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)