Category Archives: children at risk

Why Betsy DeVos is the Perfect Metaphor for Trumpamerika

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Of course Betsy DeVos was selected and approved to be the Secretary of Education.  She donated millions of dollars to the republicans that voted for her. That is really all that matters.  Politics aside, she was the perfect pick.

She failed to turn in her paperwork.  Failed to do her homework.  Failed the interview.  And even failed to get through the door at the first public school she actually tried to enter. And while it would have been interesting to hear her explain her views on assessments and accountability and the relative value of measuring academic growth over time… it really doesn’t matter. In trumpamerika, up is down and DeVos is the ideal charlatan to jump in and privatize our public schools. Of course, she will destroy the Department of Education, but that’s the objective.

422_devos_a_630She is a product of the right-wing, evangelical Christofascists that have been percolating up through homeschool networks, school boards and community groups for decades.  She may be nuttier than hell, she may be a zealot,  but when she figures out which end of the very loud  megaphone she’s just purchased, she could be a force. And not for good. If her history is any indication, she will be the messiah of Generation Joshua and a rock star for privately-run, for-profit charters, homeschool schemes, voucher initiatives and any other vehicle to stimulate the exodus of white kids and public tax dollars out of public schools.

She will be the billionaire’s model cabinet choice. Amongst an entire team of otherwise kiss-ass, rich white men– she is simultaneously the darling of the alt right– and public enemy number 2 of the NEA.

unknownShe is inexperienced and ignorant of the office she has purchased– so she’ll fit in well with the rest of her cabinet colleagues and her boss. As the heiress to Amway, she is a symbol of unfettered greed.  She is a beneficiary of one of our nation’s most successful ponzi schemes and brings (thankfully) few transferable skills to benefit her new constituents.

Fortunately, the Constitution (like the president and his Amway heiress) is silent on education.  So most of the responsibility for our public schools falls to individual states anyway. The power for oversight, accountability, standards (including the Common Core), teacher quality, school spending are vested in them alone.   Most of the day-to-day authority to manage curriculum, instruction, student safety, professional development, school culture, organizational direction, and innovation…all fall to local schools and school districts and the real educators that actually run them.

My two schools– Mueller Charter School and Bayfront Charter High School–  are both fiscally independent organizations with our own governing body.  We sometimes ask for forgiveness but rarely ask for permission– for anything, local or otherwise. We didn’t need DeVos’s predecessors to create “El Milagro”– and we don’t need her either.

Betsy DeVos has never run any organization– let alone one with the scope and gravity of the Department of Education.  But she wasn’t selected for her business acumen or for what she actually has to offer to our schools– she’s a metaphor and she won’t have the mandate, the reach or the time to destroy our public schools.

So who will DeVos be in the short time she has before the wheels come off the trump debacle and his house of cards?

She could be a champion for children but she won’t be. In her first opportunity to stand for kids that need us the most, she already failed.

She could be an advocate for educational equity— assuring that children do not suffer in ineffective schools as a result of their zip code or their family income.  But instead of being a conduit for best practices– she will circle safely above, dropping vouchers from a helicopter.   The challenges of overcoming the effects of poverty on learning are immense.  They are well documented on this blog site.  The skills and expertise and innovation and vision and commitment required to lift achievement in low income neighborhoods do not suddenly appear simply because parents are promised a golden ticket to a private school.

She could be a trustworthy steward of federal tax dollars and ensure that they are protected for the populations for which they were intended.  Many public schools– mine included– have made huge strides in supporting children from low income communities.  But we have depended on federal funding– promised primarily through IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. While less than 9% of our school funding comes from the federal government, it is critical in our service to populations with complex needs. But DeVos hinted as far back as 2001 that her world view of public education was steeped in faith-based philanthropy and the new world order: “There are not enough philanthropic dollars in America to fund what is currently the need in education…Our desire is to confront the culture in ways that will continue to advance God’s kingdom.”

Never mind how we might measure that advancement.

She could leverage the power of her office to seed innovation in schools across the country- but her experience in Michigan is with for-profit charters –not to be confused with organic, community-based, student-centered charter schools that grow from the collaborative efforts of parents and teachers.  President Obama was eviscerated for having the temerity to earmark $4 billion to stimulate innovation through his Race for the Top initiative. Trump bloviates about committing $20 billion for a school voucher scheme. There is nothing innovative about schemes to accelerate white flight.

She could serve as a model of competence and an absolute commitment to the power educators have in every community.  But nothing during the senate hearings suggested she knew the first thing about what it really means to teach or to run a school. In fact her responses were void of any substance at all-  as if she had been coached to nod and smile and commit to nothing.  And so she did. And for her efforts she was approved by the republican majority who evidently thought that having the ponzi lady at the helm of the Department of Education would be ok.

She could strengthen and promote the Office of Civil Rights, which enforces federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in programs that receive federal financial assistance from her Department of Education.  She could stand up for our most vulnerable children who are bullied, tormented and victimized enough that the OCR is their last line (or only line) of defense.  She could uphold the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and stand against discrimination on the basis of race or religion. Or she could stand for children protected by Title IX— especially youth from the LGBT community.  Or she could stand for the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990if only she knew that that law too comes under her direction.

imagesShe could fight to preserve the office of Civil Rights in the face of so much conservative pressure to scrap the department altogether.  But she withered in her first test when trump’s new attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, raised the stars and bars over the US Capital building and struck down Obama’s protections for trans children in public schools.

DeVos should have learned from the courage of Sally Yates that advocating for children is not a hobby.  When you join the fight to protect them, you fucking fight with everything you have. You protect them with you words, your actions, your job…your very life. Or you stay out of the way. And that is Lesson #1 in school leadership.

Or maybe this newly appointed Secretary of Education could just stand there and do nothing but provide some buffer against a  president who is bat-shit crazy.  But of course, we’re not likely to see that either.

In speaking to a friendly CPAC audience this past week, DeVos said: “it’s our job to protect students and to do that to the fullest extent that we can and also to provide students, parents and teachers with more flexibility about how education is delivered and how education is experienced and to protect and preserve personal freedoms.”

Fortunately, our children aren’t actually depending on her for protection at all.  And we don’t need permission to exercise our flexibility or autonomy.

Today we can thank the Founding Fathers for leaving public education to the states.  Betsy Devos is an empty suit.  An empty chair.  A checkbook.  A diversity pick.  A lost opportunity to actually lead.  A metaphor for the dangerous path our nation is on. The perfect choice for trumpamerika.

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Filed under Betsy DeVos, bilingual education, California budget, California charter schools, children at risk, education spending, El Milagro, innovation and change, public education, school reform, the Dream Act, Trump

Learning From Lucero: Another Face of the Dream Act

249026_166056856898935_354667876_nIn thirty-some years as an educator, I have never seen a child quite like Lucero Chavez.  My first recollection of her is not just her dark eyes, wide open and ready to learn.  Not just her extraordinary drive– that silent motor that hummed somewhere from deep inside her.  Not just her willingness to push mountains of assignments and projects and papers and essays and school tasks faster than her teachers could assign them. Not just her manners, though she has those in abundance. Not just her excellence.

Instead, my first recollection of Lucero Chavez is of her indescribable grace. I clearly remember, mostly as she got older, that she was a presence, in any room or gathering.  A very quiet presence. Even mysterious.

At Mueller Charter School, we have had thousands of children blessed with many different gifts and talents– some discovered but most still incubating.  The longer they are with us on their journey from kindergarten through middle school, the more we become aware of them: kids that are funny, or athletic, or bright, or troubled, or loud, or musical, or demanding, or engaging. Leaders, followers, drivers, entertainers, statesmen.  Individually, they emerge from their self-imposed shadows on the strength of those unique qualities.  Indeed, the great joy of teaching is watching a young person begin to flower and evolve.  And we have had so many students who were blessed in so many different ways.

But none of those were the gift that set Lucero apart.

It was her grace; an almost-haunting presence that was part intellectual, part spiritual.  Inside any classroom, and in the hundreds of weekly assemblies in which Lucero participated over the years– even gatherings outdoors– I can still see her.  Always as close to the front as she could get, always sitting up straight—not for the sake of perfect posture—but so that she could more efficiently absorb every word that was spoken. No matter how crowded, no matter the climate of the room–wherever you stood or walked or paced, if you were speaking– her eyes were riveted.  Eerily attentive.  As if she were dependent on every syllable and teaching for her very breath—no matter how nonsensical, or vapid, or routine, or insignificant.  As if you and Lucero Chavez, were the only two people in the room.

Lucero Chavez has an extraordinary desire to learn from people and places and events around her.  Her thirst for learning is both palpable and insatiable.

It would be so easy to mistake her devotion to learning as simple compliance, or a young girl’s blind obedience to authority.  But from the moment Lucero Chavez first realized that she had a power within her to literally change the world—somewhere back in her first years at Mueller Charter School—she has been on her own remarkable journey.

In her junior year of high school, while the ever-shifting economy was grinding down so many families across America, it was grinding down Lucero’s family too.  Soon they lost their home and a place in the market.  All the while, in tragic and silent dignity, she endured.  Endured the ambiguity that poverty creates—the uncertainty of the train derailed.  Endured her parents’ pain and the loss of her room and her kitchen table and the hallway lined with her honor student certificates and photos dancing in the ballet folklorico.

But she embraced homelessness with the same dignity and attentiveness that she embraced all her other learning experiences.  She sat up straight, her dark eyes wide open and fixed on going forward, and she continued her journey.

UnknownBy midway through her senior year, she had been accepted to every college and university to which she applied.  Her first choice was Dartmouth.  And because her family was still reeling from homelessness, she would need financial assistance to go so far away.    So like thousands of other high school seniors, she began the process of applying for financial assistance. And in piecing together her life history in response to the many prying questions written to ascertain whether Lucero Chavez was diligent and deserving enough to pursue her dream of attending such a prestigious Ivy League college – she discovered something about herself she never knew.  Something her parents had never told her.  Something potentially more debilitating to a kid than sudden homelessness. Something that in the present light of divisive national politics and racism—would destroy a weaker person and all her dreams.

Lucero discovered she was not an American citizen.

She had been brought to the United States illegally as an infant.  Brought by parents who could look beyond the border walls and see Unknown-1the lights of America and know that that is where they wanted to raise their little girl.  And so they came.  Like your forbearers and mine.  Not for their own gain, but for Lucero.

And she has consistently rewarded her parents and family and teachers and friends– giving back to them through her remarkable academic and personal excellence.

In June of 2013, Lucero Chavez represented the 700 graduating seniors of Hilltop High School as their class valedictorian, and delivered her message of resilience to the world.

It was extraordinary in what she didn’t say.  She didn’t describe her struggles through poverty.  She never once mentioned her acceptance letter from Dartmouth or boast about her extraordinary academic achievements in multiple languages.  She didn’t mention that she opted to attend University of San Diego– partly out of fear that, as a result of her now-public dilemma,  her parents could be deported.  She didn’t rail on our policy makers for their inability to deliver a definitive message or compassionate safeguards through the so-called Dream Act.

Instead, she delivered a hopeful and familiar message that spoke for the common and routine experience of every high school kid in the room: the insecurities of adolescence, the joy of Friday night football and prom, the relative accomplishments of student leadership groups, and of course, the relationships.

Grace.

Beyond that, for Lucero Chavez at least, the future is less certain.

I sat at the edge of my chair and listened.  I hung on every word.  And as she spoke, I could not take my eyes her.  Could not fight back the tears of pride and regret that I was not more of a light for her– this extraordinary young woman grown before our very eyes.

Twelve years ago I wrote the vision statement that defines our school today: “Our Children Will Change the World.”  It was not meant to be a just another cheesy slogan with which to decorate school stationary.  It is our collective vision.  It means that these children– mostly Latino, mostly from high poverty homes where parents sacrificed everything for the education that they never had—these children who are easy to ignore and discount and write off and deport—will have the capacity and opportunity to literally change our world for the better if we position them to do so.  If we provide them with the caring and support.  If we maintain high expectations.  If we provide them with opportunities to fully develop their gifts and their voice.

imageIn the weeks leading up to her Valedictorian speech, Lucero was beset with media outlets requesting interviews and longing to tell her story.  Even CNN.  She is the face of homelessness.  The face of an immigration policy in desperate need of a champion.  And ironically, the face of American excellence.  She is single-handedly changing the world.

And now, after thirty some years in education, and tens of thousands of students– most now grown to adults—my own personal mission is fulfilled.  By none, more remarkable, more courageous, more resilient, more blessed… than Lucero Chavez.

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Filed under bilingual education, California charter schools, children at risk, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gifted children, immigration, President Obama, public education, resiliency, spiritual intelligence, the Dream Act

CORKING THE BATS: WHY THE ATLANTA SCANDAL IS ONLY THE TIP OF THE NCLB ICEBERG

images-7Cheating is such an integral part of baseball culture that it is almost endearing.

Stealing bases when nobody is watching can get you into the Hall of Fame, for sure.  But I’m talking about real cheating.  Knowingly violating the rules of the game  to gain some perceived advantage– which, in baseball’s long history, takes on many forms and variations. And some are more compelling than others. Like George Brett and his pine tar bat, for example, producing one of the modern game’s most dramatic and memorable highlights.   Or the notorious spit ball.  Or Phil Niekro slipping a fingernail file into his hat so he could scratch out a better knuckleball. Or corking the bats.

images-2But then there are the extremes. Pete Rose bet on his own team.  In 1919 the Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to intentionally blow the World Series.  And more recently, there are regular accusations and suspicions about players  juicing.

Baseball is America’s game.  And so is the cheating that goes on that makes baseball baseball.

And so it was fascinating to watch the shockwaves ripple across the nation when one of our preeminent superintendents and a fistful of teachers were all indicted for their elaborate scheme to doctor their students’ test results.

The horror.  The scandal.  The betrayal. This is public education, for God’s sake.  Not baseball!

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But for those of us who work in schools everyday, it should not be surprising at all that educators went to such unethical extremes to gain an advantage.  When you threaten people with their jobs, their livelihood, their professional careers… they become resourceful.  Welcome to the legacy of No Child Left Behind. High stakes testing is when you have everything to lose and nothing to gain.  When a system that we KNOW is bad for kids is treated as if it is worthy of our outrage when it is violated.

But the real question we ought to answer is this: What exactly is “cheating” when it comes to testing our kids?  When do we cross the line from stealing the catcher’s signs or corking the bats– to intentionally losing the World Series on a bribe?

This week, for example, I discovered the extreme degree to which many of the schools in my district are engaging in test prep with only three weeks remaining until the California Standards Test.  Test prep includes practicing sample test items and drilling in the strategies for how to select a correct answer in a multiple choice item.  The entire school throws out the rest of the curriculum and locks in on a single imperative.  All day.  Every day.  It’s legal.  Even encouraged with a wink– because it can definitely inflate results.

But it’s not good teaching.  It’s not good for our kids.  It doesn’t advance learning.  It doesn’t promote thinking or collaboration or communication or entrepreneurialism or any of the other 21st century skills that will soon be treated as the coin of the realm when the Common Core is ushered in.  In fact, devoting any more time at all to the various state assessment  packages that are now all but obsolete… seems to be the worst form of cheating.  It’s cheating our students of their time for authentic learning. Wasted days and weeks and months in pursuit of a mission that has nothing to do with our children’s future.

So ok… “test prep strategies “are not quite the same as calling for pizzas as you hunker down and change all of your students’ test booklets to reflect correct answers… but it’s still a hoax to pretend high test scores mean our kids are actually  learning.

imagesProfessional baseball is intensely competitive and the rewards are great for those few who excel in it.  So great in fact, that it creates a climate where cheating is inevitable.  But the game is pure and it will survive the scandal.

Educators, on the other hand, are typically driven by an instinct for service and advocacy.  Teaching a child is its own honest reward.  But NCLB was never  designed to promote performance as much as to punish the status quo.  It wasn’t really intended for teachers to improve instruction or close the achievement gap among our children- as much as it was for politicians to quantify their competing ideologies about what they believe matters in our schools.

Atlanta reminds us that we’ve lost our soul as a profession–and as a nation– not because of cheating scandals, but because we legislated the game away.

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Filed under children at risk, Common Core State Standards, innovation and change, public education, school reform, standardized testing, teaching, Uncategorized

BULL’S EYE

I don’t know where the bickering has taken the lawmakers on Capital Hill.  I don’t know if we are closer to a bill that begins to slake American’s out-of-control thirst for guns.  But I found this photograph from Education Week to be chilling:

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These are educators in Clifton, Texas at a shooting range. The new professional development.

Does anyone honestly think armed teachers make our school safer?

I’m thinking about  the lockdown we experienced last year when some tweaker off the streets  jumped a fence and entered one of our classrooms with a knife in his hand.  I’m thinking about how many teachers I passed on my way out to confront him in the classroom.  The look in their eye.  The terror. I have no idea how many people might have been hurt if one of those panicked teachers had whipped out a gun (they would keep it locked up, right?)… managed to load it (locked in a safe, un-loaded, right?)… aimed it at the wild-eyed  intruder and commanded him to drop his weapon.  And of course he wouldn’t have complied any more than he complied with me when I offered to escort him off the campus.

So what do naive, common citizens do when they are armed to the teeth and staring down an stranger at their school and the whole episode does not seem to go according to the script from the “School Safety Plan” or the last tv show they watched that made it all look so easy and antiseptic.

What happens when a teacher kills an un-armed visitor who poses no real threat at all?

What happens when a teacher starts spraying bullets through classroom walls into areas where other kids have “ducked and covered”?

What happens when the intruder quits laughing long enough to take her weapon away from her– and now instead of being armed with a pen knife he is armed with that freaking gun?

UnknownThe NRA has figured it out.  They know how Apple Computers benefitted from their partnership with schools (considerably more than schools benefitted!) and how the endless cycle of technology upgrades has affected their stock market fortunes. They see thousands of schools, millions of educators, and an endless stream of future customers sitting in desks learning about the Second Amendment of the Constitution. They see momentum building off of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and they want to ride it all the way to Wall Street. It’s a bull market.

They see pictures of entire school districts teambuilding out on the firing range. Target practice for God and country;  improving public education in the bargain.

Not me.  I still see that terrified look in our student’s faces as they ran out of that classroom, fleeing for their lives.  And the relief when it ended so quietly and peacefully.  No one hurt.

Nothing good will come from more guns in places where they don’t belong.  Just more red dots on the HP map depicting the number of gun deaths since Sandy Hook:

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Filed under children at risk, Common Core State Standards, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gun violence, innovation and change, President Obama, public education, teaching, technology in schools, Uncategorized

TRADING MACS FOR GLOCKS: A Twisted Vision and the New Frontier

gunsWe’re trading in our Macs. We don’t need them anymore.

Trading our laptops too. We have thwarted the nascent rise of iPads. Now. Before they become too familiar.

I mean, what good is digital literacy if some sinister shadow drops in out of the sky to shoot up the school. And we all know it happens. We all feel that sense of dread lingering, remotely familiar, like the acrid cloud of cafeteria food prepped daily for a thousand kids. We all read the headlines:

L.A. School District Buys 14 Semi-Automatic Rifles To Protect Students

Southern California Schools Get High-Powered Rifles

GOP Lawmaker Wants High Schools To Teach Kids To Shoot

Mother Writes $12,000 Check For Armed Guard At Daughter’s Elementary School

5-Year-Old Suspended For Pink Bubble Gun Threat

Duncan: You Can’t Teach Kids Scared Of Being Killed

The School Where Nearly Every Student Has Experienced Gun Violence

18 States Already Allow Guns In Schools With Few Restrictions

Utah Teacher Wants To Carry Gun Without Telling Parents, Students

Minnesota Teacher Brings Loaded Gun To School For Fear Of Newtown Shooting

Our fences cannot rise any higher and still stand against the wind. We have rows of metal detectors. Our children remove their shoes for inspection as if they were boarding an airplane. They know the drill. We scope their pockets and their backpacks. We x-ray their intent. They are each sworn daily to refrain from brandishing arms. At least in any menacing way. It is our new and collective oath of allegiance to protect one another from mutual annihilation.

We are America’s most innovative school. We are widely renown as the first in any line of early adopters. First to be wired. First to go viral. First to poke holes in the internet firewall. We used to camp out for iPhones but we can’t afford dual priorities: upgrade learning technology or arm to the teeth?

So we invest in the latter. Once secure in our conviction that Macs were superior to IBM’s, we now know what we know: Apple expenditures are so pre-Newtown.

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So we have glocked up. Every kid. Every teacher.

We ripped out the fitness stations that lined our running track and installed target shooting pods. They are creative. Colorful. They lend themselves to seamless integration of the so-called 21’st Century Skills– to which we have now unilaterally added: “Mastery of Firepower.”

Our students may be prone to childhood obesity and Type II diabetes, but they can freakin’ shoot. And besides, are you going to be the one to tell them they are fat?

Our “Gun Free Zone” is the registration counter, where in exchange for enrolling here you get your guns for free. (Ammunition clips are provided at no cost– however, any modifications are subject to the discretion of individual families.) Frankly, I worry about that policy. In the name of equity, is it fair that some families can afford state-of-the-art ammo packs while others can not? Are we perpetuating another national divide of “haves” and “have more pop”?

teacherOf course, without trained teachers, what good is an entire student body strapped to their sidearms?

So on minimum days we target and crouch and shoot and load and afterwards debrief. There’s a lot of peer coaching. A lot of self reflection and goal setting. We feel morally obligated to out-shoot the kids.  And so we do.

As of late, we are frequently invited to present break-out sessions at state and national conferences: “Shooting Straight:  How Schools Can Target the Real Common Core Priorities.” And: “The New Literacy Standards: How Guns at School Somehow Sharpen Everyone’s Listening and Speaking Skills.”

We’ve done keynotes. Workshops. Webinars. TED-talks. Book signings.

This year we intend to run a booth when ASCD merges with the NRA at the the national gun show in Las Vegas.

And while our academic metrics have virtually imploded, our kids and our staff generally feel good about themselves. We feel like pioneers of the old west. Revolutionaries. And we feel safer in the bargain. Sort of.

Now that we have a baseline established, we can afford to debate whether glocks are enough. We are nothing if not professionally diligent. We are an ever-visionary and forward thinking lot:

“What if Sunnyside arms their kids with higher caliber weapons?”

“How do we keep up with the inevitable modifications and weaponry upgrades– say…Glocks 2.0.?”

“If we hire a sniper coach, where should we place him or her on the salary scale? And would she have to be credentialed?”

“What happens when we discover that we’ve been  left behind in the arms race?”

Taken together the questions are chilling. Where’s the leadership?

So I sidle into my office and remove my firearms as I sit at my desk to Google updates on best practices. I reach for my laptop when I am reminded– that we traded our technology for glocks.  It’s gone.

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More  from Kevin W. Riley…

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Filed under children at risk, education spending, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gun violence, health care, Human-Centered Design, innovation and change, public education, school reform, technology in schools, Uncategorized, zero tolerance policies

THROUGH THEIR EYES

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IDEO, the Palo Alto company famous for designing Apple’s first mouse back in the 80’s, has since created user-centered solutions for everything from computer games to ice cream scoopers, defibrillators and shopping carts.  As one of the world’s leading innovators in Human-Centered Design,  they even create strategies to address such social issues as poverty, nutrition, health, water and sanitation, economic empowerment, access to financial services, and gender equity throughout the world.

It should not be surprising that they also have some thoughts about designing our schools from the perspective of the students who attend them every day. Everything from the culture of school environments and education reform initiatives, right down to more user-friendly student desks.

And, of course, Aiden also has some ideas about school designs as he develops his journals in Fighting for Ms. Rios.

Ultimately, Fighting for Ms. Rios is not just about a kid and his teacher.  It’s deeper than that.  It’s a case for intentionally designing student-centered schools around a culture of what the corporate world refers to as “deep customer empathy”.  Authentic relationships.  Mutual respect. Caring. User-centered design!

imagesThe notion of “empathy” is a central tenet of Dev Patnaik’s book called Wired to Care. Patnaik, a renown business strategist, writes about how organizations of all kinds prosper when they tap into a power each of us already has: empathy, the ability to reach outside of ourselves and connect with other people.  He believes that when people inside a company develop a shared sense of what’s going on in the world, they see new opportunities faster than their competitors. They have the courage to take a risk on something new. And they have the gut-level certitude to stick with an idea that doesn’t take off right away.

In Patnaik’s view, people are naturally “wired to care” and many of the world’s best organizations are, too. But they must learn to stop worrying about their own problems and see the world through each other’s eyes.

Ms. Rios had a natural gift for empathizing with her students and Aiden writes about it constantly.  In “THE NINTH JOURNAL: The Last Day” he says:

During that time Ms. Rios found hope and inspiration in her students. She believed in every last one of us from Trinity to Atticus Hinzo to Rafael to Angela to Charlie Flowers and Remy Padilla and Vera Ruiz and Inca and even Lester…and me. And Raymond. Especially Raymond.

Raymond, is a special needs student who was placed in her classroom to test his ability to adapt to every-day school routines.   He struggled… (because he had special needs!)  Ms. Rios’ class would have been the perfect placement– but she was a brand new teacher and too easily influenced by Wanda, the burned-out teacher next door.  As we come to know Ms. Rios from Aiden’s writings– a natural born teacher wired to care– we realize that giving up so quickly on Raymond was very much out of character for her:

In his few short weeks with Ms. Rios, he had taught her more about teaching than any university or workshop or conference or colleague ever could.  She knew in her bones that she had given up on Raymond far too soon and she vowed to never let that happen again.  She regretted listening to Wanda.  She should have been Raymond’s advocate.

From that day forward, Ms. Rios never quit believing in her students. No matter what.  She remained resilient. (From “Lambs”)

It is possible (and critical) to design and manage schools–including the systems, services, relationships and programs– from the student out… instead of the outside in.  But to do so, we truly have to see the world through our students’ eyes.  That’s really what “deep customer empathy” is all about– and why, by the end of her first year, we come to regard Ms. Rios as such an extraordinary teacher.  And why Aiden becomes the voice of children in schools everywhere.

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Filed under California charter schools, charter schools, children at risk, El Milagro, empathy, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gifted children, Human-Centered Design, innovation and change, public education, resiliency, school reform, spiritual intelligence, teaching, user-centered design

MADELINE’S COSTUME

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The Human Rights Campaign has been profoundly influential in encouraging public schools to develop policies that protect students from any forms of discrimination or bullying– especially LGBT students.  San Diego Unified School District, for example, has developed a model, Board-adopted, anti-discrimination policy that assures children a safe learning environment, regardless of their “actual or perceived” sex, gender, or ethnic group identification.

Adopting policies that prohibit discrimination in our schools is essential for children and staff.  But the real work is in creating safe, inclusive, loving environments that are often the one safe haven in a community.  Like El Milagro.

In “Fighting for Ms. Rios,” Aiden introduces us to Matty in the Fourth Journal: Virtuosos.

Matty was an athlete. Matty was a fierce competitor. Matty played little league. Matty played kickball. Matty wore a Baltimore Ravens football jersey. Number fifty-two. Matty always had a short-cropped haircut and was tall and thin. Matty pounded Augie behind the backstop for trying to cut to the front of the kickball line. Matty cussed and spit and told crude jokes and talked with a full mouth.

For Halloween Matty dressed up as a professional baseball player. A catcher with eye black and all the gear and the shin guards and a cup. (Madeline’s Costume)

Aiden has been playing with Matty since the beginning of the school year, but it is not until the Halloween Carnival– when the kids take a bathroom break and go into separate facilities– that he discovers she is really a girl.  The other kids knew all along.  Perhaps they have known her since kindergarten.  Perhaps they paid attention when their teachers lined up the boys and the girls separately.  Perhaps in elementary school  it just doesn’t start to matter yet.

“Matty is a girl, you dumbass!” said Charlie Flowers. He stopped adjusting the crimson pirate bandana that bordered his crimson head. He paused and looked at me to see if I was serious. “She’s supposed to go into the girls’ restroom.”

Matty is a character based on several students we have served at Mueller Charter School.  Even in pre-adolescent years, some children identify more with children of the opposite gender– and at that age– it is often difficult to tell them apart.  Matty dressed like a boy, wore her hair like a boy, talked like a boy and behaved like a boy.  Enough to confuse Aiden, who seems to blush a little, shrug his shoulders, and move on:  “In any case, it just didn’t seem to matter much at the Halloween Carnival where, at least for one night, we were all hiding behind one disguise or another.”

We have seen children so insistent on behaving like a child of the opposite gender that they refuse to use the school restrooms.  So we just make quiet arrangements for them to use the nurse’s restroom whenever they need to.

Aiden comments on the sensitivity and compassion of the teachers at El Milagro and we can easily imagine that the staff there has adopted policies similar to those inspired by the Human Rights Campaign.  It is as if he knows, even at the age of ten, that  policies don’t change attitudes and that what really matters is how children are actually treated every day.

As we walked around the carnival, I watched all of the adults interact with Matty like she was any other kid. They all knew. Her former kindergarten teacher even called her by her real name: Madeline. “You look like a pro tonight, Madeline! You look stunning!” Matty smiled.

I had a new respect for Matty and for my school. I felt proud of who we were at El Milagro—a place where kids could be who they needed to be for however long it takes to work it all out.

matty

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