Come Work at Harvest Collegiate

The school I’m currently planning, Harvest Collegiate High School, is looking for excellent teachers to help plan and build our school.  Full information is bellow.  Please share widely.


Inside Schools Recommends Harvest Collegiate

UpdateHarvest will hold an open house at the site of our school, 34 West 14th St on Monday, March 12, from 5-7pm.  Hope to meet you there!

I had a new experience Saturday, as I represented the school I’m helping to plan, Harvest Collegiate, at a high school fair for 8th graders who did not receive a match in the first round of high school applications (for those not familiar with NYC schools, there are very few zoned/community high schools in NYC, and non in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn; 8th grade students have to choose schools, and are placed centrally through the city).  It was very exciting to see our idea take one step closer to being a reality, but it was more thrilling to meet over a hundred students and their families who were eager to find an incredible education.

It’s a little nerve-wracking sitting back now, and hoping to be chosen, so it made my day yesterday to see Harvest get our first positive piece of press from Inside Schools, who had us on their list of “picks for high schools that still have room“:

Harvest Collegiate is a new school opening in the Legacy building 14th Street that promises lots of class discussions, hands-on activities and trips around the city. It has a well-developed website, a clear vision and an experienced principal.

Their fuller write-up captures just a few of the exciting things we have planned for our students:

Lots of planning has gone into the school, scheduled to open in the fall of 2012 with a 9thgrade class. While other brand-new schools were still scrambling to plan their curriculum and hire staff in the spring of 2012, Harvest Collegiate already had a well-developed website, a clear vision and an experienced principal with an impressive resume.

The school plans to offer lessons in Modern Africa and the Middle East as well as Spanish, piano, literature, jazz and genetics. Other activities will include theater, robotics, a girls group, basketball, soccer, volleyball, cooking and sailing. Tenth graders will develop service projects in conjunction with the Action Center to End World Hunger, where young people are taught ways they can join the efforts to end hunger and poverty. Plans are to have students visit the Irish Hunger Memorial and soup kitchens to learn about hunger in New York City.

Plans call for a two-week intensive in January for travel and learning beyond the classroom, beginning with a trip to Washington D.C. Burch hopes to take students o Central American in the future. Students will have the opportunity to visit Stone Barns, a nonprofit farm and education center north of Manhattan. Every week teens will spend half a day exploring in age-appropriate ways: 9th graders will explore the city, 10th graders will develop a service project, 11th graders will learn more about college and 12th graders will do career internships.

If you’re interested in more information about Harvest Collegiate High School, please visit our website.



Big News: I'm Helping to Open a School

Updates: Harvest will hold an open house at the site of our school, 34 West 14th St on Monday, March 12, from 5-7pm.  Hope to meet you there!

Also, Inside Schools Recommends Harvest Collegiate

I am humbled and incredibly excited to share that I am going to be part of a team that opens Harvest Collegiate High School, a new NYC public school.  We will open our doors to about 100 freshmen next September, and grow over four years to serve students in grades 9-12. More information about the school, which is completely inline with my educational philosophies, is below.

I am very excited that the school will allow me to continue my relationship with the Institute for Student Achievement, which I have been a part of at both Bronx Lab and the Academy for Young Writers.  I am also extremely excited to be founding a school that will be part of the Coalition of Essential Skills, ten years after reading Ted Sizer’s work convinced me to become a teacher.

A mutual acquaintance introduced me to the school’s founding principal, Kate Burch, who has been a teacher and director of professional development at Humanities Prep in Manhattan.   We instantly hit it off.  I will be the school’s founding humanities teacher (pending the official hiring process in the Spring), as well as a partner in much of the planning of the school, its curriculum, and its day to day operations.

I am looking forward to sharing the joys and challenges of this journey in the coming years as I get the opportunity to implement many of the lessons I’ve learned from so many thus far in my career. Continue reading Big News: I'm Helping to Open a School

Three Things I Used to Think About School Reform

Two months ago, Nancy Flanagan wrote a great piece about changing her mind when it comes to school reform, which inspired me to do the same at the New York Time’s SchoolBook:

I used to think that if I didn’t know the solution to the problem, I could figure one out. I now think some problems are so complex that there can never be a silver bullet.

I used to think we needed to create model schools that could then be replicated. I now think that it is so hard to sustain a model that each school needs to be invested in its own unique vision.

I used to think our goal should be to create systems of great schools. I now think great schools are so hard to create and maintain that our goal should be to create good and sustainable ones.

Read the rest here.

Democracy and Possibility

Two quotes to start the week:

The first, a recent one, from Deborah Meier:

In all these years we have never seriously confronted society with the question of “why?” Do we really want schools to undo our class divisions? Do we want them to produce adults who are members of a shared and commonly cherished adult world—with inequities that we could all imagine living with? With adults who more or less equally appreciate and utilize democracy for their own self-interests, have more or less equal access to the media, to political influence, with fair and equal protection of the law?

I’d like, Diane, given the obvious reality of the above (it’s said harshly, but isn’t it the simple truth?), to suggest we shift the discussion. Maybe it’s time to think together about what schooling could be if we truly saw it as the bedrock of democracy—if we imagined we cared enough for the future of democracy to put everything we have into using schools toward such an end. We need something to fight FOR, not just against. The billionaires’ reforms take us backward, so what would forward look like?

The second, a much older one, from the philosopher Hannah Arendt:

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it and by the same token save it from that ruin which except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable.  And education, too, is where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new, something unforeseen by us, but to prepare them in advance for the task of renewing a common world.

~Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future: Eight Exercises in Political Thought (New York: Penguin, 1968), 196.

Democracy and possibility?  That sounds like something worth fighting for to me.  Let’s get to this first period, tomorrow morning.

Turnover – The Biggest Problem We Face: Part 3 (Finally)

I previously wrote about the killer effects that teacher turnover is having on my Bronx school, as well as considering some of the causes of this high turnover. It is now my hope to offer solutions to this problem.

I have been thinking long and hard about a way to solve this problem that does not cost more. In times of falling budgets and layoffs, I know any idea that costs more will get little traction. Unfortunately, I cannot think of a single solution that will not cost more at some level. If we value the education of our students, we need to be willing to pay for it. I hope there will be commenters more creative that I am.

Studies have shown that the number one reason teachers leave is not because of low pay, but rather because of poor working conditions. These solutions aim specifically at improving the working conditions of new teaches. These strategies could be used in concert or individually, but all of them would make new teachers more successful, and therefore, more likely to remain in the profession:

Provide real mentoring from trained mentors to new teachers
In his 18 years as an urban teacher, administrator, and instructional coach, David Ginsburg (whom I met at the recent Education Writers Association’s conference) has seen a direct relationship between the practical support teachers receive, including classroom coaching and new teacher induction training, and their retention rates and overall effectiveness. Here’s an excerpt from an email I recently got from him:

Last year a school that was averaging around 40% turnover of new hires from one year to the next for several years brought me on to do a teacher induction program and to coach teachers, and over 90% of teachers who received that support are back this year.

What did David do? He observed the, gave them feedback, provided them with resources when needed, and talked with them. He also did this in a non-evaluative, low stakes manner. This is not rocket science.

I am attempting to provide similar coaching this year to three teachers. Unlike David, I have no training or experience to show that I can coach teachers, other than the fact that I have been successful in the classroom. I hope I am doing a good job, but I don’t have the tools to truly assess if I am. This is the flaw in the current school-based mentoring system that exists in NYC: there is no process to make sure mentors can coach. The key to making mentoring successful is making sure we have the right mentors, then giving them to time to meet, support, and actually coach new teachers. NYC currently has no screening nor evaluation of mentors, and this needs to change.

Reduce the class loads of new teachers, and make them observe
There is no other profession I know of where someone is expected to do the same work on the first day of their job that they do in their 30th year. If an experienced teacher can handle five classes with a maximum load of 170 (which is already too high), new teachers’ loads should be capped at three sections with no more than 75 students total. Teachers should spend the rest of their day formally reflecting on their classes and students’ work, as well as observing all other teachers in the school, both good and bad.

I was blessed to go through a student teaching program that capped my load at two sections, then required me to do observations. I learned a ton from watching teachers on whom I wanted to model myself, but I learned even more from watching the others who I did not want to be like. This allowed me to enter the profession with a clear conception of both who I wanted to be, and what I wanted to avoid becoming.

Moreover though, I got to be a “perfect teacher” for four months. At my most idealistic moment, I had the opportunity to actually put all my ideals into action, and then had time to reflect on my performance. I could spend ten minutes grading every essay (now if I spend three minutes per essay, that’s 2 hours per section), make weekly calls to parents, and truly know every one of my students on a deep, personal level. I will never have the time to be that teacher again, but I know what I am aiming for. Most teachers do not get this experience.

Create new teacher support groups, with guidance from novice teachers
A very common complaint from new teachers is the feeling of isolation they have when entering the profession. It is important that new teachers be given the time and space to reflect, vent, and share their successes and failures in a safe environment. This group can take many forms. At schools with lots of new teachers, this can take place at the school level, elsewhere on a district level. For those places where it cannot, this can happen online through blogging, chartrooms, or on Twitter (there is a weekly chat for new teachers on the hashtag #ntchat that many rave about). This, ideally, should not be something extra new teachers have to do, as they do too much already, but should be part of their paid work time.

However, these groups should not happen in isolation. Teacher who have survived the early part of their career should be participant-leaders in these groups to help bridge the social divide between new and experienced teachers, but also to ensure new teachers learn that success is possible.

I would also like to point an optimistic eye towards the DC’s Center for Inspired Teaching Resident Program, which provides a new model for teaching training which I think makes a lot of sense, and hopefully can yield long-term results. I will be keeping an eye on the work of Aleta Margolis and her organization as they move forward with this ambitious plan.

These are but a few ideas, and I am hopeful that others will add to this list; from my point of view in the Bronx, there is no bigger challenge facing urban schools right now.

Take Aways from the Education Writers Association Seminar

I spent last Friday at the Carnegie Corporation of New York along with a handful of other teacher bloggers and a number of education journalists for an Education Writers Association seminar on “The Promise and Pitfalls of Improving the Teaching Profession.”  Stacey Snyder, Ken Bernstien, Mark AndersonMark Roberts, and Dan Brown have already offered full narrative accounts or sumaries of the conference, so I will yield to them (Ken’s take on things most matches my own). Instead, I offer three lessons-learned that are still with me a few days later:

  • There is no reason ever to have a panel on teaching without teachers on the panel. It’s simply inexcusable. The clearest moment where there was a need for teachers was during the third panel on Professional Development when the panelists were asked about the value of National Board Certification. All three panelists said they didn’t know much, but offered the limited anecdotal evidence they had to offer, and this is where the question died. Yet, there were multiple National Board Certified Teachers, myself included, in the room. Why not ask the teachers?
  • Luckily, whenever the journalists had the chance to talk to teachers, be it in the hallways, over lunch, or at the formal roundtables that ended the event, I found I was asked good, tough questions and I was genuinely listened to. I was extremely impressed with nearly every interaction I had with the press in the room, even those who I’m certain I disagree with on every educational issue. It is very easy to critique the “media” in the abstract, just as it’s easy to critique “teachers”. However, nearly every individual member of the media I talked to struck me as intelligent, thoughtful, and filled with a desire to do their job well. The only exception was a journalism student, a former Teach for America teacher who shockingly has left the classroom, who clearly had an agenda to root out and expose “bad” teachers. Don’t get me wrong, there are bad and lazy journalists out there, there are good journalists who sometimes write bad pieces, and there are those who, for whatever reason, don’t challenge established narratives, but my assumption is that, much like teaching, these are a very small number of professionals who get a disproportionate amount of attention and vitriol.
  • We don’t know what makes someone a good teacher before they’re in the classroom.. This was the consensus of both Vicki Bernstein, Executive Director of Teacher Recruitment and Quality for the NYC DOE, and Spencer Kympton, Vice President of Recruiting for Teach for America. I must admit, I was prepared to despise both these people. Both, however, were magnanimous in their willingness to talk more about what they don’t know than what they do know. This flew completely in the face of Talia Milgrom-Elcott, a program officer the Carnegie Corporation and previously a special assistant to Joel Klein, who began the day advocating for getting more people from the top 1/3 of college classes into the teaching profession. The bottom line is there is evidence that this will not improve student performance, which the much referenced McKinsey Report that makes the same conclusion fully acknowledges. If people from the DOE and TfA publically agree on this point, it’s time for McKinsey and the Carnegie Corporation to move on to finding better solutions.

My Previous Posts on EWA:

Other’s Story Ideas for Journalists from teachers at EWA:

Authentic Accountability: Roundtable Portfolio Presentations

Along with the rest of my history department, I had the great pleasure to spend my Tuesday at East Side Community High School in Manhattan as a guest evaluator of their students’ semester ending roundtable presentations. While my students in the Bronx, and at many other New York high schools, spent the day taking a three-hour Living Environment exam which emphasizes memorization of a breadth of factual content, students at East Side, thanks to a waiver from most Regents exams, spent the day in deep thought and reflection, applying and showing off what they had learned this semester. We learned much to take back to our school, but what I saw also has much larger implications for the current local and national educational discourse.

I participated in two, 90-minute long sessions, one for an 11th grade English class, and the other for a 12th grade AP English class. While there were a range of skill levels and fluency in English amongst the students I interacted with, all six were impressive in their presentations and reflectiveness. Students in the 11th grade class each chose one piece of writing to share, along with a cover letter which summarized their learning. The seniors, in addition to the above, held a debate in which they each had to argue, using the lens of a school of literary theory, which character from a text they read most challenged the status quo. In my group, students used the lens of feminist theory to articulate which character most undermined and transcended the patriarchy in their societies. I cannot possibly explain how enjoyable and impressive it was to listen to the students. Particularly in the senior class, the standards for students were higher than any school I have ever encountered. Students were not only doing high-level college literary analysis, but they displayed an amount of reflection, self-awareness, and thoughtfulness that most adults do not have. Others in my department observed roundtables in 7th and 9th grade history, and everyone came away impressed with what they saw.

There were a number of conclusions I was hoping my department would take away from watching these presentations, and thankfully, many of them came out over lunch together afterwards. While in the long run, I would love nothing more than for my department, if not our school, to implement a similar program, in the immediate future, we saw the value of having students formally reflect on their learning. We saw how much more impressive students’ understanding and complexity of thought is when they have the opportunity to go in-depth over a smaller amount of skills and content, rather than emphasizing a limited understanding of a breadth of content. And we saw that students are capable of much, much more than what is tested on the state’s exams.

In a time when much of the public discourse on public education focuses on accountability, teachers’ resistance to so-called accountability measures is often mistook for laziness or a fear of change. These people are mistaken. In his welcome letter to his guests today, East Side’s Principal, Mark Federman, wrote:

We, meaning the students, staff and school as a whole, will put it all out there for each other, our families, our friends, our colleagues and our community to see: the good, the bad, and everything else. This is not an easy thing to do. Our students’ work and our own work is not always as pretty as we want it to be. And no matter how hard they have worked and we have worked, we are never quite satisfied. However, we offer it to the public because it is to the public that we and our students are ultimately accountable.

The work I saw today from East Side students was real, meaningful, and is worthy of public accountability. The work Bronx Lab students did today was arbitrary, meaningless for students’ lives, and not worthy of their time or capabilities. I am more than happy to have myself and any teacher in this country held accountable for the kind of work I saw at East Side, for it was truly work that asked students to meet high standards, not just to get a high score on a multiple-choice test.

Turnover – The Biggest Problem We Face: Part 2

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the biggest challenge my school, and others like it, face: teacher turnover. I discussed how of the 76 pedagogues who have worked at my school, 36 have left. Last week, that number hit 37. A tremendous amount of our school’s human resources are needed to help support and develop the new staff we bring in, thereby taking away resources from students. This begs the question, why are so many people leaving?

Common perceptions of urban teaching is that most people who leave go to teach in the suburbs or private schools. This has not been the case at my school; none have left for the suburbs, and only one for a private school. Last week I posted the individual reasons people leave, but this week, I aim to speculate on broader trends that cause people to leave. In many cases, these trends overlap for individual people:

Trend 1: Teaching is hard; teaching in the Bronx is really hard
Of the 37 who have now left, many were teachers who really struggled in their classrooms. Some of these teachers may have been more successful with suburban students who will do almost anything they’re asked, but they struggled with the challenges our Bronx classrooms present. This trend exists in all urban schools, though, and is much discussed, so I will stop there.

Trend 2: Starting a new school is a lot of work
Teaching is hard work, but creating a new school from scratch is even harder. When a school has only a small handful of teachers in its first years, no one is just a teacher. By my second year at my school, I was our tech guy and a grade team leader. With all the extra work, people burn out quick. Additionally, with so many people with limited experience in their jobs, things rarely work smoothly at first and teachers are required to constantly roll with the punches. It makes for an extremely stressful work environment.

Trend 3: New schools get lots of ambitious, young, teachers
Given all the extra work that goes into a new school, it should not be surprising that many of the teachers willing to work in these schools are young, ambitious people without families. New schools need “supermen” and “superwomen” and therefore seek them out. Many of these people are not native New Yorkers, but see NYC as a good place to spend their 20’s. These teachers are likely to leave for four reasons:

  1. They move on to bigger and better opportunities within education
  2. Teaching was always just something to do after college, and after their 2-4 years they move onto something else
  3. They leave NYC to go back home
  4. They start a family and no longer want to spend the amount of time teaching requires

Let us consider the first three cohorts of teachers hired the pioneers of the school. Of the 34 pioneers, 16 were under the age of 30 when they started; only 8 of us remain. Of those 8, only 2 were non-natives and unmarried. Both plan on leaving at the end of the year. We were the people who should have grown with and sustained the school when the initial group of leaders moved on, but this has not been the case.

In my next post, I’ll suggest some ideas for dealing with these problems.