Thursday, April 24, 2014

Spending part of the Day at KIPP NYC College Prep

One of the best forms of professional development is to seek out those that are doing the work exceptionally well and watch them in action.  This morning, I had the chance to do just that while visiting the KIPP NYC College Prep.
As expected, the intentionality of everything was readily apparent.  From the academic and social vocabulary decaled to the edges of the steps, to the KIPP profile sheet that accompanies every college application, real thought seems to go into all that they do.  True to their motto Ancora Imparo (I am still learning), they also believe that there is always improvement to be had.
So many things about KIPP resonated with me, among them:
  • A KIPP-to-College mini-course focused on preparing students for the realities of college life.  Today’s group discussion prompt was very real and brought me back to my own freshman year:
You and a group of freshman hall mates go to a party together and commit to coming home together.  Some in the group do not drink.  When you arrive at the party, an upperclassman tells them: in order to enter, you must do a shot.  What do you do?
  • Rarely (outside of BVP) have I met physical education teachers so enthusiastic about their program.  Their excitement was most palpable when they talked about the regular physical fitness exams that their students take three times per year.
  • Deans, counselors, and college advisors are all focused on ensuring that the school mission and goals are met.  From presence in the hallways to a masterful mediation between two “rivals,” the team executed with excellence.
  • Perhaps most importantly, academic engagement in classrooms was very real.  While I only was able to visit a few classes, the level of discourse in the rooms that I sat in on was very high. Overall there was a feeling of: teachers who love what they do leading to students who love being in school leading to teachers loving what they do.  There’s a recipe here that needs to be replicated!
With our high school opening in a but a few short months, I must confess that I covet KIPP being at scale.  As a large, fully-enrolled high school with more than 800 students, there are so many supports that can be afforded.  That said, the team reminded me (and one another) that it wasn’t always that way.  In describing the early years -- moving from building to building and working 12+ hour days -- many founders I spoke with appreciated where they had been but talked about how much more manageable the work is today.  With that in mind, I am thrilled to know that our founding high school team is coming together this weekend to get planning early!
Ultimately though, my visit today to KIPP was really personal for me.  Carlos Capellan, the Assistant Principal for Culture, was my host for the visit.  “Cap” in every way embodied everything that I want to be: connected, respected, loving, and loved (plus he’s tall and handsome).  He and I go back to my beginning in public education – he was one of my students during my first year as an eighth grade social studies teacher with Teach for America.  From that lens, know that all that is written above is through of lens of pride and joy.

Note: Carlos will be married on June 21, 2014.  I am honored to be asked to read at his wedding, though sad that I will miss the second annual BVP 5K.  (Okay, maybe relieved is more appropriate than sad…)

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Breaking Everything Down to a Science...April Break Science Camp

This BVP Musings guest blog is brought to you by ES1 Science Teacher Sophia Lambertsen

“I’ve got a crazy question for you. Do you have time to talk right now?” Well, I was suited up in my yellow neon crossing guard vest, standing in the middle of Broad Street directing dismissal traffic, so really, my answer was no. But I can never resist a crazy question. That’s how this year’s April Break Science Camp was born.

When Mr. Chiappetta first proposed running a science camp during April Break, it sounded like a really good idea, and it felt like I had all the time in the world to make it happen. Now it’s April, and Science Camp starts on Monday. And it’s going to be awesome.

We are so excited to welcome the fourth graders, on their last vacation as elementary schoolers, to spend a week collaborating on inquiry-based lab activities, doing scientific research on scholar laptops, and meeting career scientists. Science camp staff and I can’t wait for our field trip at the end of the week, on the Friday of camp, when the science campers will work together to learn about the science of baseball and represent BVP on a trip to McCoy Stadium.

As I scurry around trying to get my hands on enough liquid nitrogen for nearly 50 fourth graders, order batteries and bulbs from every Radio Shack in Rhode Island (did you know most Radio Shack locations only stock 3 or 4 scholar-sized lightbulbs?), and touch base with our 10 visiting scientists, I’m overwhelmed by a feeling of inspiration.

I’m inspired by the close to 50 fourth grade scholars who have chosen to spend their April break learning science instead of playing video games or watching TV. 

I’m inspired by the ES1 office staff who have stepped up with enthusiasm to help with translation and logistics. 

I’m inspired by the third grade scholars who tell me they can’t wait to be fourth graders so they can come to science camp too. 

I’m inspired by employees of local businesses who, when they hear about camp, go above and beyond to help me out with discounts, expertise, and advice. 

I’m inspired by my colleagues and friends, both BVP-affiliated and not, who have volunteered to help set up inquiry kits, move bags of materials that are too heavy for me to carry, practice running through lab experiments to anticipate issues, and come up with countless “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” ideas.

It’s this type of teamwork that bridges the gap between “Today we learn” and “Tomorrow we lead.” The scholars at science camp will work as a team to get ready to rock their science NECAP in May, and I hope their choice to spend their April break as a week on, not a week off, inspires all of you the way is has inspired me. Check back throughout the week for photos and scholar quotes.

And I’ll give you the same advice I give my third graders. Try not to be too jealous of the fourth grade science campers. Maybe if you try your best, you’ll be invited to come next year.

Monday, April 7, 2014

No Excuses vs. Progressives vs. Magic in the Middle - Yale ELC 2014

Achievement First's Dacia Toll rarely disappoints and her remarks at this year's Yale Education Leadership Conference were no exception.  Of all of the thought provoking comments made from the panelists and speakers, Dacia's profound remark during the opening panel stands out. Days later, I am still noodling on what she said.

In an oversimplification of her argument, she basically posited that in the education reform space there are largely two highly polarized camps: 
  • no-excuses types who largely believe in high expectations, more time, and disciplined cultures 
versus
  • progressive educators who focus on student-centered, hands-on learning
Dacia argued, however, that "the magic" will actually happen when the two meet somewhere in the middle.

This resonates so well with our work at Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy.  Born out of a strong and rigid no-excuses framework, our evolution shows that we are definitely building toward the magic in the middle.  A few years ago during a comprehensive strategy review, we replaced "no-excuses" with "high expectations, high support" in our lexicon.  More tangibly, our high school design is highly personalized, yet still steeped in academic rigor and strong culture.

This is just one example of an ongoing effort to challenge our internal practices as we learn from our experiences and those of others.  Throughout our growing network of schools, we are striving to find the best practices from anywhere and everywhere, including "no-excuses" and "progressives."

As we work to continuously improve, I hope that we are successful in finding that magic. Like Dacia, my bet is that the magic will be somewhere in the middle.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Spend some time with BVP at the Yale School of Management Education Leadership Conference

The Education Leadership Conference offers great sessions for educators on technology, school reform, common core implementation and other relevant topics of interest.

If you are attending, be sure to connect with BVP while you are there. Even if you aren't able to register for Friday's sessions (which are now full), you can visit our table at the ELC Expo on Thursday night. We are still looking for amazing teachers and network and school leaders to join our team.

We will also be live tweeting from the conference using the handles @BVPrep @YaleELC and #gotcollege, #YaleELC. 

You might also follow members of our team who will be there: 

Check back here for updates after the conference!