Wednesday, May 28, 2014

"Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud"



Today Maya Angelou, famous writer and author, passed away at the age of 86. 

As people all over the world choose not to mourn in favor of celebrating her life instead, some are also remembering some "words of wisdom" from Maya herself. 

We share a couple that resonate with anyone and everyone who cares about the very important work, the calling, to educate our young people... 

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
"Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him."
"Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope."
"When you learn, teach, when you get, give."

...and the following simple sentiment:

"Try to be a rainbow in someone's cloud."

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

#BVPHighSchool & Accreditation

Over the past year our High School Designer, Jonathan Santos Silva, has led a team to design a world-class high school for our scholars.  His design work was born out of an incredible advisory committee that met in the spring of 2013.


When Jonathan joined BVP in the summer, he worked under the direct supervision of Dr. Lori McEwen, BVP’s Director of Academics and soon to be the Chief of Instruction, Learning, and Equity at Providence Public Schools.  Supporting Jonathan on a near full-time basis was Lina Musayev, a Broad Resident with expertise in policy and project management and Sinnjinn Bucknell, a Brown Urban Education Policy graduate student.  In addition, the BVP high school (like all of our schools) has been and will remain a key priority for the entire BVP leadership team.  Indeed, the BVP High School is an A-Team!


Jonathan’s preparation to launch the high school ranged from meeting with current scholars and families to participating in trainings and convenings across the country.  He and members of his team have observed and interviewed Rhode Island principals, nationally renowned schools, and many hidden gems around the country that are doing incredible work but have yet to earn the reputation that they may deserve.  With strategic and financial support from Charter School Growth Fund, Next Generation Learning Challenges, the Rhode Island Foundation and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the BVP High School is sure to be phenomenal.


A recent Valley Breeze article noted that the BVP High School “will not be immediately accredited.” [emphasis added] It is imperative to underscore two things about this:
  1. Jonathan correctly noted that BVP High School will offer everything that an accredited school offers, and
  2. It is actually impossible for BVP High School to be accredited at this point in time.  To be sure, a school must be in operation for at least a year in order to apply to be a Candidate for Accreditation.  Then, the school must spend at least 18 months as a Candidate in order to be considered for accreditation.  Moreover, schools that are growing one grade per year, like BVP High School, are often encouraged to wait to apply to be a Candidate for Accreditation until they have a graduating class.  That said, we are building BVP High School with NEASC accreditation in mind.


To all the families of our nearly 1,200 scholars next year, I continue to be humbled by your trust and look forward to the exciting work that's ahead.

As always, feel free to reach out to me or Jonathan with any questions you may have.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Brown vs. Board of Education, Today: Imaginary Boundaries as Roadblocks to School Integration


 By Katelyn Silva, Chief Communications Officer, Rhode Island Mayoral Academies

May 17 marks the 60th anniversary of the milestone decision on Brown vs. the Board of Education that made school segregation unlawful. Despite the progress made in between, starting in the 1980’s, our schools began moving backwards towards resegregation. This is despite having a population that is increasingly racially and ethnically diverse.

Here in Rhode Island, our urban core communities—Providence, Central Falls, Pawtucket, Newport and Woonsocket—are 79 percent non-white, while the remaining communities are only 13 percent. The five urban core communities also have the highest percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced priced lunch (FRL).

The fact is that while legal segregation is a thing of the past, de facto segregation is on the rise, mainly because real estate values still largely determine the quality of education provided in many communities.

In 2000, Samuel Issacharoff, Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law at NYU Law School, lamented to the New York Times, “Fifty years after Brown vs. Board of Education, there is still no non-coercive mechanism for racial integration that has evolved in this country.” Responding in 2003 in the journal Principal Leadership, High Tech High founder Larry Rosenstock proposed a potential solution:

“Building small schools of choice, which intentionally bring together students of diverse races, ethnicities and classes, may be one of the only effective ways to ensure that all students receive a high quality, truly integrated educational experience.”

A decade after that provocation, we have numerous examples of charter school networks that have done precisely what Rosenstock suggested, including High Tech High itself, Denver School of Science and Technology, Citizens of the World charter schools, Summit Public Schools, EL Haynes, Rhode Island’s own Blackstone Valley Prep and others, as recently documented by The Century Foundation.

Research from the National Coalition on School Diversity suggests that racially and socioeconomically diverse schools work for everyone.  Findings show that students from lower income backgrounds who attend racially and socioeconomically diverse schools are more likely to achieve better test scores and higher grades, and to persist through high school and college when compared with students who attend schools with great numbers of disadvantaged or non-white youth (or both).

Studies also suggest significant advantages for white, non-low-income students in diverse schools. These students show greater critical thinking, problem-solving  and community engagement skills, which are important to successful completion of college, and success in life and the global economy. Students from diverse schools are also more likely to reside in desegregated neighborhoods as adults.

Blackstone Valley Prep Mayoral Academy takes the research to heart and implements it through its model of intentional socioeconomic and racial diversity. BVP serves four distinct urban and suburban districts: Cumberland, Central Falls, Pawtucket, and Lincoln. Each of these four districts in isolation serves highly segregated groups of students, but through the BVP charter network, the student population becomes highly integrated.  


%White
%Non-White
%FRL
Central Falls
9
91
81
Cumberland
83
17
24
Lincoln
90
10
27
Pawtucket
34
66
78

BVP’s enrollment from these communities yields a student population that is 63 percent low-income/37 percent not (based on free and reduced-lunch numbers); and 61 percent students of color/39 percent not.  


%White
%Non-White
%FRL
Central Falls
9
91
81
Cumberland
83
17
24
Lincoln
90
10
27
Pawtucket
34
66
78




BVP
39
61
62

The model is working. BVP has the highest 8th grade math scores on NECAP in the state; higher than the wealthier and highly segregated districts of East Greenwich and Barrington. Latino BVP students in 8th grade score 57 points higher than the state average.

Rhode Island parents have taken notice. More than 1900 families applied for 173 seats at BVP this year. Many of the remaining 1700+ will be educationally straightjacketed by their zip code.  Their children’s classrooms will be mostly homogenous. They will be taught Brown vs. the Board of Education, but they will not experience its impact.

The simmer of segregation’s injustice may be hushed, but the ramifications are loud. A segregated society still means an unequal society, one that results in poverty, prejudice, and social stratification.

We are not going to get to truly integrated schools with good intentions and small nods towards progress, but with system-wide innovation and community will. Imaginary boundaries cannot be what separate our children from the benefits of learning side by side. However, until we stop putting up phantom walls to school choice, multi-district education, and policies on integration, we will never see the seeds of Brown vs. the Board of Education fully blossom.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Teachers - My Cup Runneth Over Because of You.


By Erika Sanzi, BVP teacher and parent

I didn’t have plans to write anything about Teacher Appreciation Week -- between the crazy life of motherhood, teaching at BVP middle school, and four little league teams, sitting down to write was not even on my radar.


And then, it just hit me. Some time in the early hours of Monday morning, while I was brewing coffee and signing reading logs, I became aware that it was the start of Teacher Appreciation week. Within seconds, my mind was like a runaway train of gratitude about teachers.  As someone who taught at her alma mater for four years, my former teachers became my mentors and confidants. As life took me from affluent public schools in MA to a public and parochial school in CA, to high poverty schools, teachers became not only my teammates, but also my dearest of friends. But the reality is that none of that prepared me for how my gratitude would exponentially grow when I became the mother of children who attend BVP.


One of the first images that came to mind was of a teacher who, when not making my son and his classmates experts in fair trade chocolate and the U.S. judicial system, is coaching scholars on winning chess strategies. 


Before I knew it, images were flashing before me like a slideshow:




  • My son’s teacher on the sidelines of his flag football game.
  • The Head of School playing football outside with the first graders during recess.


  • Photos of exciting reading growth charts for my 1st grader popping up on my phone in the middle of the day.
  • My husband dropping them off every morning (including in the freezing winter) to the smiles and handshakes of teachers and staff who are waiting outside for them to arrive.
  • A team of teachers figuring out how to entertain 75 1st graders on a Friday afternoon when “trash man’ cancelled with about 10 mins notice. What did they do? They danced with the kids!


  • Heartwarming acknowledgements of scholars’ growth in PRIDE values during breakfast with parents.
  • Scholars sitting in a circle outside playing violin while the sun shines on their faces.


  • Rooms overflowing with teachers, staff, and families as we fight for our school to stay open, to have facilities, or to expand.


Who do I thank for making my kids so excited to tell me about their days and what they learned the moment they hop in the car, arguing over whose awesome thing I’ll hear first?

Who do I thank for helping them to understand the importance of character and community?

Who do I thank for motivating me to be a better teacher because of what I see happening in classrooms all around me, including those of my own children?

I thank teachers. Your joy, energy, dedication, intelligence, creativity, positivity, warmth, humor, and high expectations are making a difference in the lives of my children and all of BVP’s children every day. On those rough days when you wonder if anyone even notices what you do, take solace in the following: You are the rock stars putting every child on the path to college and on the path to becoming their best selves. You make a difference. 

I thank you for that.



Friday, May 2, 2014

Thoughts re: Highlander Blended Learning Conference


By Executive Director Jeremy Chiappetta


I am honored to present on behalf of BVP at this weekend's Highlander Institute Blended Learning Conference.  I am especially excited to co-present with Rob Pilkington -- the head of the Village Green School in Providence.  I am confident that our session will inspire (and scare) attendees on the what, how, why, and why now of opening a next generation school here in Rhode Island.

If you are unable to join us in person tomorrow, please follow the action on twitter using #HIBLC14.  For those who are looking to gain some insight and perspective on this work, below are some resources that might be of interest:
My must-follow next gen folks on twitter: Click here for my blended must-follow list.  Obviously, you must follow me! Other hashtags to follow are #BVPHighSchool and #edchatRI. If you should be on my list and you're not, send me a tweet @chiachess!
BVP Materials: BVP is open-source with almost all of our materials and design documents.  As such,  we are proud to share our thinking (sometimes it's good, sometimes it's great, and sometimes it's actually not...if you have suggestions to improve, let me know!):
Looking forward to seeing/engaging with you Saturday! 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

High School Team Comes Together for Very First Time


By Dr. Lori McEwen, BVP Director of Academics

This past weekend a small but important group met together for the first time. BVP founding high school staff members convened for a team retreat.  Guided by founding Head of School Jonathan Santos Silva, the group spent three days getting to know one another, designing classrooms and planning for meaningful instruction. 

Our time together was packed tight, giving the new staff a taste of the hard work and long hours that make BVP scholars and teachers so successful.  On Sunday, after a day filled with sessions on curriculum, space design and visioning, we formed a circle and shared the words that best described how we felt after these days together. Optimistic, determined, lucky, vindicated, excited, ready to learnthese were the thoughts and emotions voiced by the team. 

Me? I left feeling...


Impressed by our founding high school leader, Jonathan Santos Silva, whose vision for the high schoola place where the values of  liberty, community and advocacy are demonstrated by every adult and scholar and lived through our PRIDE valueswas palpable.


Humbled by the work of the entire BVP team, but especially by the ongoing commitment of our executive director, Jeremy Chiappetta, who beamed with pride and excitement as he shared the story of BVP’s history with the new team.  


Inspired by the diverse stories-of-self shared by the members of our founding team. In keeping with our commitment to intentional diversity, this assembled team brings diverse backgrounds, life experiences, and cultures with them to make our school rich.


Thrilled by the team’s willingness and ability to jump right in and not only participate, but also lead sessions for their new team (shout-out to David Jose and Jess Bunnell for their respective sessions on design thinking).


Grateful for our entire team, many of whom welcomed the new staff this weekend, and especially for Lina Musayev, our Associate Director.  Her attention to detail and project planning have ensured that we stay true to our values as we build this school for our scholars.


Overjoyed at the prospect of opening this school with this team in the fall.  Our scholars and families deserve our very best and I’m confident that we will deliver them a high school education that is personalized to meet their needs, full of joy and rigor, and designed to prepare them for success in college and the world beyond.


Of course, the words that matter most are those of the scholars who will matriculate this fall. What words describe how you feel about your new school? What would you say now, what will you say in one year? What will you say on graduation day?  

---

For more information about the high school and to learn more about the founding team members, be sure to visit our website.