surfing the internet for up to the minute weather reports to calculate when we might be able to take off, checking the markets to see how their annuities are faring after a third day of world-wide declines, getting the latest from CNN to see if those pings might really be from the lost Malaysian flight? Uh, no.  They are sharing YouTube files as Facebook friends of a dog dancing to Pharrell William's Cause I'm Happy.  At first I was aghast.  What a glaring under utilization of technology! How could the amazing power of this innovative technology wind up in the hands of old folks content that would use it solely for promoting a good belly laugh while watching a dancing dog?  
     I asked myself, "Would Steve Jobs be rolling over in his grave if he were to view this spectacle?"  I'm going to go out on a limb here, not personally knowing the man, but I think he would be smiling.  Shouldn't the value of technology be determined by the user?  Who am I to sit in judgement of what is a worthy use of technology?  Technology is a tool to be used to support the needs of the user.  For me, it's about accessing information and collaborating with like-minded people across the world.  So what?  Technology is transforming so many aspects of our lives.  From how we access our favorite shows and movies, to how we bank, to how we do our shopping.  In addition to shaping how we communicate with family and friends, social media has sparked and supported uprisings and revolutions around the world.  Maybe instead of poo-pooing these ladies watching dog videos, I should be celebrating they (1) have way cool devices, (2) know how to use them, and (3) are social networkers, which I might add appears to be working quite well for them.   You go Grandma and your Facebook friends!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Carolina Voyager Charter School Link

Ooops!  Forgot to provide you with the link to the school mentioned in my last post...  Carolina Voyager Charter School. 

Check them out and keep an eye out.....  

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Carolina Voyager Charter School

Have you heard about the new charter school opening this fall in Charleston, SC?  This new school, Carolina Voyager Charter School, is one you will want to keep your eye on.  Blended learning, project-based learning, a focus on social emotional intelligence.  This school will change the landscape of education, not only in Charleston, but well beyond.  Stay tuned.....

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is your Blended Learning Model built on a House of Cards?

With so many folks jumping on the blending learning wagon, there is a tendency to put the cart before the horse, focusing on selecting digital content and determining the BL model before ensuring a solid infrastructure is in place.  Francisco Castillo-Fierro, Director of Blended Learning at Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit High School in California gets it.  Check out his piece, "How to Build a Rock-Solid Blended Learning Infrastructure - Avoid the biggest disasters of new blended schools by getting these 3 things right.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Looking for Digital Content? KISS (Keep It Synthesized Stupid)

     Are you in the market for digital content to support your instructional programs?  Well, KISS (Keep It Synthesized Stupid). By synthesized, I am referring to the dictionary definition, “combining (a number of things) into a coherent whole.” Digital content should not be an add-on or an afterthought to the teacher’s plans for an individual student or group of students.  The teacher’s goals must always be “driving the bus” when considering the use of digital content.  That content needs to complement, extend, or enhance the teacher’s instruction. Otherwise, why bother? You might as well be pushing worksheets (or as I prefer to call them – shut-up sheets) at kids.
     John Rice, Manager of Blended Learning for the DC Public School System, gets it.  His recent post in EdSurge News outlines a thoughtful four-step process for selecting digital content (Determine goals; Which features are important; See it in action; and Make sure users approve).  I might add a fifth – Make sure it works!  At the risk of sounding a little pretentious, I think John’s second step would be enhanced with the use of an objective, validated tool to evaluate the quality of the digital content, like maybe the Evaluation Rubric for Mobile Applications? (see earlier posts).
     You can read John’s piece at this link:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Iteration Is Not A Four Letter Word (It’s Nine)

     Recently, I was sitting at the EdSurge conference in Baltimore on a Saturday morning, listening to Jim Shelton, Acting Deputy Secretary of Education, speak about innovation.  In his comments he mentioned a word that used to drive me crazy in my brief stint in the private sector, iteration!  Iteration in my previous life meant we were always working on the new and improved whatever – product, process, etc.   
     Didn’t we ever get something right the first time?  Well, no. Did we really have to revisit everything we created to find a way to make it better, faster, more effective? Ah, yes. Did I have to change my “check it off the list” framework to approaching the work?  Kinda.  In hindsight, was iteration in fact a good thing?  You bet!
     I am in the process of reading Tony Wagner’s latest book, Creating Innovators.  Tony always makes me challenge my status quo – one of the keys to innovative thinking.  If you haven’t picked this up yet, it’s a must read.  While I’m reading the print version (no surprise right?) he is using a new twist, embedding codes in the book linking you to videos that support the text.  Pretty cool.
     In order to create the kinds of innovative citizens we will need to fix all of the things we have managed to mess up, we need to take a look at our current practices, those practices responsible for churning out the folks (that would be us) who have created this current mess.  We’ve been talking about transforming education for years, yet very little has changed.  While I support radical changes in our system of education our children, at this point, I’d settle for any innovative change in what we are doing.   
     Let’s create some change.  If not us, then who?  Even if we start small, and then iterate, and iterate, and iterate some more.  It’s a good thing.  The status quo?  Not so much.   Just look around you.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Looking for Tablet Wars?

Here is a direct link to the infographic referenced in my last post:

Thanks Amelia!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Tablet Wars - What's Your Tablet of Choice?

Amelia Bush, one of my readers, just sent me a cool infographic about tablets.  Amelia is associated with the website, Best Choice Reviews.  The graphic presents data that shows the iPad's dominance is slipping.  Is this a trend that will continue as more and more sub-100 dollar tablets flood the market.  Let's face it, as much as we have fallen in love with Apple, their products are expensive.  So, is iOS and the App Store worth the extra money?  Is the "cool factor" worth shelling out more than a few extra bucks?  How important is reliability and a company that stands behind it's products?  Without Steve Jobs, how will Apple hang on to the i-loyalists and motivate us to spend the extra dollars on Apple products?  Hmmmmm....

You can check out "The Tablet Race:  I iPad vs. the Rest" 


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Common Core Implementation: Are we making it harder than it needs to be?

     To say teachers across the country are stressed and disheartened with the roll out and implementation of the Common Core might be the understatement of the year.  Seeing the stress and anxiety firsthand as a building principal, I find myself asking, “Are we making this harder than it needs to be?”  Have the Common Core Standards added more to already full plates for teachers or have they freed teachers of a curriculum that to date has been a mile wide, an inch thick, and overly prescribed?  It is my belief teachers can now break free of the bonds of teacher-proof lessons and lock-step curricula.  They should be feeling a new sense of freedom and a rejuvenation of their profession.  Teaching can be fun again!  Now, how do I convince my teachers?
     At the heart of the Common Core Standards is the goal to develop students who are able to think critically and creatively.  Metacognition, problem-based learning, 21st century skills– along with all of those things you wanted to focus on for years but felt like your hands were tied, are now not only possibilities, but will make the difference between kids who score well on the new assessments and those who don’t, and more importantly, those who will do well in life and those who will not. (Boy, was that a run on sentence, or what?)
     In this age of instant information at your fingertips, hopefully the Common Core will help us all focus on developing the skills, behaviors and mindset that will enable our students to not only cope, but thrive in the uncertain future that lies ahead for them.  It is my hope that as we gain greater comfort with the Common Core, will be able to focus on emotional intelligence, persistence, and resiliency as much as readin’, ritin’ and ‘ritmetic.

Likw this post?  Make sure to pass it along to someone....

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I wish I was better at blogging....

     That's it - I wish I had more time, more great thoughts, more innovative solutions, more thought provoking insights to share.  I know you don't want to hear about what I had for breakfast or about my dogs playing in the snow.  I'm saving that prime stuff for Twitter.
     My spring resolution, should the snow ever melt, is to do a better job blogging.  I promise.  Stay tuned.....
      I hope to catch up with some folks at this weekend's EdSurge in Baltimore.  It looks like it's going to be pretty cool (and geeky).  Right up my alley.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Upcoming Opening Minds Conference in Chicago

     If you happen to be in the Chicago area at the end of January (It's likely because you chose to live in the area - not the height of tourist season for sure!), The Chicago Metro Association for the Education of Young Children is hosting their annual conference at McCormick Place January 31-February 1, 2014.  Gail Conway and her crew always stage a quality conference.  I will be presenting a half day session on technology use with young children on Thursday morning with Tracey Conners from the great state of Wis-Connnn-sin (pronounced like Discount Daaable-check)  Tracey is a principal and has some great ideas about how to use iPads in schools.  Me?  I'll be tapping into the collective genius of the audience to once and for all settle the question, "How should we be using technology with our youngest learners?"  Hope to see you there.

Here is the link to the conference if you are interested in learning more, and hopefully attending: