Posts Tagged 'Boston'

Reflections and Looking Ahead

My first year leading BAA’s Center for Arts in Education sent me to schools and teachers across the country and around the world.   These visits repeatedly reminded me of Parker Palmer’s words: “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” From Denver to New Bedford and Hawaii to India I witnessed good teaching, as Palmer describes, that comes at the “dangerous intersection of personal and public life.”

Good teachers make themselves vulnerable to students—to their judgment, to their excitement, and even to their indifference. We see this in arts classrooms when we ask our students to create and invent work and make connections with ideas and concepts we have taught and studied.

A teacher choreographing with his students is on a deeply personal journey of the expert beginning to shape the novices. The teacher/choreographer has a concept and a “story” (quotes intentional) to express. Yet the student dancers give form, energy and substance to the piece that ultimately creates the aesthetic experience for an audience. The interplay between choreographer and student/dancers must be based on trust and a belief that the dancers will “get it right.” Choreography is a mere abstract idea until it is performed. When given shape, movement and sound it can be transcendent.  Experiencing transcendence from her/his students is breathtaking for a teacher. I have seen this same energy in academic classrooms, too, when a teacher enters a “zone” describing a chemical property, an engineering principle, the meaning of a legend, or a time in history. Students are captivated by a journey of discovery.

Students sense this integrity from their teachers and they largely respect it. They feel how their own teachers embody RICO at BAA, or Refine, Invent, Connect and Own.  They see how their teachers express RICO and find themselves swept up in the lesson or the project. They are willing to take risks, expand their imaginations, and work harder than they thought possible. I hearken back to Palmer and his imagery of “teachers with a heart.” So many of us became teachers because of reasons of the heart, and our passion for helping young people learn.

Nevertheless, my sense is that our policy makers have ignored Palmer. They seem to operate under the misguided belief that testing will cure what ails our schools. Allow me to share a recent scene in a “turnaround” school. This new nomenclature promises miracles—usually premised on firing all of the teachers, bringing in a new administration, and focusing relentlessly on test scores. Some schools in this “turnaround” model have raised test scores.  With double periods of math and English students clearly will test better on those subjects. No research shows that these test scores are sustained over time, however, or that deeper understanding or an excitement about learning more has taken place.

This turnaround school was using the arts as a way to engage students. When I visited the school, I was so pleased to see mural paper covering all of the walls of the classrooms—and even the offices. I was thrilled to see the school engaging in an all-school mural activity. I couldn’t wait to get a paintbrush or marker and begin drawing. However, my enthusiasm was misplaced. The walls were covered because it was high-stakes testing season and the rules during testing require that all print material be hidden. I was appalled. Of course I can understand covering print material that would compromise  test results, but posters and teachers’ diplomas?

Consider the very skills that arts teach: persistence, collaboration, judgment, practice, refining, conscientiousness, critique, determination and, most important of all, an appreciation for developing one’s own sense of beauty or aesthetics. These will never develop if we don’t embrace teaching the arts for their own value and not for improving test scores. Yes,  the skill of persistence can be modeled by learning how to sit and take a difficult test, but that is not why we teach the arts.  While employers cry for students to graduate with 21st Century skills of communication, collaboration, and facility with technology, self-styled education reformers are pressuring our schools to grossly narrow the curriculum to satisfy scores on bubble sheets. And those are almost always tests of memory and recall.

Good teaching is not the same as good test coaching. I am proud to work for a school that allows teachers to be vulnerable, to lead with their hearts and their passions, and that puts testing in perspective where it belongs.

BAA supports teachers as they innovate and imagine and engage with their students. This June 26-28 we will celebrate at our 9th Annual Summer Institute professional development where educators from around the world will join us and do the same thing. (Click here to register!)

Notes from India- February 2013

Delhi filled my life earlier this year with unforgettable experiences and reflection. The scenario began with an invitation to visit, learn and work with Heritage School, which is similar to Expeditionary Learning (EL) schools.  My history with EL is long and deep, since I was a collaborating writer for the first school here in the Boston area in the early 1990s. A former graduate student from HGSE, Vishnu Karthik, asked me to visit Heritage with two main goals:  To explore both the meaning of a democratic school and the Habits of the Graduate. My former student hopes to build an arts high school as part of a school consortium that includes Heritage. I can’t wait to help with that venture.

Before I share the details of the school experience, allow me to set the scene of Delhi:

I cannot make any claims that I understand India. Reading Katherine Boo’s recent behind the beautiful forevers: life, death and hope in a Mumbai Undercity was a helpful introduction to one sector of India.  Sarah MacDonald’s Holy Cow was a different kind of introduction. And the novels of Roy, Desai, Adiga, Mistry and Lahiri provided other perspectives.  Still, I have barely scratched the surface.  That said, several modern-day phenomena were repeatedly clear:

People drive as if they are in an ongoing game of bumper cars.  I’m not sure which vehicle, if any, rules the road—truck, bus, car, rickshaw, bike, motorcycle. They all weave in and out, coming very close and then darting around one another. Lanes seem non-existent.  This mayhem actually never felt frightening. No one goes particularly fast.  On the backs of trucks and busses “honk please” signs appear in huge letters.  And everyone obliges.  People and donkeys and cows also populate this mass transit system. When a taxi driver seemed to take an alternate route so as not to inconvenience a cow, I was glad I had read Holy Cow. Cows, after all, are holy.

Cows Street

Head bobbling is real.  I learned this unmistakably when I tried to get help with an outlet in my hotel room.  “Is it working?” I asked. The obliging service man kept bobbling his head side to side in a motion that to my Western eyes looked like no. So I repeated my question a bit differently, “Can you make it work?” Again, he would bobble. We went back and forth a few times until, at last, I realized he was telling me that it WAS working. His side to side bobble was really a yes.  Finally, I grinned. He grinned. And the outlet worked.

History is everywhere. In almost every corner of Delhi I walked on and through history – from the Red Fort to the Palace to the hundreds of mosques and temples. Some ruler or mogul or Raj or imperialist lived in each. The Taj Mahal (3 hours outside of Delhi if you drive on a private highway) is breathtaking and the most incredible expression of love I’ve ever seen.  Yet I scratched only the surface since I needed days to delve into the fascinating history. Delhi is a wonderful, exciting, pulsating city filled with extreme contrasts and conflicts.

Linda Taj Mahal

A bit of educational context

Among the Indian student population, about 25% of rural children and 50% of urban children go to private schools. Not all are expensive schools. Some cost as little as 100 rupees (about $2) a month. Government public schools are available to all. Usually the infrastructure is decent, but class sizes are large—sometimes 40-50 kids in a class. Since teachers often don’t live in the villages or locations of the school, absenteeism among the faculty can be very high. Small schools in India are almost non-existent. The norm is student bodies of 2,000-3,000.  Heritage is a private school with 2300 and growing.  While it serves a primarily upper-income population, a new law in India requires that 25% of seats be reserved for the economically vulnerable (an Indian term), so income diversity is coming to the school. Two other schools in the network are about the same size. Indian schooling, whether private or public, is all about the score on that one test in grade 12. That test determines your future. Of course the 10th grade test determines whether you will even sit for that 12th grade test. Your score delineates whether you will go on to a career in science, commerce or (lowest on pecking order)—arts and humanities. Taken directly from the British system, the 10th grade test is the sorting mechanism, more or less, for what your job prospects, and certain your tertiary education options will be.

Delhi University, the largest and best in the country, is considered the Harvard of India. The university is also free so the competition to score high is fierce. Only students who score in the top 3% will get into the top tracks in science and commerce. In other words if you score lower than 97% you believe you don’t have a chance at success in life, or so students told me.

The 12th grade is all about the “grind” for those tests. Parents demand that teachers “grind” the students (this is actually the verb that is used) and students can study for up to 12-15 hours a day to get good scores.   Within this educational context the Heritage School was founded..

The Heritage vision

Heritage School is located in Gurgaon one of the new cities near Delhi. Heritage is a special place, founded by a very special man, Manit Jain. His aspirations are all-encompassing and even revolutionary: to create a large network of progressive schools in Delhi that educate Indian children toward more-than-superior scores on a high-stakes test. I was asked to visit Heritage, one of Manit’s three schools, by Vishnu Karthik, the former HGSE student. Manit and Vishnu had two goals to explore with my visit:  the meaning of a democratic school and the Habits of the Graduate.

My job, over the course of four days, was to listen, learn, meet with students, teachers, administrators and to visit classes. This was in preparation for two workshops I would give. One, for the core leadership team on democratic schools; the other for the entire senior program faculty on building Habits of the Graduate for the senior program and hopefully the entire school.

The front lobby has a large sign reading, “Education is that which Liberates.” The central question upon which the school is founded is: Is education a means to an end in itself?


Consider this quote from the Heritage School website: “If education is the journey and the destination, then what needs to be the nature of schools and what kind of children would be nurtured in such schools? At Heritage, it is our constant endeavor to seek response to these persistent questions. These are the questions and answers which affect all stakeholders—children, parent community, school and society at large- at the most fundamental level.

For us, such questions and responses form the basic edifice upon which we have built our dharma (belief and value system) and karma (doing and praxis). It is our firm conviction to continue asking such and other questions to arrive at the true meaning of education and learning. Our vision is: A learning community where each is free to be and grow towards the realization of his/her highest human potential through a harmonious integration of spirit, heart, mind and body. “

If that isn’t revolutionary stuff in today’s world, I don’t know what is. I have heard it said that once you are touched by India you are forever changed. That may be true. I hope this was just the beginning.

To read more about my time at Heritage School, please click: Four Days of Heritage

To read more about the rest of my trip in India, please click: Elsewhere in India

Notes from Artist Proof Studio

“Yes! That’s what I say!”

“Yes! That’s what I believe!”

“Yes, we have that exact problem!”

What gives these refrains such a sense of energy and relief between kindred spirits or kindred organizations?  Is it the recognition of one’s own dilemmas elsewhere, even in a different context and country? Perhaps a sense that human beings share essential experiences of passion, of struggle, of success and recognition? When you happen upon a kindred spirit or place the recognition is so instantaneous that one’s reaction can be joyous: “Ah, you understand me,” one sighs with relief at finally not having to explain everything.

I have just returned from an intense week in Johannesburg (Jo’burg), South Africa at Artist Proof Studio (APS), a community organization that trains and educates young people from ages 19-23 in print making. Printmaking in many ways both documented and instigated change during the years of Apartheid. Kim Berman, with her arts degree from Tufts University/The School of the Museum of Fine Arts, was determined to answer Mandela’s call for each citizen to contribute to the building of the new democracy. She returned to Jo’burg in 1991 and co-founded Artist Proof Studio.

APS banner

[Photo credit Monika Aldarondo]

The belief that arts could play an important role in social change fueled a commitment to the necessary and painful processes of mutual interchange to overcome the distrust and alienation of the apartheid years. Some 21 years later APS continues to help artists discover their own capacities as creative voices for social change. APS leads by example in many of its programmatic initiatives. They use a visual medium to teach about HIV, AIDS and other health issues. They staff a professional printmaking shop that employs young up-and-coming printmakers. They offer printmaking classes to approximately 40 or 50 students a year. The life and work of Artist Proof Studio parallels the development of democracy in South Africa.

BAA STEAM teacher Ramiro Gonzalez looking at printmaking equipment with APS Executive Director Kim Berman

BAA STEAM teacher Ramiro Gonzalez looking at equipment with APS Executive Director Kim Berman [Photo credit Monika Aldarondo]

Five years ago, when I first visited APS, I felt an intensity of focus on the work; evidence of caring teachers,  and a clear commitment to quality as demonstrated by the critique I observed. APS felt oddly like Boston Arts Academy (BAA) with its energy and buzz.  Kim then sent us two young teachers to work with students. Next came an exhibition and symposium in 2009 that showcased the work of Kim and her students.

Molefe and Motsamai, who came to BAA from APS in 2007

Molefe and Motsamai, who came from APS to work with BAA students in 2007

The interchange was an unparalleled success. Our BAA students and community were drawn to the social issues portrayed in the work—issues of xenophobia, of racism, of shame to discuss HIV and AIDs. And work that demonstrated deep sensitivity to issues of family, children, and alienation from one’s self and/or community, and the importance of the importance of play, beauty. Young people from two very continents seemed compelled to express themselves about social issues and also called upon to create new work.

APS, just like BAA, has a strong practice of critique. What makes work strong? How does one communicate one’s ideas with the audience? What does it mean to be an artist and an activist? And how does the organization continue to grow and improve?  This last question brought BAA back to work with their entire staff to analyze these questions and more.

Our goal during our week at Artist Proof was to provide the studio with a more coherent approach to curriculum and assessment, as well as to help the various parts of the organization gain clarity about mission and vision. The words of an APS report of our exchange demonstrate what BAA means to them: An innovative  pedagogical approach that integrates the arts throughout the academic curriculum based on best practices. BAA has created a successful model through its “inventive approach to leadership, professional development, community building, incubating new curriculum designs, arts integration and student support” (

Visioning exercise

Working with APS faculty and staff [Photo credit Monika Aldarondo]

After a great deal of work we came up with four terms. We wanted everyone to be able to innovate, to be self-aware, to engage and to excel. The acronym was ISEE which was particularly apt given that the organization is dedicated to visual arts. The next steps involve APS staff returning to their curriculum to specifically describe how students will demonstrate these habits in classes, projects and every day interactions. We hope that APS will develop a clear assessment process over time so all students and teachers can attest to the attainment of ISEE.

Working on mission, vision, and framework to ultimately create "ISEE"

Thinking about mission, vision, and framework to ultimately create “ISEE” [Photo credit Monika Aldarondo]

Our work with APS was an opportunity for all of us to be learners, teachers and observers of one another. The power of interchange offered exciting prospect for collaboration across many spectra and organizations in general, not just the artistic world.

Gallery walk

Gallery walk of the work created by APS faculty and staff during a strategic planning/visioning exercise [Photo credit Monika Aldarondo]

Jo’burg is a study in contrasts. Enormous wealth is evident in the manicured suburbs with houses hidden behind high walls and shopping centers more opulent than any I have seen in the US. On the other hand, residents in neighborhoods of Jo’burg and townships like Soweto or Alexandria live in crowded conditions, with no running water or other amenities, and sky-rocketing unemployment. They also rank near the top of the  entire continent with the incidence of HIV and AIDs. While the 1994 Constitution speaks eloquently of human rights in all forms, the reality of life for the majority is quite different. In a country where music, dance and art are foundational parts of human life and expression, in Soweto, of the 350 schools, only two offer any kind of art experiences. It is a miracle that each day students leave Soweto for Artist Proof, often traveling over an hour each way, committed to becoming skilled printmakers.

APS stands as shining example of what can happen when political, human and artistic forces combine for the advancement of young people.

Ramiro Gonzalez (BAA), Kim Berman (APS), myself, and Monika Aldarondo (BAA)

Ramiro Gonzalez (BAA), Kim Berman (APS), myself, and Monika Aldarondo (BAA)

Group photo

The amazing APS faculty and staff!


We did have time for some fun at Kruger National Park! [Photo credit Monika Aldarondo]

Visits to Chicago Public Schools

Last week I had the opportunity to visit four schools while I was in Chicago for the Arts Schools Network conference.

Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts)

ChiArts, Chicago’s first public school for the visual and performing arts, is only four years old and I had heard that it’s very similar in mission and vision to Boston Arts Academy. During my tour with Principal Terri Mislap, I saw ChiArts’ core values posted around the hallways: Humility, Balance, Perseverance, Community, and Iintegrity. There are also conduct standards on the walls around the school: Places, Harmony, Collage, Direction, and Arrangement.

ChiArts conduct standards

Students take their academic classes from 8am until noon and then there is a nearly two hour lunch/study hall/advisory block when students can get some air outside in the courtyard, eat, and get homework done. Even though this block could seem unstructured to some, I got the sense that it worked well for students (and faculty.) At 2pm the conservatory part of the day begins. Students take arts classes in one of four majors (vocal and instrumental music, visual arts, dance, or theatre) until 5pm each day.

ChiArts students taking their break in the courtyard

I had the chance to meet with the arts department heads and we discussed some of their worries about their emerging school: how to ensure a positive school culture; how to support the adjunct faculty’s professional development (all the arts teachers except the department heads are part-time); and how to deal with the pressure to produce conservatory-ready graduates when, as the music teacher lamented, “We don’t necessarily have access to students at a younger age and they come in without much background in music!” Similarly, the dance teacher said his department struggled with the definition of success. He felt success needed to be measured by the number of students accepted into conservatories, yet he recognized not all of his young students would actually go on to a career in dance. Sound familiar?

ChiArts musicians

I also met with Jose Ochoa, the school’s Executive Director. His responsibilities span from setting the scope and sequence for the artistic vision of the school to fundraising and finance (the school raises $2.5million a year from its Board and galas and, like at BAA, the privately raised money is crucial to run the school, as their per pupil district allocation is not enough to support an arts and academic curriculum.) There are 600 students at ChiArts and 55% are eligible for free lunch.

ChiArts Principal Terri Mislap and faculty

ChiArts faculty and staff

Calmeca Fine Arts and Dual Language Academy

Walking into Calmeca Academy in the Brighton Park neighborhood of Chicago was a bit like walking back in time for me (I began as a bilingual teacher in the late ’70s when being bilingual and bicultural was celebrated!) I was so happy to see that Calmeca had found a way to fight the backlash against bilingual education to become a dual language school. The vision of Calmeca Academy is “to empower all students to become competent and literate adults who are life-long learners, critical thinkers and achievers who maintain high expectations in the areas of academic and global diversity.”

Our day began with a presentation of dances from students in 4th-8th grade. We watched two dances from VeracruzEl Zapateado Jarocho and La Bruja – where the dancers balanced a candle on their heads as they moved, and a third that was a danzon with Afro-Cuban influence.

Veracruz dance

The costumes were exquisite and the students’ confidence and commitment to the intricate steps even more impressive. Next came a Project Runway show of clothing made from recycled materials and inspired by both indigenous Mexican culture and countries in Africa. The first contestant was the principal, Frances Garcia, dressed in a vibrant blue dress that seemed to symbolize both the importance of music and the arts as well as the culture of Mexico. Subsequent contestants also displayed the dresses they had made. As Principal Garcia said, “Arts help show how smart we are whether we speak English or not.”

Project Runway contestants

Principal Frances Garcia performs in Project Runway

We went on a whirlwind tour of the classrooms. The school is brand new and breathtakingly beautiful. Many of the nooks and crannies of the corridors were bursting with student work and exhibitions. The library rivaled anything I’d ever seen, with lots of reading corners and comfortable chairs. In every classroom, students were hard at work.  Creativity and focused energy abounded. The school uses discretionary funding to ensure that there is a full time visual arts teacher and full time music teacher on staff. They also partner with Columbia College and the National Museum of Mexican Art. During the tour, we also had our pictures taken by two 4th grade photographers on the Yearbook staff.

Yearbook photographers on duty

There are 837 students enrolled at Calmeca. 93.3% are low income students, 10.2% are Special Education and 52.8% are English Language Learners. The largest demographic at Calmeca is Hispanic, 95.2%, mostly of Mexican descent. It seemed that the majority of teachers were of Mexican descent as well. Everyone exuded pride in their building, their curriculum and their school. I left feeling proud too!

Telpochcalli Elementary School

The mission of Telpochcalli Elementary School is to integrate arts and Mexican culture into an innovative academic and social experience. In addition, the school intends to develop fully bilingual/biliterate students in English and Spanish. The school embraces its small size (280 students in grades k-8) as part of its mission and proudly serves the predominantly Mexican and Mexican-American community of Little Village on Chicago’s southwest side.

All the materials we were given were written in both Spanish and English. The school’s PR brochure names six advantages of being bilingual:

  • more creativity
  • more mental flexibility (better understanding of concepts)
  • well-developed problem solving skills
  • more ease in learning yet another language
  • self-confidence and pride in the culture
  • there are many jobs that require bilingual employees—so more job opportunities.

We were met by principal Tamara Witzl, who was one of the founding faculty in 1993. The school developed from the Small Schools Workshop of the University of Illinois, developed by Michael Klonsky and Bill Ayers. Tamara proudly discussed the extensive artist-in-residence program supported by Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education, CAPE (a local community arts organization) that brings in musicians, visual artists and performing artists to work with teachers in arts-integrated projects wherever possible. Given the longevity of this collaboration as well as the stability of the teaching staff, teachers (and artists) are adept at developing projects that both meet academic curricular needs and develop artistic skills.

Example of a mural in the school created by artists in residence and students

Telpochcalli Community Education Project (TCEP) is another community-based organization that has grown from the school. TCEP grew from the needs of the larger school community (parents and neighborhood residents) to have classes for them such as ESL, sewing, aerobics, leadership development, and training in non-violent interventions. Parents wanted more involvement in the school, but Tamara had no vehicle to raise funds to support that involvement. The social and economic needs of parents were overwhelming and the school faculty and administration knew that for students to be successful, parents couldn’t be in continual crisis. TCEP fills that void, and also receives grants to support after school programming for the students. Given the severe budget cuts in the Chicago Public Schools, Tamara hopes that the TCEP might also raise funds to help with the continued professional development of her faculty and the resident artists. Tamara is sanguine about the need for more funding in order to sustain the excellent work of her school and the not-for-profit TCEP. “Without funding, we cannot meet the needs of our students and their families.”

We also had the opportunity to catch the tail end of an artist-in-residence working with students. The students were working on print-making for a unit that would culminate with Day of the Dead artwork. The young artists were excited to explain to us about their work and the meaning of Day of the Dead.

Artist-in-residence and student both explain their process

Lindblom Math and Science Academy High School.

From Telpochcalli I went to visit Lindblom Math and Science Academy in West Englewood, on what seemed like the “other side” of Chicago. Given that this school is part of the consortium of schools involved in Qatar Foundation International’s (QFI) network of schools teaching Arabic, I was eager to see the school in action. Unfortunately, the day was ending as I arrived and the yellow school buses already lining up. Only 11% of the students are from the neighborhood in which the school is located; Lindblom is one of Chicago’s nine exam schools.

Principal Alan Mather graciously took me around the school so I could feel the energy of the students. And, I did. Many students stay late in the afternoon for extra help, clubs, sports, arts activities.

Students working on their math homework

Students working on their college applications in the college and career center

I was impressed with how spotless the school was and also the relaxed atmosphere in the hallways.

Students socializing after school

Alan says that the school decided not to ban hats or hoodies in favor of working on other issues of school culture that seemed more substantive. I was struck by this since my experience at BAA has convinced me of the importance of helping students become more aware of professional dress (i.e. no hats and doo rags). Our argument has always been that students need to know how to present themselves professionally, especially because there are such prevalent stereotypes about artists not being professional. On the other hand, we do spend a great deal of energy on the no hats policy—albeit with just a few students. I wonder what would happen if we went the “Lindblom way” and stopped focusing on hats and gum and if, as Alan said, it would help us focus on the larger culture and climate issues. I’m not sure.

Alan also discussed his desire to keep growing a better school without the constant focus on test scores. “We talk about data differently here,” he told me, and shared the essentials that he felt were at the center of school improvement: college persistence, involved families, a supportive environment for all learners, collaboration among teachers, effective leadership and ambitious instruction. One of the focus areas for the faculty is to provide instruction in a way that students feel challenged and supported. Even though students test into the school, there is still a wide range of learners. This is a familiar theme to me. At BAA, STEAM teachers are also looking at how to support and stretch their students.

Another of Alan’s challenges is to help move Lindblom so it’s not seen as a island in the community. Lindblom has a rich history; it was built as a vocational school in the 1920s and then became an exam school for the African American middle class in the 60s and 70s, but the neighborhood demographics have changed over the last decades. Alan sadly remarked that his students now have to be escorted by security personnel to the public bus stop if they aren’t taking the school bus home.  I was fascinated by this dilemma since Lindblom clearly has a history of community connections.

How can schools serve as a resource to their community while also serving the needs of their current students? Schools may be one of the most effective ways to revitalize neighborhoods, but what are the most effective ways to develop these collaborations? I would love to know how others have thought about this question.

First Annual Teaching Artist Conference

Life has made some dramatic turns in these last few weeks. For the first time in 35 years, the end of August brought no class prep as a teacher and no teacher prep as a principal. What it did bring was a wonderful opportunity to expand our work beyond one school to many schools in my new role as Executive Director of the Center for Arts in Education at Boston Arts Academy.

One of the Center for Arts in Education’s signature programs is the National Artist Teacher Fellowship. We will give approximately 20 fellowships each year to teachers working in public art-focused high schools.  With this program in mind, I traveled to Norway in August for the First International Teaching Artist Conference.  Read more here: Notes from the First Annual Teaching Artist Conference

Opening Day 2012

I was proud to be able to spend some of the opening day of the Boston Public Schools 2012-2013 school year in the renovated building that Mission Hill K-8 School and the newly founded Margarita Muniz Academy (MMA) now share. I am honored to have been on the planning team for Mission Hill so many years back, and more recently for the MMA. I have to say I didn’t even recognize this building, which used to be occupied by the Agassiz school… the BPS has done a wonderful job renovating the space!

Opening any new school is no easy feat, and opening a new school in a newly renovated building has additional changes – but I could feel Margarita’s presence in the purples and the reds that Dania had selected for the walls and the logo, and I know Margarita is approving of all the choices. I have full faith that Dania and Ayla will continue to keep the vision as they work on the many details of running a school- best wishes for a successful year to them both!

Even when districts sometimes seem to have trouble systematically bringing good work to scale, it is worth noting and celebrating all the good things going on in BPS this year, including opening another new school in addition to the Margarita Muniz (the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School) and renovating two schools in addition to the MMA and Mission Hill Elementary (New Mission High School and BLCA at the Hyde Park Education complex). And congratulations to Fenway High School, which was just selected by the US Department of Education as a national “Exemplary Improving” Blue Ribbon school!

It is worth noting that Mission Hill K-8, Margarita Muniz, Dudley Street, and Fenway are all either pilot schools or in-district innovation schools. The question I ask is: What can we learn from the success of these schools to help the entire district be successful? And how can a district be more active in helping all schools achieve more autonomy?

Celebrating Another Year (and Transitions!)

The beginning of this school year marks a momentous and exciting change for BAA. Our Associate Head of School and founding Academic Dean, Anne Clark, has stepped into the role of Interim Headmaster for the coming school year. Anne leads with a brilliance that will usher BAA into its next era; already the rearrangement of space is giving the school a fresh new energy and life!

We continue to move BAA forward as I relocate across the hall to become Executive Director of the Center for Arts in Education at BAA, the professional development, dissemination, and advocacy arm of the school. The Center offers professional development institutes and workshops, provides consulting and coaching for schools interested in using the arts as a reform strategy, and runs a number of programs:

At the end of last school year, I gave my final celebratory speech as headmaster (excerpted below) to faculty and staff at our goodbye lunch, a tradition that has carried through our fourteen years. The enduring questions I raise here are ones that we asked after our first year in 1998 and continue to ask today. I believe these questions have universality for other educators, too:

  1. Would we be both a model of academic innovation and a model of arts education?
  2. Would we produce students academically and artistically prepared to enter our ProArts partner institutions or other colleges or careers of our students’ choosing?
  3. What would it mean to create an arts school that exemplified the best aspects of the Coalition of Essential Schools?
  4. Would we be able to emphasize depth over breadth, or would the frenzy of standardized testing knock out our best laid curriculum plans?
  5. How would we develop and communicate a shared understanding of our standards with students, parents, board members and others?
  6. What would developing and modeling democratic and equitable practices in the classroom, hallways and faculty room mean? (We did have a faculty room once upon a time!)
  7. As an inclusive school, how would we express our commitment to diverse learners and address ongoing shifts in demographics?
  8. Would we be able to create enough personalized learning situations for our students?  Did we have enough different pathways to graduation for our kids?
  9. How could faculty meeting time be used to spend more time talking about our students with the teachers who actually taught them, and more deeply connected to our own needs as developing teachers?
  10. How would our Habits of the Graduate (RICO) live in our classrooms?

Even (and especially) after 14 years, we ask these questions so we can serve all our students well… We want to keep learning how to take professional risks together- artistically, academically and emotionally. We want to continue to push one another on issues of race, class, gender, sexual orientation and other societal realities… What I want to celebrate today are those values of getting better, of patience, of figuring it out, of saying NO! to the rest of the world when mandates make no sense. If I have a legacy, I want it to be that you all know how to talk to one another, to disagree respectfully, and to come together in complete solidarity- as the powerful group that you are- in order to do what is right for kids… BAA will continue to soar if you remember to build from love, respect and collaboration, and always with students at the center. 

The BAA class of 2012!

I am so proud of what BAA has and will continue to become, and am excited to bring more of that work outward in my new role. I am taking off for Oslo in a few weeks for the first annual Teaching Artist conference and will be sure to blog about it when I return! As always, please leave comments and questions and I am happy to respond!

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