WOW! New Orleans seems a distant memory and I was only there last week. I was fortunate to combine a part of the book tour with the Coalition of Essential Schools’ Fall Forum, which meant that I traveled with two teachers and four music students. Music faculty Allyssa Jones and Science faculty Ramiro Gonzalez helped chaperone students Tizzi, Azhia, Roobvia and India.
Day 1: Arrival and the first book event, hosted by New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, our sister art school in New Orleans. Lively discussion about what we think works in education, and then two of the guests took us to a neighborhood restaurant for an amazing meal.
Day 2: NOCCA tour with principal, Kyle Wedberg. I had the worst case of ‘edifice envy’ ever! I’ve never seen such gorgeous dance studios, visual arts rooms (there are five kilns in the clay room), recording and TV studios, jazz rooms, etc..on any college campus, let alone a high school! The Ellis Marsalis jazz studio rivals anything I’ve seen at Berklee! NOCCA has many more majors than we do, including creative writing, musical theatre and technical theatre. Many teachers are working artists.
I gave a talk at NOCCA’s staff meeting. The meeting began with faculty sharing “joys” either about their students or their own work. It felt special to sit in on these joyful reports and experience the exuberance with which teachers talk about their work or that of their students.
If I were young and starting out, I might see myself coming to New Orleans, too. “The Big Easy” emits a delightful pull on one’s psyche. Folks are friendly; arts are everywhere and certainly it is a city trying to rebuild itself and many smart people have come to join in.
CES Fall Forum: Gloria Ladson Billings from University of Wisconsin-Madison, author of The Dreamkeepers (a fabulous book if you haven’t read it) was the keynote. I have always loved listening to her and she didn’t disappoint!
Lewis Cohen, the current ED of CES, gave a beautiful memorial tribute to Ted Sizer and then introduced a chorus from Upper Darby High School in Pennsylvania who had been working with a New Orleans elementary school to sing two songs in tribute to Ted. Ted has had a deep influence on my professional and personal life and being there with 900 people all recognizing his enormous contributions and the music swirling inside me gave me permission to just sit and cry. In a time where the conversation in our country is all about measurement and efficiency we have lost a voice of reason and compassion. I hope others will take up Ted’s mantle and push back on our ill-fated federal policies.
Our workshop at the CES conference went well. We focused on how others might build an over-arching framework a la RICO and we shared our experiences with our process. The girls facilitated small groups very well and we ended with the girls getting everyone up on their feet singing. A definite high point!
That evening we had another great dinner and roamed the French Quarter at night which included an impromptu stop for the girls to sing with “Stebo Willy” at some outdoor bar. They won’t forget that for a long time!