Archive for the 'Teaching and Learning' Category



Celebration of Fernadina Chan

On Saturday, June 23, we celebrated a remarkable woman and educator as she retired from BAA: Fernadina Chan. I have the privilege of working with some of the most amazing teachers at Boston Arts Academy, and it was an honor to celebrate Fern at The Boston Conservatory with both a reception and surprise dance performances and a video.

Below is an excerpt from my remarks to Fern on that evening, as well as some photographs of the dance faculty and past and present dance students.

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It is hard to stand before you—Ms. Chan’s family, friends, colleagues and students—and talk about a friend from whom I have learned so much. There just aren’t enough words. I had to write a book and put Ms. Chan in chapter 3 in order to really do her justice—and even then the editors pared it way down. But with Ms. Chan there is no paring down.

BAA students dance in the window of The Boston Conservatory to welcome guests to the reception

Fernadina, or Fern, to so many of us, is a force of nature. She is the founding teacher of the Boston Arts Academy. She fought for years to make this school a reality. She has succeeded. As our founding artistic dean, she has set the standards for excellence in the arts and in academics… As the founding chair and now co-chair of our dance department, she has helped create a dance program that is now known nationally and internationally. Her many “children,” as she affectionately calls her students, are off in the world continuing her legacy as dancers, both professionally on renowned stages and vocationally in studios around town and beyond. Even those who are no longer actively dancing all remember their time with Master Chan!

Fern on stage with alumni dancers performing her pieces

More than anyone I know, Ms. Chan figures out how to help students connect to their core, to their heart, to their imaginations and to their emotions. How she does this is a secret I have wanted to learn because if we could just bottle her ability to bring her students to the truth they need to tell we would change the educational landscape in this country, if not the world.

Me, Fern (Founding Artistic Dean), and Anne Clark (Founding Academic Dean and now BAA Interim Headmaster)

Her secret may be the way she screams and chastises kids until they get in line and do as she insists; her secret may be the way she giggles and then laughs with her students as they work through choreographic problems; her secret may be her determination to introduce the great dancers and choreographers of the world to her students and the school through residencies and master classes; her secret may be the fact that she assembled the most fantastic dance faculty ever; her secret may be in the way she produces a concert that uses technology in ways never thought of before; her secret may be her incredible dedication to her students and their transformation; or her secret may be in how she approaches her own creative work with students.

BAA dance faculty: Tatiana Obeso, Billy McLaughlin, Fernadina Chan, Chris Alloways-Ramsey, and Sheryl Pollard-Thomas

I think it is all of that and then something more. Fern understands that teaching is fun! Sure, it is hard and enormously stressful, but each day is new and the transgressions of yesterday are not part of the studio or classroom today. Each day with Ms. Chan, class begins again- vibrant, inventive and fresh. Ms. Chan is a master teacher and we are all lucky to have been part of her journey.

So thank you, Ms. Chan, for the legacy you leave us—as our Artistic Dean, our teacher, our colleague and friend… You will be part of BAA forever. We thank you for so many years of hard work and vision [and]… we look forward to your new creations.

Fern on stage being honored by her dancers

 

Intervention into Personalization

One of the ten common principles of the Coalition of Essential Schools is personalization. This is explained as: “Teaching and learning should be personalized to the maximum feasible extent… the goal is that no teacher has direct responsibility for more than 80 students in the high school and middle school and no more than 20 in the elementary school. To capitalize on this personalization, decisions about the details of the course of study, the use of students’ and teachers’ time and the choice of teaching materials and specific pedagogies must be unreservedly placed in the hands of the principal and staff.”

Who could disagree with this? In fact, with budget cuts so rampant, getting the numbers down in any school so that teachers can see fewer students and focus on them well requires creative scheduling, and maximum flexibility in all aspects of school. Further, given our current steady diet of “teacher-proof” curriculum that aligns with tests, fewer and fewer teachers make decisions about what and how they will teach. Given this gloom and doom picture, I still insist that personalization is something all schools must work to achieve.

Last week, I witnessed personalization at its best.

At BAA, although students audition in the arts and profess to have that passion, we choose to know nothing about their prior academic skills or their behavior issues. When school opens in September, our 125 new freshmen jockey for attention. That one student who was a uniquely great dancer in her middle school class is now in a class with 24 other students. In addition to dancing for 2.5 hours a day, students take a full load of academic classes.

For a student like Aidelys, that is not easy. She came from a large middle school where she distinguished herself on stage but not in the hallways or academic classes. At BAA she has a hard time learning to control her impulses. She reacts to a look or a perceived insult as “disrespect.” She has two channels: angry and angrier. She cannot seem to find the dial to turn the knob to anything else.  She is frustrated by her own emerging skills; she wants to know what words mean but experiences too many she doesn’t understand. Studying at home is hard. She hasn’t learned that to be successful one must be willing to make mistakes and to refine again and again one’s work.  In middle school, she just got by. In fact, in order to actually get her diploma she was sent to an alternative placement.

Not only is she behind academically, she struggles behaviorally. Carmen Torres (co-headmaster at BAA) has suspended her too many times—for violent outbursts, threatening teachers or students, or disrupting classes. Each time Aidelys gets a little bit more discouraged. Yet we can see that behind that tough exterior is this amazing dancer who wants to be successful. When she first came to BAA, her dance teacher, Sheryl, saw that natural ability.

In perhaps a fit of madness, I asked Carmen if she would bring Aidelys to my Harvard Graduate School of Education class final exhibitions. My grad students have worked all semester on writing their visions for a democratic school. Last week they had the chance to visually display their ideas. I wanted students to be there to critique. I knew that Aidelys, with her frustrations about school, would have something to say. I didn’t know how profound her comments would be. Carmen sighed when I asked her. “I just suspended her last week, Linda,” she told me patiently. “I’m not sure what message it would send if I brought her.” But as soon as Carmen had spoken we both knew that she would come with Aidelys. For an afternoon, and evening, Carmen would demonstrate what Carmen does best: look at each young person with new eyes every day. Let yesterday’s transgressions be yesterday’s and today be a chance to start anew.

Aidelys arrived with Carmen bright eyed and eager to begin. She had dressed appropriately and even put a cute cloth flower in her hair to show that she understood this was a special occasion. I explained that I wanted her to listen to my students describe their schools and then each one would ask for feedback. “What’s that mean?” she asked me quizzically. I explained that my students needed to know what she thought about their ideas and that was called feedback.

“I’m ready!” she announced and off she went to learn about a bilingual elementary school in Denver. When I next noticed Aidelys, she was intently bent over the rubric giving written feedback to my grad student. She waved me over. “I need some help. I really liked her school but I don’t know what this means,” she pointed at the word feasible. I explained and Aidelys kept writing. Another wave. “And this?” She asked about the words holistic and inclusive. After my explanation she kept writing without pause until she was ready to listen to the next presentation.

Aidelys giving feedback on a student’s presentation

In my debrief with my grad students, I asked about audience feedback since over 50 people visited the presentations. All of my students who had Aidelys said without a moment’s hesitation that they most appreciated her insights. “She had the most useful feedback for me, and listened so well and was so interested in what I was talking about.”

I smiled inside. I didn’t want to give too much away about Aidelys’ struggles. Later when I thanked Carmen for bringing her and shared the feedback, we both grinned together. As veteran educators, it was an important moment for us both. Even in the hectic pace of our days as school leaders, we needed to remember to take time out to pay attention to our students who need it most. We needed to remember that those who act out most profoundly often are doing so because they haven’t learned yet how to be a student. We know that failure begets more failure and success begets more success. When we forget to personalize, or to go the extra mile to pay attention to a student, then often nothing can change.

At BAA we talk about walking down the hall to see a student in her or his arts being successful. They reaffirm our determination to help that same student figure out math. But what about the Aidelyses who after eight months in school have yet to settle down and be successful anywhere? How can we find within ourselves to give them what they need – more attention, not less. More love, not less. They disrupt. They are rude. They annoy their peers and us. Still we must find a way to redirect and to love them. Carmen reminded me of that last week when she thanked me!  She wrote:

“Thank you for inviting us and encouraging me to take Aidelys. Sometimes we have to close our eyes and take the leap with kids.  I feel so fortunate to have shared this experience with Aidelys because we both took a chance and learned from it. It was a really soft landing this time.”

We won’t know for a long time if this intervention into personalization,n as I call it, will have the desired effect. But we know that had Carmen not done this, the opportunity for change would have been lost. We are now emboldened to do more, to keep trying to garner the resources to provide the best Aidelys deserves.

HGSE student Sara Gips, Aidelys, and me

OLA Workshop at BAA’s Center for Arts in Education

Last week, BAA’s Center for Arts in Education hosted Darcy Rogers for a full-day workshop on her Organic Language Acquisition (OLA) technique. I first met Darcy at her school, Crater Renaissance Academy in Oregon, and then I ran into her again at the Coalition of Essential Schools Fall Forum, where she presented her workshop on OLA- a kinesthetic approach to learning a language. I knew we had to get her in to BAA, so when I learned she was coming to the Parker School in Western Mass, I jumped at the chance!

We had about 15 educators from Boston and the surrounding areas as well as Boston Public Schools central office folks (including Yu-Lan Lin, the World Languages Program Director for BPS) attend the full-day workshop, which included BAA students actually learning the technique alongside the adults!

I see Darcy’s work as one of the many valuable techniques that innovative teachers develop to counter the increasingly high-stakes-testing-obsessed culture we live with in our schools. In my new role next year as Executive Director of BAA’s Center for Arts in Education, I am excited to sponsor more workshops and institutes featuring work like Darcy’s… We were so glad she could join us at BAA for this high-energy workshop!

Occupy the DOE

I have just returned from Washington, DC, and the Occupy the DOE rally.  Cassie Wallace, our second-year math teacher, was my impetus to go. She posted on our Teaching/Learning email conference back in February:

In case anyone is interested in protesting in DC with me at the end of March… Occupy the DOE in protest of high-stakes testing! Love, Cassie

Tess Mandell (also in her second year of teaching math) joined Cassie for the eight-hour drive from Boston to DC. How could I not join these young teachers, who were taking it upon themselves to make such an extraordinary effort to go? (Particularly given their workload and the stress of the first few years of teaching.) So, I signed up and found myself as part of the teach-in. I was happy to make some remarks (included in this post, below.)

This rally was different than anti-war rallies from the ’60s and ’70s – even though the Socialist Worker’s Party was still in attendance. This Occupy rally was as much for social media as it was for the people who attended. Everyone spoke to the camera! (Click here for live streaming of Occupy!) We were about 50 people strong and from all parts of the country: parents, grandparents, teachers, principals, health professionals, concerned citizens- all protesting the suffocating and all-consuming role that high stakes testing is playing in our culture.

End High Stakes Testing

As various participants did “mic check”, which is the Occupy way of allowing anyone to speak, I noticed one woman with very curious hair and clothing. I was impressed with how articulately she spoke about the damaging effects of high-stakes testing in her classroom and I approached her. I asked where she was from and she said she couldn’t tell me for fear of losing her job. “That’s why I’m in a wig and a costume so no one can recognize me.” Have we truly come to this?

Bubble test

Student wrapped in bubble wrap, protesting the bubble tests!

Another woman from Miami spoke about the role that parents in that district are taking to opt out of testing that they deem harmful to their children. The speaker referenced this recent article in the Miami Herald.

RIP Education

Speaker after speaker shared how parents and students were organizing to protest the negative effects of high-stakes testing. While I know the numbers were small in DC this weekend, I do believe these voices will gain power and force throughout the country.

Math teachers

Tess, Cassie, and Sharon Hessney (another extraordinary math teacher!)

So many of us feel disempowered to change the status quo. We watch numbly as education reform becomes synonymous with huge corporations like Pierson making more and more money from test prep materials and tests. However, I feel more empowered by this weekend of Occupy the DOE, and mostly because of young teachers like Tess and Cassie. They are asking the right questions about how the union can become more involved and active in these discussions, and how we can figure out better ways to work together towards solutions.

Also check out previous for the documentary: “Teach: Teachers Are Talking. Is the Nation Listening?”

MY REMARKS FROM THE TEACH-IN:

My opposition to high stakes testing goes back a long time – to 1998 when MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) was first  introduced. Don’t misunderstand me: I am not opposed to tests. And of course, I’m an advocate of high standards. What educator isn’t? We don’t go into teaching to ensure students reach low standards. That’s absurd! So I object to how discussions of high-stakes tests get juxtaposed to opposition of high standards. I am FOR high standards and I’m AGAINST high stakes tests. And that makes good sense to me.

 I’m against high stakes testing as a sole determinant for graduation. My solution is quite simple: Have the tests be part of the picture for graduation along with portfolios and exhibitions of mastery, research papers, and other performances. Remember what the “S” in MCAS stands for—we were told by the state that we would get a SYSTEM for assessments, not just tests!

MCAS currently is not the most pernicious test in the country, but what schools have become as a result of MCAS is very troubling. Our engineering curriculum must align completely with the test. There is no longer room for deep exploration of projects or for allowing student interest to help determine the length of time spent on projects. We now teach a semester-long course (we are semesterized) that ONLY includes that which is tested. There isn’t time for more. Too many schools now offer double English/double math and little social studies, art or other subjects NOT tested. Teachers push their students through curriculum that they know will be on the test. All of the research on student motivation and engagement is ignored. If students are not included as co-constructors of knowledge why should they feel as though school has real intrinsic value to them?  Curriculum has become synonymous with passing tests. This is a very limited view of what school can and should be. The social costs are high: higher drop-out rates, more violence in our communities, fewer students prepared for life after high school, whether college or career.

But how can I encourage my students to opt out when a high score of 4 (on a 1-4 rubric) is tied to free tuition at our state colleges and university (John and Abigail Adams Scholarship)? In my darkest moments I say, if we just eliminated the arts all of our students could score a 4 on these tests. But then we’d have no students at Julliard or Purchase or CalArts and no students dancing with Alvin Ailey (we have three) or acting in local theatres or playing in ensembles or orchestras or designing shoes or working in galleries. But this has been the solution for many low income schools: Eliminate arts.

Our solution has been to focus less on getting everyone to 4 and to just get our students to pass. With the new methods for calculating school success with student growth percentiles, we will soon be deemed a failing school because our students’ scores don’t increase enough. We have created a system where success is determined by only one score card and by passing through the smallest eye of the needle. Divergent thinking, multiple ways of determining and measuring success are slowly being obliterated. This is a world that scares me.

I don’t want students or teachers or parents to confuse tests with success. And I don’t want us to settle for schools devoid of music, art, dance/movement and theatre. Good schools have well-stocked libraries and trained librarians where regular discussions about books and literature (not excerpts) occur on a regular basis. Good schools are messy places where students are deeply engaged in topics of interest to them and where they demonstrate mastery in different ways. I just watched my students create movies of polynomial functions found in nature.

I understand the need for measurement and comparison, for knowing whether students in Mississippi and Massachusetts are learning as much as students in Montana or Maine. But must the only point of comparison be a test score?

We have now built up a multi-billion-dollar testing industry complete with its own set of police. When stakes are so high, cheating becomes rampant and thus the security forces are discharged to be sure that no teacher (now renamed “proctors”) read the test directions with inflections different from one another. The testing police now enter the school (renamed the testing site) to check that backpacks are correctly placed on the floor in front of the room. Any deviance could be a sign of testing mismanagement or cheating. In addition, the testing police check to see that no non-certified personnel walk into testing rooms, and that no teacher looks at the exams before the appointed time (or looks at the exams after the test). This of course means that the teacher is never able to work with the student she taught who took the test and may have misunderstood a problem. There is no value added from this type of testing situation to improve teaching or learning.

My MCAS police this year was an attractive woman from my district office, but I had misunderstood the directive. I had thought she was there to help me calm down my jittery students, to escort students to the bathroom, or even to distribute pencils. But, no, she was there for none of these helpful purposes. She had been given a long checklist for which she had to ensure compliance. The checklist items ranged from reviewing the proctor schedule (something I could have emailed the district office ahead of time) to ensuring that there were appropriate signs saying “Do not disturb: testing area” in the appropriate locations. Her mandate was a “gotcha” directive, not one to be helpful. When I protested to my district officials, I was sent a long directive from the state about the need for ensuring testing compliance and quality. Evidently  too many tests were invalidated the year before because of lack of compliance. How could I possibly want to endanger my students’ results? So, you see how it all gets turned around? You are bad or anti-student if you protest. High stakes tests become the norm and we all will rally around this way of educating our students.

I, for one, protest and I am grateful for all of you at Occupy the DOE who do the same.

Twelfth Night

Last week was a big one for our theatre department, and for the school! Not only did theatre students make it to the semifinals at the state drama festival (the first time we’ve ever participated), but we had an amazing collaboration with Actors’ Shakespeare Project (ASP) to produce Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

The presence of local professional actors, board members and supporters of ASP who came to Thursday’s reception and performance was very powerful. The Boston Foundation was gracious to join forces with BAA and ASP, and Paul Grogan and Elizabeth Pauley both joined us for the Thursday evening performance. An overwhelming number of faculty and staff attended the shows, even on their weekend time- a testament to the hard work of our theatre department!

BAA students playing Sir Toby Belch and Maria

Our amazing student Penelope took on the role of Viola at the last minute, going from understudy to the lead in just one week. One of the most poignant moments I’ve witnessed was renowned actress Paula Plum watching Penelope perform that role, which Paula has undoubtedly played herself, with pride in her eyes. I loved the seriousness of purpose that our students exuded,  and the artistic excellence that resulted!

The joy and pride in this type of authentic learning was heartening in the face of MCAS (more to come on THAT!)… The anxiety and numbing-ness of these tests is so sharply juxtaposed with the gift that was Twelfth Night. It reminds me again that schools done well can be cultural institutions. Last week, we were!

Twelfth Night cast with Actors' Shakespeare Project co-directors Michael Forden Walker and Jason Bowen

Arts Education Needs to be Protected

Monday’s piece in the Globe by Mayor Menino and Laura Perille “Arts Education Needs to be Protected” highlights Boston’s wonderful efforts to bring access to a high-quality arts education to all of its students. As the article cites, and as I write in my recent article in Educational Leadership magazine “All Students are Artists,” arts education is proven both qualitatively and quantitatively to engage students who otherwise can struggle to connect with school.

We at Boston Arts Academy are grateful to play a role in this effort to provide arts education to the city’s public school students. We’ve partnered with both the Dever-McCormack and the Edison for years with our Academy Strings program. This summer, we will be piloting Four Strings Academy (FSA), founded by Mariana-Green Hill. FSA is a summer program run through the Center for Arts in Education at Boston Arts Academy to provide summer strings instruction. We hope to expand this type of program to the other arts disciplines in future summers. Our Center is also piloting a program called Alumni Creative Corps, where we are training BAA graduates to teach the arts in other district schools where principals and teachers have defined a need for such opportunities.

It is abundantly clear that Boston needs and deserves the arts. This year, BAA had a total of 947 applicants. 659 came to audition- the greatest number we have received to date. We admitted 153 students to join BAA in September 2012, the most we could accept, given our facilities and resources. We are thankful for the opportunity to work with many principals, administrators and teachers, to visit schools, and to educate students and families about BAA- and we are proud that out of the 153 students accepted, 124 came from Boston Public Schools- over 80% of accepted applicants!

We know firsthand that access to the arts is not a luxury, but a necessity. We will continue our work with Boston Public Schools and beyond through our Center for Arts in Education, and are grateful that the city of Boston is partnering with EdVestors to expand arts education for all students in the city!

Instructional Rounds

Last Thursday we hosted Instructional Rounds (IR) at BAA. Instructional rounds are the new buzzword in education, largely defined by Lee Teitel and Richard Elmore at Harvard. The purpose of the rounds is to analyze and improve teaching and learning practices at the classroom level. Although I’m not completely convinced yet how helpful the results of the observations are, what IS powerful is getting teachers, students, parents, and administrators out of their routines and looking deeply at the practices of teaching and learning in a different context and through a different lens than they experience during the day-to-day.

I am proud that BAA was the first Boston Public School to have students and parents participate in the rounds. They were absolutely phenomenal. The parents were honored to be a part of the process and found it extremely helpful to think about the school as a whole rather than just the needs of their own student.  The 5 students who participated spoke eloquently and passionately about the positive aspects of BAA, as well as pointed out the real challenges for including all learners.

One of my favorite comments came from a BAA music student who pointed out the differences between the theatre student warm-ups she observed and the music vocal warm-ups she experiences in her own classes. She enjoyed how theatre students both warmed up their bodies and built community at the same time, and she was excited to bring that practice back to her music classes. I loved watching this mini “teaching moment” happening for a student!

Later that evening at my HGSE (Harvard Graduate School of Education) class, three seniors from a new turnaround high school came and spoke. They were all transferred to this new school after their high schools were closed for underperformance. Despite the fact that they had experienced their previous schools firsthand and hold a wealth of information about what worked and didn’t work for them, they told my class that they had no input on structures or practices at their new school. Their disempowerment and lack of engagement in the process of constructing their own educations was jarring, especially after watching parents and students blossom during the IR at BAA earlier that morning.

The takeaway from last Thursday for me was this: when we’re thinking about school reform, I am reminded again that we need to put the voices of students and parents at the forefront of the discussion. How do we incorporate these voices so that they are not an afterthought, but a forethought? After all, who is school reform really for?

Occupy the Department of Education!

I had to blog about Confessions of a ‘Bad’ Teacher from this past Sunday’s New York Times… everyone needs to read this article so we can stop and think about how our federal and state policies are affecting teachers and kids in our classrooms.
I will be joining BAA teachers and many others in Washington, DC at Occupy the DOE (Department of Education) at the end of March for a teach-in to underscore how limiting and short-sighted so many of our current policies are. They are based on an “I gotcha” mentality- on how we can “improve” education by punishing teachers and kids.
I know it’s complicated to create a system of accountability that actually trusts teachers, but we must try. As Johnson points out in this NYT article, the messages we are sending teachers are confusing and contradictory, and the ways we are assessing kids and teachers are ludicrous.
We cannot hope to have engaged students and young people who want to participate in our fragile democracy with such backwards policies. We must be the change we want to see. Let’s organize and go to DC!

Reflections from San Diego and Los Angeles

In mid-December, I spent some time in San Diego and LA, visiting schools and speaking with educators. One of the most gratifying parts of this trip was reconnecting with a former graduate student of mine from the first year I ever taught my class, “Building A Democratic School” at Harvard. Agustin Vecino now works for the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE) in Los Angeles as a coach for the pilot schools. He and Rachel Bonkovsky (a former Boston principal), along with George Simpson and Assistant Principal Cara Livermore (formerly of BAA and now of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA)) arranged all of my stops on the trip.

San Diego School for Creative and Performing Arts (SDSCPA)

Principal Mitzi Lizarraga showed me around her school (http://www.sandi.net/scpa) of 1400 students in grades 6-12. Entrance to the middle school is lottery based, and high school admission is through audition. The motto of the school is, “Where arts and academics share center stage.” Mitzi shared that her charge is to intensify the arts experiences and exposure of her students; she also must raise funds for much needed arts residencies and adjunct teachers. [Note: SDSCPA vocal arts major Victoria Matthews recently received a 2012 YoungArts Merit Award in Voice- congratulations to Victoria and to SDSCPA!]

Like many schools in San Diego, the campus seemed quite sprawling to my urban Northeastern eyes!

On this lucky day for me, choreographer and dance professor Donald McKayle was in residence to audition students for his piece “House of Tears,” based on the “desaparecidos” from Argentina. The high school dancers crowded onto the dance studio floor and listened with rapt attention to McKayle. He spoke about his experiences in Buenos Aires watching the “madres de los desaparecidos” march around the Plaza Mayor with photographs of their disappeared children, who had been murdered or stolen by the junta.

SDSCPA dancers

Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA)

From San Diego, I headed for Los Angeles and LACHSA, where George Simpson is principal. (George was formerly the director of music at BAA!)  The same excitement I felt at San Diego’s school was evident here. Students were hanging a juried show about Arts and Engagement in the visual arts wing. Music students had just finished their jazz series. Theatre students had just done “Preview Night,” which is like our informal showing at BAA. Dancers were gearing up for their winter performances. Exhaustion and elation were on everyone’s faces. “Passion with balance” seemed in short supply.

LACHSA is located on the CalState LA campus. Also on the campus are the LA Principal Residency Network and the LA Urban Teacher Residency program. (These are both programs of the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE), an organization that I co-founded with Larry Myatt in Boston over fifteen years ago.) George had organized an event for me at CalState called “Transformative Leadership,” where I talked with members of both networks as well as other educators from surrounding schools and not-for-profits. We shared ideas about our perspective realities and reacquainted ourselves with the Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) 10 common principles, considering where we did/didn’t see these principles in our work.

George Simpson, Agustin Vecino, Carolyn McNight, Debbie Thompson

East Los Angeles Performing Arts Academy

The next day, I visited the East LA Performing Acts Academy, headed by Principal Carolyn McKnight. The faculty of this pilot school was joined by the Humanitas Academy of Arts and Technology faculty and principal Debbie Thompson, as well as district folks and a superintendent. Both of these schools have converted to pilot status in the past two years. Later I met with the faculty and principal Rosie Martinez from the Academic Leadership Community (ALC), another pilot school in the throes of trying to attain the autonomies that are promised to Pilot Schools (much like those of charter schools), which include: budget, governance, curriculum and assessment, hiring and scheduling, and calendar.

The theme for all three pilot schools was the autonomies and how to ensure they were being met. These are familiar themes for us in Boston. While districts, especially urban districts, are often initially open to pilot schools, the intricacies of actually devolving power and control away from central office and central mandates and into the hands of principals and teachers is always more challenging. If LA and Boston could do more collaborative work, we might strengthen all of our schools and create a system of trust around pilot schools.

UCLA

From ALC I traveled to UCLA’s Graduate School of Education and Information Studies to give a talk to their Teacher Education Program and Principal Leadership Institute. A lively group of about 30 of us talked about what makes good schools, how the CES principles can help guide schools, and the struggles of each of us in sustaining good schools.

In this whirlwind tour of schools, talks, and intense conversations with committed educators, I came away grateful for the opportunity to learn from educators on the other side of the country. I reconnected with friends and re-charged myself to return to the work we are doing in Boston and beyond.

Celebrando a Margarita Muñiz

In November 2009, I had the privilege of attending the Thanksgiving play at the Rafael Hernandez School, a bilingual elementary school in Roxbury where Margarita Muñiz was the principal. This annual musical is a long standing tradition, and in 2009, the play was about Margarita’s life, travels and journeys as an educator in the Boston Public Schools.

The play chronicled her departure from Cuba as a young girl as part of the Pedro Pan (Peter Pan) children, her landing in an orphanage in Louisiana, her eventual reunion with her parents, her graduation from college, the beginning of her career as a teacher in the Boston Public Schools, and finally her directorship of the Hernandez school. It also included wildly funny times with all of us in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

It was magnificent to watch the total enjoyment on the faces of the students, from kindergarteners to eighth graders, as they played different aspects of the life of their world-traveled principal. Whether it was struggling to learn English in the orphanage, learning how to order food in Japan, or running from elephants in Zimbabwe, the children danced and sang their way through the script, both poking fun at Margarita’s demands during her travels and demonstrating compassion and understanding for the many cultures and countries she visited.

Besides the outstanding performances of the students who played Margarita, two things stood out for me: 1. the incredible love and devotion that Margarita’s students and staff had towards her, and 2. how the play demonstrated Margarita’s deeply rooted beliefs in education: that all children can reach high levels of literacy, that the arts are essential for a good education, and that family involvement is key for a positive school climate.

When I think about her beliefs (and mine) about what makes a good school, I will think of the Hernandez. This play was a wonderful tribute to Margarita, but more importantly, it was a tribute to the hard work of fantastic teachers, families, and students. I was proud to be involved in some small way.

Margarita Muñiz died on Friday, November 18, 2011. Just that Tuesday, Boston Public Schools announced the September 2012 opening of the first dual language high school- Margarita Muñiz Academy (MMA). It will be led by Dania Vazquez, who coached principals and school change teams for many years at the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE).

Margarita was one of the most compassionate, dedicated and insightful educators whom I have ever known, and I am grateful for her friendship and guidance. We realized somewhere in Zimbabwe on our Barr Fellows trip that we both shared a love for the same 19th century Spanish poet, Antonio Machado. This verse – one of our favorites – sums up much of who Margarita was:

Caminante,

No hay camino

Se hace el camino al andar

My clunky translation:

Traveler,

There is no path

We make the path by walking.

Margarita made new paths each and every day and I hope to honor her memory by doing the same. Margarita, te quiero mucho.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2011/11/20/legacy-excellence/NOJyhTEzfdr5ITGWUjj3NN/story.html  by Yvonne Abraham

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/meg-campbell/what-i-owe-margarita-muni_b_1098489.html  by Meg Campbell


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