Just as I’ve written many other times, the best part of this book tour is the opportunity to spread the BAA word with students and teachers. Thank you to science faculty member Ramiro Gonzalez for joining me on this journey and doing ALL the driving. Thank you to Corey Evans from our Center for Arts in Education for doing fabulous ambassador training (Gustavo, Katy, and Yolandi were amazing!). And thank you to BAA’s incredible Susan Werbe for organizing all of the trip logistics and then some!
As I posted in my previous update, we had a wonderful time at the book party and met all sorts of different folks, including a former HGSE grad student, Agustin Vecino. Agustin is now working on the pilot school expansion project in LAUSD and with the Center for Collaborative Education (CCE here in Boston) helping out. A bit odd to have an organization 3,000 miles away doing this work, but pilot schools are a concept born in Boston in 1995 because of our BTU-BPS contract. Even though it feels like many of the original autonomies are being eroded, it is exciting to see the work beginning in LA. My friends, Ed Redlich and Sarah Timberman did a phenomenal job inviting all sorts of people who were involved in charter schools, public schools, private schools, and other interesting jobs in the TV and movie industries. Mass College of Art and Design President Kay Sloan’s nephew and wife came to the party and so did Mike and Kitty Dukakis, which was just so cool! Kitty even stood up at the end and told the crowd that “BAA is a gift to Massachusetts.” What a way to end the event!
After the brunch, we headed out to Venice Beach to ride bikes and people-watch. So much fun!
The following day we visited two different charter schools. The Partnership to Uplift Community (PUC) Charter Schools and Animo Film and Theatre Charter High School. The PUC school is about 30 minutes or more outside of central LA and is considered part of the city, although it feels rural. 100% of the students are Latino and all talk about going to PUC because it is calm, focused, safe, and students feel that they have more opportunities after high school. PUC schools also embrace the arts as a central component of their educational philosophy. Ed Vanderberg hosted and welcomed us into a circle of teachers and student ambassadors.
Animo is located in South Central LA—and has a more urban feel to it. Animo used to be with Green Dot, but have since gone their separate ways. Green Dot (and founder Steve Barr) was written up in the New Yorker and I’ve always wanted to know more about the organization, thinking that perhaps this approach to unionism was a possibility for schools. I didn’t get much of a sense that teachers in LA have embraced it as a workable alternative. (You know me: I’m always looking for alternatives to the antagonistic relationship that unions/central office seem to have). The school has crammed 125 students into a makeshift warehouse. Steve Bachrach is a dynamic, driven, and magnanimous principal. He embraced us both literally and figuratively, and devoted much of the morning to us. We all felt very much at home. They are a Big Picture Project school and so two days a week are spent in advisory groups pursuing projects that the students are interested in. Big Picture is a very different kind of educational philosophy and it was fascinating to see this in practice.
The kids at Animo were much more forthcoming and direct than the kids at PUC. The PUC kids seemed quite humble. (Perhaps it is because the closer to the center of the city one gets the “harder” one becomes? Or perhaps it is because the Animo kids know they are in a school that is somehow a second chance for them?) I could never quite discern why I found the difference in the kids so remarkable but we all felt it.
The next day we finally had the chance to visit two high schools I’d heard lots about: Los Angeles High School of the Arts, and Central LA HS #9 (run by Esther Soliman who has visited BAA, and Suzanne Blake respectively). I was so happy to see Esther in her element. LAHS of the Arts is on the campus of Belmont High School. There are five schools there and they are all trying to become pilot schools. It is an exciting experiment! The theatre class we visited was in their second or third day of the semester and the kids were shy and not yet familiar with theatre terminology. We finally got them to ask some questions and to answer some of ours. It was amusing to see the LA kids’ reactions when Yolandi and Gustavo spoke Spanish. The Caribbean Spanish accents were very new to them as LA kids come primarily from Mexico and Central America. Athough this is also a city school, the kids seemed also much less confident and aggressive than our students (and I’m not saying aggressive critically). None of the students audition and arts is an elective. We met students who had just gotten into CalArts on full scholarship. Very impressive!
Central High School #9 is an enormous new $400 million facility that has been much talked about in LA.
It is right down the street from the Walt Disney Concert Hall and Mark Taper Forum-DOWNTOWN in the arts district, but also bordering on a very poor area of the city. The hope from LAUSD is that the school will serve a mixed population of students (much like our school’s demographics), but the fear among many educators is that since this particular area of the city is being gentrified it might come to serve only middle and upper income students. We were BLOWN away by the facility. It is almost too big, but then again, it is meant to house nearly 2,000 students when at capacity. It has a somewhat-bizarre outdoor spiral staircase that snakes around a tower portion of the building. It is purely decorative and we understood it was supposed to lead to a restaurant at the top of the building, but the city ran out of money and it remains unfinished. The building towers over the downtown. Each arts division is its own school: theatre, music, visual arts, and dance. Students do not audition but select a major through a lottery process and then they take all their academic classes in that school or wing. Suzanne (the principal) has her hands full opening a new school and dealing with the politics of the district and the community. I’m hopeful that we can be helpful and have her bring her team to Summer Institute. We all had “edifice envy” at this school and had to control ourselves!
Hannah MacLaren was an incredible host for almost all of our school visits. She runs the Los Angeles Coalition of Essential Schools. It was wonderful to see Ted Sizer’s work influencing so many different schools.
The high point of this day was going to Walt Disney Concert Hall and participating in the Fidelity FutureStage kick-off event taking place across the country in Houston, Chicago, LA, and of course, Boston. We saw Keith Lockhart conducting our BAA students who were all waving American flags, and we watched Mr. Holt playing with the Pops band backing the performing students. I am so grateful for the funding and new instruments they are providing us with this year.
The hall is absolutely spectacular. This is where Gustavo Dudamel (the wonderchild of El Sistema from Venezuela) conducts. There were four LAUSD schools there and one school sang Carl Orff’s O Fortuna accompanied by at least 30 student string musicians. Quite impressive. But the best was meeting Dominic Monaghan (Charlie from “LOST”—yes I’m a diehard fan—I know it’s a surprise to many of you). Dominic hosted the event and was very cool and told us about his theatre training in Manchester, England. Jamie Foxx (who head-lined the event) gave us a friendly wink and a nod before he went into the media event.
We then spent time with former BAA faculty George Simpson and Cara Livermore at LA County School for the Arts, where George, Cara, and the LA Principal Residency Network (PRN) hosted a wonderful book event for us. George’s school is on the campus of California State University, which brought me back to the days of running Fenway High School at Bunker Hill Community College. There is such amazing potential for high schools based on college campuses. I know George is trying hard to make some in-roads here. It was also great to see our work with PRN expanding to the West Coast. (CCE is spearheading both the PRN work and the LA Pilot work). Mostly, it was great to see George and Cara at their school which is incredibly vibrant and stimulating.
We are bringing many ideas back from their Leadership Class. For example, each sub-group is responsible for one aspect of the school, i.e. freshmen, sophomores, juniors, senior programs and events. We were there on a school spirit day where everyone had to dress like a “traditional high school student.” The get-ups were ingenious, ranging from cheerleaders, to Goths, to jocks. I was impressed with the way the juniors took learning from the seniors very seriously.
We left George’s school and headed to San Diego for our evening presentation at High Tech High Graduate School of Education. My friend, Larry Rosenstock, is the founder of HTH (there are about nine of them now in California—elementary, middle, and high schools). I have wanted to visit for the past 12 years and it was great to finally see the amazing work he’s been doing with his faculty and staff. Again, our “edifice envy” was in effect. The schools are located on a former naval base, so the buildings are huge and spacious.
Again, we were filled with ideas for BAA: most notably the idea of the entire building serving as a gallery and one of the teachers acting as curator for the building, changing the student work (and art) every two to three months. It was so cool to be in a space that worked so well with the educational program. I had the sense that their space helped create their program and vice versa. (Very different from BAA’s squished and cramped quarters). Projects are displayed everywhere—including the bathrooms (!) and are often three-dimensional.
The intersection of student work based in engineering, arts, writing, graphic design, and film is everywhere. I truly hope that as we get closer to our new building, we can incorporate some of the ideas about space and student outcomes that mirror what we saw at HTH. I also hope we continue to think about ways to meld disciplines. so that students are truly living, breathing, and working as artist/scholars. I would really love to send more faculty members to HTH to learn about their curriculum. It was very exciting!
We did a great presentation at San Diego State University, where I found out that the dean is a former student of Vito Perrone’s. It has been so moving to find common threads from my colleagues and mentors Ted Sizer and Vito woven through this journey.
My travels have made me realize that BAA must continue to share what we do with others. I know that we sometimes feel that we don’t have the answers, but we are asking the hard questions and that is a big part of the process. I am also convinced, as I see first-hand how things are in schools around the country, that we are doing a whole lot better than many of our colleagues out there. So we won’t rest on our laurels, but I do hope we can begin to strategically think more about how to share our practices more widely —both the successes and challenges—through our Center for Arts in Education.