Sunday, May 10, 2009

Community Schools Make Sense - and our new Secretary of Education Agrees!

Arne Duncan, our new Secretary of Education, is committed to Community Schools. This is an interview he did with Charlie Rose.

Here's a short clip of that interview:

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Why We Need Complementary Learning in Schools

There is an emerging field in education called "Complementary Learning" -- a phrase coined by the Harvard Family Research Project. Leaders in this field are looking at ways to "knit" together all of the non-classroom supports that kids and families need in order to provide students with an environment (school, home, community) that supports their learning. These supports might include parent education, mental health support, medical support, extended learning opportunities (summer learning, after school).

A benefit to taking this holistic approach is that we look at the social/emotional/academic development of the child in the context of their life. We don't just want to graduate students who can read and write, but also graduate great world citizens. Complementary Learning also emphasizes building intentional linkages between parents, the schools, and the community organizations that serve the community.

Another side benefit is that we make more effective use of resources if we avoid "throwing" them at kids in a fragmented fashion.

Today, Oprah did a show on bullying in schools, the kind that is resulting in young kids killing themselves. She is starting a national conversation on this topic. One important point that was made is that we are so focused on testing and performance these days that we have ignored the kind of social/emotional support that kids need to make it through the school day!

With the economic environment we are in, the stresses on the working poor is tremendous. Families need support to make it through hard times.

For all these reasons, it is incumbent upon us to figure out how to "do Complementary Learning" well!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Education in Today's Urban Environment

I've had a lifelong desire to help with our public education system. I grew up in San Francisco in the 60's and 70's, a time when California's public education system was touted as being the best in the country. My parents left their safe insular Chinatown community to move to an all-white neighborhood so that we could get access to the best public schools. I went to public schools all through undergraduate college, at a time when Affirmative Action wasn't a bad word. I was the first in my family to go to college, and was fortunate to have many mentors who supported me in my educational and career pursuits. I've paid alot of taxes, gladly.

I've personally lived through all kinds of school reform, enacted during my years as a student growing up: busing, elimination of tracking, elimination of "half grades", changes in teaching methods, etc. I grew up making friends of all races, classes, and backgrounds. As the system started to break down, and California started to shift funding priorities (from education to jails), I watched the public school system literally crumble behind me, so quickly that my younger siblings had less opportunity to get the kind of public education I had. I swore I would come back someday and do something about it. I want all kids to have access to the American Dream, as I had.

Three years ago, I had the opportunity to start consulting with the Oakland Unified School District, and have been working with them on a number of fronts since then: improving central office departments, troubleshooting operational problems, turning around learning programs. In addition, I've been in charge of big technology projects that aim to automate inefficiencies and provide data for better leadership decision-making. I've had the privilege of being able to visit school sites, talk to Principals, Teachers, and Staff -- and learn about the reality of the urban school environment today.

School work is no longer just academic teaching work. In fact, I would argue that school work in today's society is primarily social work. If kids and their families don't receive the appropriate kinds of support at the appropriate times, then the child cannot learn. It's no longer as simple as providing a good breakfast to every kid every morning. Nowadays, kids have to navigate all kinds of transitions --- divorce, community violence, parents in economic stress, lack of caring adults, loss of home ----- the list is long, and the needs are complex. No "improved" instructional practice is going to make a kid who has been to 10 funerals in 2 years learn math. No "improved" instructional practice is going to undo the damage done by the one grouchy adult (at school or in other places) that treats the kid as if they are not worthy.

And this observation doesn't only apply to the stereotypical low-income, minority communities in urban settings (note my use of the word stereotypical, as we often work from stereotypes that are damaging). Many years ago, there was a survey done with youth in Palo Alto, a very affluent city south of San Francisco. At the top of the list of issues articulated and ranked by the kids was loneliness and a sense of isolation. No amount of money, physical safety, and material comfort could satisfy their need for attention from caring adults and a caring community.

We need to break down the "service silos" that have been created in our school districts, our cities, our counties, and our states. Simplifying funding streams is one start. Facilitating cross functional work, and battling back political interests is another important step. Getting school boards elected that are healthy and focused on the work is another. Creating healthy union relationships so that they are partners in change, not obstacles to change, is also important. We've all allowed ourselves to fall into narrow and divisive approaches. Those of us in school reform get attached to "our way" being the "right way", and bicker while the kids suffer. Let's embrace all ways that do right by kids!

We need to stop the "adult third grade" stuff so we can focus on the REAL third grade.

Find a way to join in and help! Sign up to tutor, sign up to mentor, sign up to do facilities work. Be a reliable volunteer. You will be rewarded with the inner richness that only comes through selfless service.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Sunanda Gandhi Memorial School: a model

Arun Gandhi talks about the Sunanda Gandhi Memorial School, a school in rural India that is envisioned to be a model for village-based community uplift and self sufficiency. As India grows in prosperity, many poor Indians who live in rural villages find themselves left out of that prosperity. With increasing economic pressures in rural village settings, there is massive migration of people to cities, looking for work ---- and children and families are vulnerable to the child traffickers who come to villages to recruit young girls for prostitution, and young boys for child labor. Families are torn apart, and many live in poverty while few become prosperous.

The Sunanda Gandhi Memorial School promises to be a model for how rural, community-based schools can be the hub around which villages develop economic self sufficiency, thus enabling a bottoms-up approach to building an India that includes a good life for all.

This is what Gandhi would want us to do.

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed” (Mahatma Gandhi)

An interview with Arun Gandhi

In this video, Arun talks about growing up with his grandfather, and makes some comments about his views of the situation in the Middle East.

Arun Gandhi talks about lessons his grandfather taught him

I've had the privilege of having briefly met and traveled in India with Arun and Sunanda Gandhi, in 1997. This was during a time when I was intent on learning all I could about Gandhi, and how he managed to pull off such great social movement without firing guns.

Since then, I have studied the underlying approach to nonviolent solutions, and more importantly, have been experimenting with these approaches in my organizational work, working with a wide spectrum of organizations in turnaround, or navigating through change.

It works! I have been consistently amazed at how the simple act of "walking the high road" brings out the best in everyone, and the amazing results that can come with this approach.

My support of candidate Obama was primarily driven by my instinct about his ability to walk this high road. This is what will make all the bi-partisan rhetoric real, in a practical way that serves all.

This is a video of an inspriring talk that Arun made in 2008, while addressing a conference of educators here in San Francisco. Through telling stories of his life in India with his Grandfather (he was sent as a 12 year old with an "anger problem" to go live with his Grandfather for a year), he shines light on the essential under-pinnings of his grandfather's philosopy..... namely, the importance of self-transformation, selflessness, and how to channel the power of anger into constructive responses to difficult situations.

Nonviolence is not the path of the weak. It takes great personal courage and fortitude to Walk the Talk. Here, Arun shows us how.

"Be the change you want to see in the world" (Mahatma Gandhi)

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Great Day, November 4, 2008 - God Was With Us

Today I got to witness an historic moment, surrounded by an amazing community of people (the Obama volunteers who came in and phone banked all day to get out the vote in critical swing states).
First of all, THANK YOU to all of you who have come in to help us with the multiple phone banks over the past few weeks. YOU PERSONALLY MADE A DIFFERENCE. I didn't realize how straight the line was between our work and the election outcome until tonight at the convention center when a friend said to me, "we did it. 4%. That was us", meaning that the small difference in the popular vote was what WE did!
It was an amazing day I went to the convention center at 630am (only Obama could get me to do that), and soon found myself in charge of overseeing 5 phone bank captains. For 13 hours we had a continuous stream of new volunteers, constant switching of states we were calling, turnover of staff shifts, and constant movement. It was like cat herding (my specialty). Just when we got one state going, we had to start switching to another. I can't imagine what was going on in Chicago (HQ's). We had 1000 volunteers who made 83,000 calls. The phone bank was actually a "36 hours to victory" phone bank at the Oakland Convention Center. Some people had worked all last night, hardly slept, then went all day today. My "boss", Erica, literally spent all day training groups of 20 volunteers non stop. I coordinated wth Noelle, who also oversaw 5 phone bank captains. Between the 2 of us, we had to keep all the phone captains trained and up on the latest strategy. Wild!
In the morning, we called the East Coast, slowly working our way west through all the swing states, getting Obama supporters to the polls. Our last state was calling Alaska. We ended the marathon at 7:30 and proceeded to watch the returns.
With each announcement of yet another state won, there was a huge ROAR in the room. People were jumping up and down, so excited. It just went on and on. You cannot believe what it was like when we heard we got Ohio! When the win was announced the place went wild! Then the song "Change is Gonna Come" came on. I cried. We did it, and now we can go about doing the hard work of turning this country around. Winning is just the start. Now the real work begins.
I met so many great people, friends who are neighbors. People who have committed to stay together and work together on change. This campaign has started to rebuild our communities. I feel like I gained an instant community of engaged friends who all live near me. We just needed to meet. Obama gave us all a chance to meet. . We are ready to practice democracy again. Over the past few weeks, I've worked at 3-4 different sites, and I have to say, the team at the Lake Merritt site was so healthy, collaborative, and efficient. Thanks to our leader, Erica Rodriguez, who many of you met. Erica has been working hard on the campaign for over a year, maybe even two. During the day, she is a special ed teacher who teaches deaf kids who are 5 years old. She is amazing. She built our little team and made sure we all had clear roles. There was no weird stuff or "organizational" issues. It was such a joy to work with that team. I love them all. I could only hope to have one fraction of the commitment and energy that Erica has. She is a great role model of selfless service.
I stayed to hear the acceptance speech. I was standing next to a woman who is a "second grandmother" of Erica's. She is an 82 year old beautiful black woman. During the speech, she stood on a folding chair, leaning on me on one side, and another friend on the other. I asked her if she ever thought she would see this day. She said no. It was surreal, standing there with her. I don't think the enormity of this day has really sunk in yet.
The room was filled with people of all ages, all colors, all sexual orientation, all kinds of cultures, all kinds of classes. This diversity is what I really love about Oakland. It's real, it's genuine.
I left after the acceptance speech. The streets were full of people driving their cars and honking their horns.
It was a great day. Such an honor to be part of it. My faith in the power of "little people" is strengthened. When we all come together, we can do anything!
Thanks for all of your support and participation.