Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Waldorf Education: "Preparing for Life"

I have posted a handful of articles in support of Waldorf education.  This video details some of the educational philosophy behind this method and speaks volumes about why I have chosen a Waldorf inspired charter school for my own children.  It's definitely worth a look for parents who are interested in an alternative choice for their children. Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Collaborative Efforts between School Districts and Charter Schools Can & Do Happen

California Charter Schools Association
Press Contact: Emily Galbreth
(412) 559-8571 or
October 28, 2013The San Diego Cooperative Charter School (SDCCS) was founded by a group of parents and teachers in 2002. Since then, the school has grown to over 450 students in grades K-8. SDCCS is known for its collaborative culture, diversity, and a focus on all families participating in the education of their children. In addition, SDCCS places a high value on the full inclusion of all students, including those eligible for special education services. To do this, SDCCS relies on a talented and passionate instructional staff who believe in the school's philosophy.

Challenges with the Prior Structure

Prior to 2013-2014, as a "school of the district" for special education, SDCCS had no control over the specialized staff provided to them by their authorizer, San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD). In addition to challenges with getting consistent support staff, SDCCS had no control over the length of time that any particular specialist would remain with their school. The inconsistency meant that specialized staff would often miss the weekly staff meetings that are fundamental to the instructional team's ability to manage the needs of all students in their inclusive setting. When a district staff member engaged with the philosophy of the school's program, according to Principal Wendy Ranck-Buhr, "they would love it and want to stay, but they would get moved on because of the way the district moves its employees." The inconsistency was frustrating for Ranck-Buhr's staff, and potentially educationally harmful for her students. Paying for district special education services and spending time to manage the district staffing process was estimated to cost SDCCS hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for SanDiegoCoop_Garden.jpg

Working Towards a New Option

Through the 2012-2013 school year, Ranck-Buhr says that she "refused to give up on the relationship with the district" as she pursued a solution. SDCCS teamed up SDUSD staff, other charter leaders, and staff from the California Charter Schools Association (CCSA) to develop and pilot a new arrangement that has come to be known as "Option 2" for special education in San Diego charter schools. "Option 2" was designed to provide charter schools with increased flexibility and autonomy for providing special education services for their students without forcing them to seek LEA status for special education in another area of the state. The restructure in SDUSD allows the district to retain a portion of the special education funds they receive on behalf of SDCCS for administrative costs and the creation of a risk pool, while passing on the majority of funds directly to the school site. SDCCS is now responsible for using those funds to provide appropriate services for all students that enroll in the charter. SDCCS is no longer dependent on the district for staffing.
Schools who join "Option 2" receive a portion of state and federal special education funding to provide services that are necessary for students with disabilities enrolled in the school.  
"It took a lot of people being brave about doing the right thing for students," says Ranck-Buhr. She credits district staff, CCSA, local charter leaders and her own team for taking a risk and finding an arrangement that works for everyone.
As a result of this new option, SDCCS can now hire specialized staff who are committed to the school's program, and ensure that school policies and practices are implemented faithfully. Ranck-Buhr is able to empower her specialists to manage their own classroom aides, and all of her staff now attend the school's weekly planning meetings together. Further, all staff now use uniform outlines for IEPs and meeting agendas, which vastly improves the cohesion and consistency of the school's inclusive program. Critically, SDCCS estimates hundreds of thousands of dollars in savings, not including the administrative time that Principal Ranck-Buhr can now spend with her team.
School staff and parents are excited to monitor the results of this new arrangement. Family surveys and student academic outcomes will be used to measure and continually improve the program.
CCSA is proud of the partnership between SDCCS and San Diego Unified School District, and is optimistic that this arrangement will empower other schools and districts to continue working together to serve all students.

San Diego Cooperative Charter School Excels in New San Diego Unified Special Education Structure

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Glimpse into Waldorf Education

I am a big fan of Waldorf education and this video gives you a glimpse into the Waldorf class environment. Both of my school age children have benefited greatly from this approach provided at their public Waldorf charter school.  The Waldorf philosophy of educating the head, heart and hands is worth looking into as an alternative approach to the traditional classroom.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Must Read About the Importance & Impact of Charter Schools

I completely agree with Jacob Grossman's stand on charter schools.  This a great article written by him for Voices of the Dropout Nation. 
Dropout Nation Editorial Board
Jacob Grossman: Grow More Charters
October 4, 2013
10 percent of all kids in Beantown are serve by charters. And it will be up to the one of the two men vying to succeed Menino –  Marty Walsh and John Connolly — to make charter school expansion a reality once one of them takes office. 
voiceslogoIn this Voices of the Dropout Nationreal estate executive Jacob Grossman, who co-chairs the advisory board of the Edward Brooke Charter Schools in Boston (and grandson of Kivie Kaplan, who was president of the NAACP from 1966 to 1975), explains why expanding charters is critical to addressing the civil rights issue of our time, both in Boston and throughout America. Read, consider, share, and take action.
Recently I listened to an interview with Bernice King, the daughter of the famed civil rights leader, as she spoke about her father and the progress the United States has made fifty years after his March on Washington.  Without question, our country has made great strides in working towards equality. But we are not attentive enough to the largest problem at hand.  With Boston’s mayoral race at the forefront of people’s minds — which coincides with the imminent vacancy of the Boston Public Schools Superintendent post, it is an important time to focus on our schools.
To begin, I must admit that I am a reluctant supporter of charter schools.  As a Republican in tradition of socially liberal and fiscally conservative icons such as former U.S. Senator Edward Brooke, I wish that all of our traditional public schools offered challenging and engrossing opportunities for our kids. But urban public schools continually fall short.  I do not desire to assign blame, but rather highlight a broken system which has lost track of its priority – our children – and focuses instead on the benefits to the adults.  My wife and I grudgingly left our beloved South End neighborhood with our young son because we did not feel confident that he would get a rigorous public education in Boston Public Schools.
Just 10 percent of ninth graders in Boston Public Schools go on to graduate from a four- year college.  Forty-two of families with children in Boston say that they have thought about leaving the city solely because of our schools.  To be abundantly clear, this is not because the administrators or teachers in Boston Public Schools are bad.  The local system and school systems across the country are not arming the players with the tools to win.
I am afraid that we are “educating” a generation of urban kids who will not be equipped with the skills to succeed in life. This isn’t as visible and outwardly hurtful as a “No Blacks” sign over a water fountain, but its consequences are deleterious to society and the people in the system. Statistics show that high school dropouts are eight times more likely to end up in jail or prison than those who graduate.
We are failing our kids by capping charter school growth.  Charter schools are public schools with two major distinctions.  First, they are not subject to union contracts.  Practically speaking, this means they can create their own curriculum, set their own hours, reward effective teachers and terminate ineffective ones – much like any private business. Secondly, to gain placement in a charter school, a parent simply needs to complete an information card to enter their child into a lottery.  A charter school is a free market system whereas a tradition public school is not. Charter school administrators have the opportunity to lead with a focus on meritocracy and efficacy while a union-governed system is ruled by seniority and a politically negotiated contract.
To be more clear: the framework which governs how Boston Public Schools operate (from length of school day, to teacher reward and tenure) is the Boston Teachers Union contract which is negotiated by politicians who also ensure that the streets are clear of trash, potholes are filled, and that crime in the city is on a downward trend.
Charter schools are not the answer to all problems. In fact, there are ineffective charter schools just like there are ineffective traditional public and private schools. However, the competition and innovation that the mere existence and expansion of charter schools creates is a benefit to the students in all our schools. Without a union contract, a charter school can terminate an ineffective teacher, whereas a public school teacher may have tenure. With the ability to create its own curriculum and schedule, a charter school can maximize learning time and provide innovative programming that fosters real and quantifiable learning growth.
As a consumer and business person, I love competition. It generally results in a better outcome for me and my fellow consumers. Companies fighting for my business can result in more pioneering products and better pricing. Why wouldn’t we encourage more competition in our education system? Parents select a charter school because they think their kids will be better off for attending them. If a specific charter school is weak or a specific traditional public school is strong, the market forces will lead to the closure of the bad schools and strengthen demand in the good schools. As a taxpayer, I would like to see our education dollars result in more positive outcomes that will empower our kids to develop skills that will enable them to succeed in life after school.
In Massachusetts, we pride ourselves on our strong institutions of higher learning, our entrepreneurship in the life sciences, healthcare and biotech fields, as well as our robust financial services industry. We should expand our national leadership position in education reform and embrace competition supplied by charter school growth.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

School Gardens Important Sources in Teaching Healthy Eating

This article gives us a glimpse at what growing your own food can do for the nutrition of students at a Mendocino continuation high school.  Unfortunately, these school gardens are in jeopardy for lack of continued funding.

Mendocino County students get taste of healthy eating through school garden

September 21, 2013, 3:51 PM
It’s a sweltering summer morning but a group of teens are happy to be toiling in their school garden, where dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables are ripening.
“It’s fun,” said Daemon Seilhan, 17.
“It makes me happy,” said Deja Johnson, 16.

New Beginnings School Garden

It’s also been a life-changing experience for many of the students at New Beginnings, a continuation school based at the Mendocino County Office of Education in Talmage.
“They’re becoming more aware of what good food is,” said Jonna Weidaw, a teacher at the eighth- through 12th-grade school.
That’s so important, especially for children who have grown up on unhealthy foods, including some subsidies from the federal government, she said. The families of her Native American students typically are given lard, processed cheese and flour in their federal food packages, Weidaw said. It’s no surprise that there’s an epidemic of obesity and diabetes among that population, she said.
The subsidized food offerings are surprising because the government, at the same time, is funding advertising campaigns to encourage people to eat healthier, Weidaw noted.
As part of their nutrition education, her students have learned to read labels. They’re appalled at what’s in packaged food, like the “pink slime” that comprises protein substances in some fast food burgers.
“When the kids become aware of this, they say, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t want to eat that,’” Weidaw said.
Thanks to their garden and nutrition programs, the students now are shunning unhealthy foods, she said. They used to show up for class in the mornings with sugary coffee drinks. Now they head into the garden first thing to pick fresh ingredients for tea.
On Friday, it was lemon leaves and fresh mint, Weidaw said. Other favorites include strawberry and kale smoothies and cucumber mint water.
“They’re making these choices on their own,” Weidaw said.
The experience has helped some of the students with more than nutrition.
Seilhan has become more outgoing, Weidaw said. “Getting him really enthusiastic about food has given him an avenue to communicate,” she said.
He enjoys cooking and is planning to prepare a meal of enchiladas for his classmates next week. The focus on food also led to a part-time job. He recently was elevated from a volunteer cook to paid cook at the adjacent preschool.
“It’s interesting working with little kids,” Seilhan said.
Similar nutritional programs with gardens are in place in about 19 Mendocino County public schools, but many are now in danger.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture funding that most of the schools rely on to pay their garden coordinators is ending next month, said Terry D’Selkie, program director of the county’s Schools Network for a Healthy California.
The state health department, the recipient of the federal funding, has decided the $840,000 schools once received should now be spent on advertisements urging people to practice better nutrition, D’Selkie said.
To save the garden programs, D’Selkie and others have been scrambling to find new funding sources.
“We need to campaign and do outreach,” she said.
Their campaign includes setting up a fund through the Community Foundation of Mendocino County,

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Teachers Changed In Zambia and In Seattle

This news story is more of a focus on educators rather than students, however, these are the individuals leading our children.  This is a heartwarming story of a service project that not only touched the lives of the educators and students in Zambia, but also equally touched the lives of those educators involved from the Queen Anne Elementary school in Seattle.  I can imagine an impact as great as this experience, might translate into the classroom with their students.  

Originally published September 11, 2013 at 9:19 PM | Page modified September 12, 2013 at 5:55 AM

Volunteers from Seattle learn a lot from school in Zambia

Queen Anne Elementary School is part of a partnership with an African school in which mutual benefit and fairness outweigh charity.
Seattle Times staff columnist
Seattle’s Queen Anne Elementary School and the Dwankhozi Basic School in Zambia are trying to forge a relationship deep enough to be nourished by both differences and similarities.
Ties between the schools are the latest fruit of Dwankhozi Hope, an organization founded in 2006 by an emigrant from Zambia and friends who are part of the Queen Anne community.
Charles Masala is an engineer and one of 10 brothers and sisters who grew up in the Dwankhozi area, all of whom graduated from college. His family wanted other children to have the kind of success they have had, so when one of his sisters-in-law started a small school there, Masala asked members of his church, Bethany Presbyterian, to help.
Matt and Beth MacLean said yes, and pretty soon there were a dozen people who formed the core of the organization — relatives, church members and teachers and parents of children at Queen Anne Elementary School, which the MacLeans’ son attends.
The MacLeans are inclined toward helping. Matt is a recruiter for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Beth is a nurse.
The volunteers they attracted represented a broad spectrum of expertise that would not have been available in a less-fortunate community — doctors, nurses, teachers, managers, specialists in fundraising and communications, among others.
What they did not bring to the effort was an assumption that they have all the answers. They came with material and educational resources and open ears.
Dwankhozi Hope makes a simple declaration about its mission: “Dwankhozi Hope is not about charity, it’s about justice.” Charity is good, but not if it erodes the respect of one party for the other, something attempts to help haven’t always recognized.
Matt MacLean told me the people of Dwankhozi started the school, they know what they want and they were already working toward their goals; parents in Dwankhozi even make the bricks and mortar for the school buildings. The Seattle volunteers wanted to be a partner in the Zambians’ project.
Masala has since moved to Vancouver, B.C., but he remains on the board of Dwankhozi Hope, and family members in Zambia are involved as well.
During an after-school report to the school community last week, Queen Anne Principal David Elliot listed some of the accomplishments so far.
There was one school building to start with; now the campus has six buildings, including living quarters for teachers, some of whom are a long way from home and family. There is electricity, which helped with something else, the lack of books. Dwankhozi Hope worked with to deliver Kindles loaded with books.
The Dwankhozi community consists of a cluster of villages, and the school serves 600 students in grades K-9. The Seattle group decided that being partners required getting to know each other, so they visit Zambia to work and socialize with the people there.
Beth MacLean, who has visited Dwankhozi several times, said the first time she met mothers in the village, “I realized these are moms just like I’m a mom, and they want for their children what I want for mine.”
The Seattle school got involved last year. Kindergarten teacher Katie Cryan Leary said that when she first arrived, “Kids grabbed my hands, which is exactly what would happen here if I walked through the school.”
She was impressed by the teachers there and the “amazing work they are doing there without the tools we have here.”
“There is a lot we can learn from them and a lot they can learn from us.”
Rene Yokoyama, another kindergarten teacher, said the teachers in both schools share a goal, to empower the children in their classes.
And third-grade teacher Megan Klope said, “You go thinking there are so many things we could give them, but they can teach us.” She was impressed by the work ethic of the students who she saw studying late into the evening and by ingenuity of children who crafted toys from trash.
Yokoyama said the Seattle visitors got lessons in resiliency and perseverance and even in sharing. She and Elliott recalled a group of older students sharing a bag of nuts and offering their visitors some. And when some younger children came over, Yokoyama said, the older kids didn’t say no, they placed nuts into the palms of the little children.
Cryan Leary said, “I was struck by how much we have in common as teachers and as parents, and by how different our access is to resources.” She said she saw no evidence of their hardship in the way the people carried themselves. Instead, Klope added, “they celebrate the great things in their lives.”
The visitors said they recognized how much where people happen to be born affects their life prospects.
The Seattle educators see the connection between the two schools as a way to open a door to the wider world for their students. And Elliott said Queen Anne is working on a similar relationship with a demographically different school closer to home, which can present its own challenges and rewards.
Matt MacLean told me after the meeting that what he sees happening is mutual transformation. “You think you’re getting involved to help out, but you find out you are being helped.”
And in a video from June’s trip, the headmaster of Dwankhozi School said, “ ... this week you have motivated our students. And hopefully someday we can come to Queen Anne and motivate yours as well.”

Friday, September 20, 2013

Bronx High School Gets Technical & Creative with Curriculum

This traditional public school, The Bronx Compass, is infusing creative and at the same time, technical curriculum options into their classrooms.  This article is from June but it's definitely worth highlighting!  

Students log on to higher learning at Bronx Compass

When Art meets Technology, STEM turns to STEAM!

NYC PAPERS OUT. Social media use restricted to low res file max 184 x 128 pixels and 72 dpi


Renalddy Then, 14, plays electric guitar for a project in his digital music class at Bronx Compass High School.

The teens sat hunched over MacBook Pro laptops, silently maneuvering their fingers over the keyboards while hypnotic beats thumped through black headphones covering their ears.

Behind them, a boy sat in a chair on a small stage and played the electric guitar, the sharp notes filling the darkly lit basement room.

“They’re off exploring things they didn’t have access to before,” said teacher Anthony Dimasso, watching his students’ intense focus on digital recording.

The scenario may not evoke memories of high school music class, but it’s the norm at Bronx Compass High School, where principal Stacy McCoy and her staff make every effort to incorporate art into a heavily STEM-focused curriculum. 

STEM — science, technology, engineering and math — is rarely thought of in conjunction with painting, writing and making music, but the young school was devised with exactly that fusion in mind to create “STEAM,” with the addition of art.

“It’s really about being creative and understanding how digital technologies are completely linked to science and technology,” said technology teacher Cory Beder. “So if you’re someone who wouldn’t necessarily identify yourself as a math or science person, it’s still critical that you have these opportunities to work with a variety of different technologies.”

The Castle Hill school, which opened last year, offers classes and programs in video game design, robotics, film, media and software engineering. It will add fashion design — or “intelligent clothing” with electronics — next school year.

Instead of using textbooks, students complete all their work in Google Docs. They write essays and create their own podcasts. They produce and screen films.

And on a recent day, students were immersed in finishing up video games they had created based on serious topics like the Holocaust and life in the Bronx. 

Jessika Cintron decided to build her video game around a family that deals with bullying and violence against women in the Boogie Down.

“I live in the Bronx, and I kind of wish these things wouldn’t happen,” the 14-year-old explained about her idea for the game. “My game shows awareness of bad things going on, and maybe people would realize how much it affects families.”

Other students fueled their artistic pursuits in the music class, using GarageBand and Audiotool programs to mix their beats.

“I’m not gonna lie, creating is really hard,” said Armando Reynoso, 15. “It takes a lot of concentration. But when it’s done, it’s a great feeling.”

Bronx Compass is not just about shaping future music producers, artists and video game designers — it was also selected as one of 20 city schools to create a software engineering program to be piloted across the five boroughs.

The fledgling program, announced by Mayor Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott in February, seeks to expand computer science and engineering classes for the city’s growing technology sector.

“Through this pilot we are training our students for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” Walcott told The News.

About 1,000 students will participate when the program launches this fall; by 2016, roughly 3,500 students are expected to be involved.

Beder will help outline a citywide program that includes topics like computer programming, embedded electronics, Web design and programming, e-textiles, robotics and mobile computing — subject matter with which Bronx Compass students are already familiar.

“It’s really exciting to see students so engaged,” said McCoy, the principal. “When I try to get them to pay attention, they ignore me because they’re so focused on what they’re doing — which is a good problem to have.”