Sunday, September 27, 2015

Three weeks later

We are three weeks into the new East. And what a time it has been. I continue to say that people underestimate how much work it is to open and run a school. Everyone is working so hard, some are working 12-18 hours days. Some are working themselves sick. This will not be sustainable, but most say it is worth it to see how well the students are responding.

Certainly, there have been struggles. I am struck that so many of the students do not believe they can be successful. They have been told for so many years, by so many people that they are failures. Some students are resisting the help we are offering. At least they did in the first week or so. I think most are beginning to trust. One young man I have been developing a relationship with said he was seeing whether the teachers were worth it. Did they really mean this? He said he was giving them 2 weeks. Now that he has seen what they are about, he's prepared to kick in and step up his game. Some students were reluctant to fully participate in family group. But, even the most reluctant student has begun to share in peace circles. For the adults, it's the favorite part of their day. All adults have family group, including the Superintendent.

People who come to visit notice a palpable change to the tone of the building. First of all, it's clean. The college banners and inspirational quotes on posters help to contribute to the new feeling. Everyone still comments on our first day greeting. The UR put together a wonderful short YouTube video that nicely captures what that first day was like. I was surprised they used my spontaneous "Ooh, a bus!" exclamation, but people seem to like it. Check it out here:

Restorative practices as our discipline policy is working well, even when there have been skirmishes. It's a lot more work, but we have been keeping kids in class and in school. There have been 6 suspensions but, in those cases, there was unacceptable violence. Teachers are still adjusting to not being able to put kids out of class except as a last resort. Administrators are working hard on this, but sometimes they are not immediately available when there is an issue. We have been surprised at the level of disrespect some students have shown, and this has lead to a realization that we underestimated how bad the culture has been at East. Students were not respected and so they did not respect. Lots of f-bombs. Even experienced urban educators have been surprised. No one is giving up though, and slowly some of these behaviors are diminishing as students begin to trust us. We still have a long way to go however.

Over and over I see how it really is about developing relationships. We, or maybe just I, have underestimated the needs of our students. Poverty, trauma, food insecurity, homelessness, depression ... seems to have left them thinking they are not worth caring about. It can overwhelm even the most motivated student. This is a significant culture change we are addressing.

All in all, it's been an exciting three weeks. I am having a blast. Hanging with students in the lunchroom, chatting with them on their way to the buses and in the halls is soul-filling. I am so grateful for sabbatical that gives me the time to be in the building full time and for the thinking time for research. I got a Spencer grant to support the work which is also pretty cool.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Day one

Just settled in my office after greeting both upper and lower schools kids as they got off the bus. The lower school kids came first. Staff, Warner faculty and staff, and community volunteers were lined up to greet them. Three teachers brought out drums to play. Someone brought bubbles. There were several press outlets filming and doing interviews. It was funny because the first bus arrived and we all started cheering and clapping and 6 kids got off. But they kept coming. The lower school kids were surprised to see so many people, and seemed a bit shy. We all moved over to the upper school entrance to greet the 10-12th graders. It was soul-filling to see big smiles on teenagers who were trying not to smile. Two young ladies were refusing to go through the greeting. "You act like we haven't been here before. This is unnecessary. There isn't anything different." Little do they know. Shaun Nelms went to talk to them and, a few minutes later, they went down the line. I caught a smile on one of them. I even saw the young man who works at Wegmans who swore he wasn't coming to school on the first day. Loved it! Here are some pics. I will update with our attendance numbers when I get them.

Monday, September 7, 2015


Tomorrow is the big day. First day of school for students at the new East. I am excited and nervous. We set a goal of 95% attendance on day one and have worked hard to get to that. But will we? RCSD only had 77% attendance on day one last week; that is 1 in 4 students didn't go to school. Yikes! Please let us reach our goal!

Hundreds of people working hundreds of hours the past two months to get ready. The new custodial team has had to deal with a decade of no building maintenance to get the building clean and ready. The work has been incredible. Teachers have been participating in professional learning all summer: curriculum writing, restorative practices, new support model for students with disabilities and struggling students, new code of conduct and dress code...and on and on, all while trying to get their classrooms ready. We didn't get the building "back" from the construction company until mid-August. Did I mention there was a major building revitalization project going on all summer?!

Today, the day before school opens and Labor Day, the building was abuzz. I went in to set my office up. Music was playing all over, people were talking and laughing. All the hall bulletin boards are done and display cases cleaned and updated. I couldn't help but smile and feel hopeful.

Tomorrow morning at 6:45 am staff, University of Rochester faculty and staff, alumni, and community folks will be lined up at each entrance to clap, cheer, and high-five students as they get off the buses. The cheerleaders taught all staff a cheer last week. They will be there too, leading us in the cheer. Purple will be the color of the day.

I'm sure I won't sleep tonight. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Making the shift

I am on sabbatical next year and can't wait to get started. A whole year to focus on just one full time job - our work at East High school. I will spend most of the time doing research, but will also continue in a leadership role focusing on family and community engagement. This will be no small thing. I also have a ton of ideas of things to do with kids. I will have to remember to say no to some things. I know already that I'm going to want to do too much.

I have definitely made the switch from Warner to East in my head. I still have chair duties until August 25 by my gaze is elsewhere. I'm entering such a different world. Not that I haven't been in schools my whole career; it's just the details that have to go into getting East ready to open by September 8th are totally overwhelming. From mission development to ordering pencils and everything in between.

Some things are just plain shocking. What is considered "normal" in urban schools is just never even possible in most suburban settings. Do we have a parent handbook? No. Do kids know their schedules before the first day? No. Do teachers know what they will be teaching, do they know their room, do they have class lists? No. No. No. Do we have a map of the school to give to new parents? No. How have we gotten to a place where urban teachers, administrators, students, and families are treated with such disrespect?

Again I ask, why aren't people more pissed off?!

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Big day tomorrow

Over 400 emails went out Wednesday to invite teachers to East and to let others know they will not be asked back. These are amazing times with high emotions. First news coverage on the hiring:

Tomorrow will be the first time returning and new teachers will gather at East to begin to build our new community. Big day. 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Moving forward at East High School

Well, it's official. The University of Rochester has been approved as the EPO for East High School! What a long road it has been. Renegotiating all four union contracts, fine tuning and negotiating the budget and contract with the district ... all while making sure we recruit students and set up the application process for teachers, administrators, and staff. Whew. Well worth it though.

One great thing was being able to announce who we hired as the Deputy Superintendent - Dr. Shaun Nelms. His experience from the classroom to central office and his dedication to transforming education in urban settings made him the perfect choice. Seems like many people will apply to work at East because Shaun will be there. Remember that we will, in effect, be our own school district. Steve Uebbing will be the Superintendent and Shaun the Deputy. We will report directly to the school board. This will afford us the space to transform teaching and learning free from some of the district's restrictions. Of course, we have state requirements around testing and Common Core, but we plan to exceed them in meaningful ways.

If you are interested in working at East, start with this webpage: UREast All in All the Time.
You can also find the new teacher and administration union contracts there and the full EPO proposal so you'll know what we are planning.

As I keep saying, we are going to make history. 

Friday, January 9, 2015

Book review

My publisher (Routledge) sent me a link to a good review of my Radical equality in education book. Always nice to learn that someone likes your work.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Making history: Walking the walk

Well, we actually did it. We submitted our proposal to the Rochester City School Board on time. Shortly thereafter, they unanimously approved the full proposal and the budget! Can I get an "amen"?! We are currently awaiting approval from NYSED.

Here is the link to the proposal, the budget, and all appendices:

We have included all our meeting minutes and all collected documents in the interest of full disclosure and transparency. Take a look at let me know what you think in the comments.

It took me a while to post this information. One, I was busy working on the proposal for the past six months and; two, I needed a breather. I have spent the two weeks of "break" focusing on sleep and knitting. Now I am gearing up to start what Steve calls "the hard part". The hard part?! Geez. Running a high school ... what was I thinking?

All joking aside, I am really proud of what we have done. We worked our butts off the past six months meeting with over 1500 people to get input on what they want to see at the new East. We were able to talk to every student in attendance on September 22, well over 1300 youth. They were amazing. You can find the analysis of the data we gathered at the link above in one of the many appendices.

We are in the final stages of interviewing candidates for what we have called the Deputy EPO Director. This person will be right under Steve Uebbing as the Superintendent. Basically, we will be our own district and report directly to the Rochester City School Board. This way, we shed a lot of the bureaucracy of central office. A key to what makes our project unique is that we renegotiated contracts with all four unions: Rochester Teachers Association (teachers' union), BENTE (staff union), RAPP (paraprofessionals union), and ASAR (administrators union). These new contracts will make all the difference as we move to implementation (provided NYSED approves our proposal). All staff, everyone, will have to apply to work at East. This way, we can ensure that everyone is "all in, all the time" - our catch phrase. Only people who are inspired by the proposal and agree to the new contracts will end up working with us.

We are making history ... stay tuned.