Saturday, November 11, 2006

A Spreading Vision

After reading the following article (posted below), I began to think about the discussion around the contract vs the philosophical mission in our school. I don't think they necessarily come into conflict; however I do believe it's time to stop beating around the bush and find out who is unhappy and what they're unhappy about.

I find it very odd when people say the "administration" is stuck to his vision when that's really such a good thing! It seems obvious from previous posts, and problems in our school's current structure, that the real problems arise when people become wishy washy about the vision and compromise it bit by bit.

We all work very hard here at QHST and the philosophy of teaming dedicated teachers to small learning communities with structural common planning times, although not conducive some of the benefits of larger schools, is well within the bounds of the contract and consistent with the national a trend in education.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Schools think smaller Wells, Crane and Clemente embrace ‘learning communities


Wednesday,November 08, 2006

Small learning communities, commonly referred to as schools within a school, will sprout at Wells Community Academy and Crane Tech next year, as part of a $4.2 million grant recently awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.

Small learning communities aim to personalize students' education in large high schools of 1,000 or more students. The programs work differently depending on the school, but they typically entail teachers following the same set of students as they advance from grade to grade in a strategy known as "looping." Students also are given the option in small learning communities of choosing from specialized programs that range from liberal arts to science and technology, according to Ed Spikes, a small schools program manager with Chicago Public Schools.

Spikes said the federal grant will help start five new small learning communities in Chicago high schools, two of which will go in at Wells Community Academy at 936 N. Ashland and Crane Tech Prep Common School at 2245 W. Jackson.
Crane Tech Vice Principal Patricia DeLoney said the school is establishing a plan for how to set up the program, which would start next year, but its still in the early planning stages.
"We're developing it as we go," she said. "We just have a skeleton right now."

Alanna Chuprevich, a library media specialist at Wells, said the school already is operating a freshman academy this year under a program designed by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

She said the freshman academy operates similar to a small schools program, with teachers moving along with students as they proceed to the next grade. The freshman academy program focuses on providing students with better time management, note-taking and organizational skills, Chuprevich said. She said the program allows teachers to coordinate better in crafting an educational strategy.

"In a smaller, more cohesive community, it's more personalized," she said. "What's nice is these teachers have a common planning time and can share with each other about the successes, failures and needs of the students and effectively communicate."

Like Crane, though, Wells still is crafting a plan for establishing themes for its small learning communities program, which is set to start next year, Chuprevich said.

Roberto Clemente High School in West Town is not a recipient of the grant money this year, but the school has operated a small learning community program since 1997.

Nguyen-Trung Heiu, small schools director at Clemente, said the school started a small learning community pilot program in 1997 and expanded it in 2001 to include six separate small schools programs.

"The attendance was up and the achievement was up and the number of students getting into college was up; therefore, the administration here decided to go for it," he said.

He said this year all of the school's roughly 2,500 students are enrolled in one of the small learning community programs. Each program includes roughly 400 students, which breaks down to about 20 to 25 students per classroom.

The programs at Clemente, which administrators refer to as "small schools," include: math, science and technology; journalism, communication and law; fine and performing arts; world languages; dual language bilingual; and a military academy.

Ken Rose, who works at the school through a partnership with Northwestern University, said the students enter the small school of their choice, adding that very few request transfers to other programs at the end of the year. He said the curriculum for each program is essentially the same, but the examples and themes are different.

"This is all about personalization," Rose said. "It's about getting to know teachers and students really well for the four years and being caught in a safety net, so they don't drop out.
"In the old model of high school, you could go through four years of high school and not make a real tight connection with either a teacher or another student."

He said that since Clemente formed its small learning community program, the attendance rate has gone up from 77 percent in 1996 to 88 percent in 2004. And between 1998 and 2005 the graduation rate increased from 60 percent to 71 percent.

He said the school is still not satisfied with the current graduation and attendance rates, but it hopes the rising trend will continue.

"When you look around Chicago there are more and more small learning community schools, and I think more high schools will go this way," he said.


Anonymous said...

Hi All:

I feel compelled to respond to this despite my limited time. When I signed on to become a member of QHST I was well aware of the vision, and I embraced it. Four years later I still embrace the overall vision, but recognize its limitations in certain areas. Does that mean I want to compromise the vision? I don't think so. In fact, I am a bit perturbed by the statement: "that the real problems arise when people become wishy washy about the vision and compromise it bit by bit." Colleagues, I ask you, why does questioning something automatically mean that we are compromising it? In my mind, the word compromise in this context, has negative connotations. Questioning the deficiency in something or recognizing the need to revisit something in order to make it better, does not constitute a compromise. All visions worth their weight allow for revision. Consider the quandry we would be in if our founding fathers had a rigid vision when they created the Constitution.

Frankly, our vision (consider this version instead of "the vision")is not within the bounds of the contract, since in fact the contract was not created with schools like ours in mind. With this in mind, it seems clear to me, that we are in a truly unique position. We have the ability, as an entire school, to effect change in ways that others did not envision. We CANNOT do this if people are afraid to express concerns or reveal a different way of looking at this beloved vision.

The intrinsic beauty of our vision resides the idea of shared learning and creating. When we judge others because their learning style or way of expressing creativity is different from ours we undermine the vision we so greatly esteem.

W Brown said...

Lets have the disscussion? What are these "limitations in certain areas"?

"Our vision ... is not within the bounds of the contract" Where are these contractual quandries?

"We CANNOT do this if people are afraid to express concerns or reveal a different way of looking at this beloved vision." Who is afraid, I wish they would at least vioce their opinion here?

What are professional adult teachers afraid of? Has the administration or somehow threatened the open expression of thought? How can we make it so that the unvoiced can at least become part of the decision making process?

I really do beive that the unheard do not exsist.

Matthew Schatz said...

It is obvious that there are particulars at QHST (and small schools) that do not adhere to the traditional vision of a previous education model. Most current educators have traveled through a system that was more inclined to educate us in a larger school setting. Many tend to recreate, whether consciously or not, what they know best, what they went through (in terms of an education model.) While particulars at QHST are certainly not traditional, i.e 3 starting times, and they may be unfamiliar to us as educators, does that really mean we need to question the administration's vision for there implementation? For instance does the advent of 4 learning communities harm the education model trying to be built and fostered at QHST? While it might be a pain to wake up extra early or a hassle, if we have children, to come in a bit late, what we have come to do, through teaching, is help the students who walk into our building each and everyday (well in Steve Russo's case every 3 weeks.)
What I think we need to ask ourselves is "Do smaller communities help the students we have pledged to educate?" In a previous article Small Schools: Are They Working? small schools were examined and their educational output was put into question. Whether our students end up doing better on tests, and scoring higher on written assignments, I believe, is irrelevant here. The focus of smaller schools should not be soley on creating better students, but rather better people! In a environment created where students get to really know one another and their teachers in a less traditional role, staff and students become more humanized towards one another. Their interest becomes vested in their educational community and they take ownership of their school(s),a place that at one time took ownership of those who came.
While we may not appreciate the changing details, which move QHST, away from a more traditional model, and create certain inconveniences towards the lives we are used to living, we must remember that we are here to create better people, more hopeful citizens to fill our societal ranks. We must regard our administrators endeavors, not with contempt, the way employees do when they are told to do something that does not make sense, but rather question if the administrators implimintations are better or worse for the small educational communities we service.
If we make the choices to foster better people we may, in the process, create some more academically inclined individuals.

D. O'Neill said...

Mr/Ms Anonymous

I am, quite frankly, perturbed about your statement "Frankly, our vision (consider this version instead of "the vision") is not within the bounds of the contract, since in fact the contract was not created with schools like ours in mind. With this in mind, it seems clear to me, that we are in a truly unique position. We have the ability, as an entire school, to effect change in ways that others did not envision.”

What exactly do you mean the contract was not created with schools like ours in mind?? Are you trying to say that schools based on SLC's, common planning time as the choice for Circular 6 with grade based teams of teachers that can truly focus on the progress of their students, and an advisory program cannot exist within the confines of the current contract?? How so? What part of the contract are we going against or is a guise being used to invoke change for ulterior motives? I really need clarification on this because I do not believe it is true.

I also need a lot of clarification on the ways in which we want to effect change. For you to make this statement you must already have an idea of where change needs to be made. I, for one, am definitely part of the group of “others” who is not envisioning our truly unique position. If you are referring to change as ways to improve on how we carry out the vision that QHST is founded on without compromising its structure then please share with all of us our deficiencies and ways to improve. We are certainly not perfect and can always seek to improve what we do and change for the benefit of our students. I need to be enlightened.

But if change is chipping away at the foundation of QHST, which is made of an advisory program, the SLC’s and common planning time, the part that holds the rest of us up, the part that leads us in a common direction, the part that allows us to grow as educators while at the same time address the needs of our students, then you are indeed compromising the whole structure of QSHT and it will eventually fall.

The model of small learning communities, which is increasingly being used across the country not to mention here in the city, is in place for and at the heart of the very reason the union represents us…it benefits our students while not compromising the value or guidelines of our contract. The contract is there to protect us when necessary, not to change the vision or structure of a school.

Ms. Mayo said...

I've always thought that people who are unhappy with something generally speak up and those who are happy tend to become complacently quiet. For example, PTA meetings at my kids' schools have generally been dominated by parents with a gripe while the satisfied group stays home. Or voters that support the incumbent are less likely to make it to the polls than those wanting a change (I'm not sure if this is fact or just my thinking).

And here there seems to be a quiet grumbling that has yet to be articulated by a few people, and a lot of noise made by the content.

Just thinking about how odd that seems.

Anyway, in part of my work with NSRF, I struggled with the fact that facilitators are supposed to encourage dissidence and differences. Making controversy public is a good thing (as opposed to letting it fester and wreak havoc in that way). Many of us have worked in schools where negativity spreads like a virus. Nothing good comes of that.

So...I am looking forward to a good discussion where people can say what's not working for them and we can work together to figure this thing out. I know that I am guilty of becoming too passionate to listen, and I'm really working hard to say less and listen more.

I hope the people that are dissatisfied recognize that the rest of us welcome their voices in the conversation. We actually need them.

It's not a witch hunt, so nobody should feel afraid. It's more of a fact gathering.


Anonymous said...

Dear All,

In the decade or more that I spent in the business world, I learned that questioning can be a positive thing. I don't think that blind faith to anything is healthy.

If we are to teach our students to question the world around them why should we hold ourselves to a different standard. It is only when questioning becomes complaining and negativity that the workplace sours.

Those of us interested in solutions are willing to debate all views, but if you want to sit under a black cloud and chant "woe is me", then sit by yourself or go somewhere else. I got enough of my own problems.

This is a nice place to work. I love the kids and the people I work with. Everyday I am the teacher AND the student.

The vision is laid out in the concept paper, agreed?
We all read it before we were hired. I am here because of what I read. If I didn't like it I would move on. Any debates, about solutions to our problems, should ALWAYS remain in the context of the vision laid out in the paper.

Despite being a new teacher I have NEVER felt that I could not share my views with administration. Maybe, just maybe, that is because of how I say it and not what I am saying.


D. Guglielmini said...

As a new teacher, “the vision” of the school was made quite clear during every interview before I accepted the position and throughout PD.
I agree with Woolsey that there is nothing wrong with questioning, and I feel comfortable and welcome asking questions of any administrator.
There are many “un-traditional” things at QHST but that is what makes the school “different by design.” It is part of what I love about the school.

I disagree that the vision is not within the bounds of the contract. According to section 8 of the contract, “This section of the New York City teacher’s contract allows schools to waive or modify contract provisions or board of education regulations that interfere with reform efforts. It also describes evaluation and professional support procedures that are designed to support improved teaching and learning.”

W Brown said...

I recieved this in an email this morning:

When setting up this school, "...we had numerous meetings with the DOE, CBO's and the UFT/CSA. On of the most influential and knowledgeable people that we worked with was Rhona Freiser (then the Queens UFT Rep). She understood our concept and philosophy and worked closely with Nigel in setting up a school that would not only be productive but be within UFT guidelines. We appreciated her approach to "out of the box" thinking..."

I just wanted to share this tidbit of history with everyone.

R. Zambrotta said...

It is fascinating for me to see where the school conversations have gone since the school opened, now almost four years ago. The focus seems to be on contractual obligation, rather than on student achievement, parent involvement or program development. I think knowing a little about our history is important here. When Nigel and I began working on the actual development of the school we had numerous meetings with DOE, CBO's, UFT and CSE among others. One of the most influential contributors was Rhona Freiser, who was the Queens UFT Rep. She understood our concept paper and worked with us to get the school underway. Also, at that time UFT Execs. Tom Casimir and Al Samuels worked closely with us regarding staff selection and new school procedures. I really felt that we had established a working relationship with the UFT that had staff, students and school development as its purpose, not contract rigidity. It might be a good idea to invite some of these people back to see where we are after the first three years.

R. Zambrotta

Anonymous said...

Hi All:

I was remiss in posting my name to my original posting. So if you didn't already know it is Lafergola.

I read what many of you said, and frankly I am surprised that such intelligent people would read in such a limited way. My comment, which was totally PRO QHST was misunderstood by so many. The contract WAS NOT CREATED with schools like ours in mind. The contract is written with a big school mentality. If you can't see that, then the point of this conversation is moot.

We are in a unique position because we can make change. This blog is a testament to that. To respond to Wally...let's do a point by point on where some quandries may reside. First, what part of the contract addresses DEAR? Enlighten me, I am always willing to learn. Second, what part of the contract addresses block scheduling? Again, please direct me to the appropriate location in the contract. These are two pillars of our vision...I think you get my point. Let me reiterate, this is not a problem. It simply means that we ALL have to have truly open minds and work together to realize the fruition of our vision.

Dee was concerned with ulterior motives. I am not sure who said anything about ulterior motives. Change is GOOD AND NECESSARY even within a solid vision. People change, circumstances change, and populations change. No one - certainly not me, wants to chip away at the QHST vision. However, that doesn't mean that we can't improve on what we have.

I am one of the greatest advocates for small learning communities. I have seen firsthand the positive effect they have on students. This is not the issue.

The entire context of this particular strand in the blog resides in people that are "wishy washy". It has nothing to do with chipping away at visions.

Moving on to the idea that the "unheard" do not exist. Well, that is problematic in a school that embraces inclusion. You may want to stop telling people that they have nothing to be afraid of and start trying to see what it is that they are afraid of.

I am not sure which response talks about "recreating" what we are accustomed to, but that response hits the nail on the head. Change occurs slowly particularly when we think of mindsets. Many people in this building have big school mentalities. It will take time for them to recognize that their voices are in fact heard. It will also take time for them to exercise those voices that were long dormant.

Finally it is high time to stop getting so defensive when we use the word contract. The use of that word doesn't always mean that something adversarial is in the works. This is especially true for my original response.


Anonymous said...

It's interesting to read the comments here. I wonder if it's possible to make a list of the main concerns. So far, I think I read two:
Block scheduling

(We could add freedom of speech/dissent and not being afraid of change I suppose.)

What other issues are we dealing with here?

In solidarity,


Anonymous said...

Hi Kathy,

Nice to know it is you.

Of course change can be good and necessary especially when we want to see growth. But when implementing change, especially if it happens over time and in small increments, we must be very, very careful that we do not evolve into a whole new creature but rather we become a stronger more stable version of the original one. What I mean to say (and may not be doing a good job) is that we cannot allow the changes to deviate us from our vision and the basic structure of QHST which I will repeat is made of SLC's, Dear and Advisory, common planning time and of course block scheduling.

I have a reason for referring to ulterior motives. I came from a school where I witnessed a handful of teachers change the entire vision and structure of a school (except for the block scheduling because they liked it). The Advisory and Dear program was particularly focused on...they believed it to be worthless and without any benefits. Then in comes the contract and a systematic "change" that occorred over 4 years. So I know that while change can be positive I also know it can be very negative with results that lead us backwards with no school reform in mind.

Having held the position of chapter chair before and told I was a good one(what a thankless job), I have great respect for the union. However, when the contract is brought into a discussion of how we can improve what we already have I find that I am skeptical and am even more skeptical when it is used to evoke change.