Category Archives: El Milagro

THROUGH THEIR EYES

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IDEO, the Palo Alto company famous for designing Apple’s first mouse back in the 80’s, has since created user-centered solutions for everything from computer games to ice cream scoopers, defibrillators and shopping carts.  As one of the world’s leading innovators in Human-Centered Design,  they even create strategies to address such social issues as poverty, nutrition, health, water and sanitation, economic empowerment, access to financial services, and gender equity throughout the world.

It should not be surprising that they also have some thoughts about designing our schools from the perspective of the students who attend them every day. Everything from the culture of school environments and education reform initiatives, right down to more user-friendly student desks.

And, of course, Aiden also has some ideas about school designs as he develops his journals in Fighting for Ms. Rios.

Ultimately, Fighting for Ms. Rios is not just about a kid and his teacher.  It’s deeper than that.  It’s a case for intentionally designing student-centered schools around a culture of what the corporate world refers to as “deep customer empathy”.  Authentic relationships.  Mutual respect. Caring. User-centered design!

imagesThe notion of “empathy” is a central tenet of Dev Patnaik’s book called Wired to Care. Patnaik, a renown business strategist, writes about how organizations of all kinds prosper when they tap into a power each of us already has: empathy, the ability to reach outside of ourselves and connect with other people.  He believes that when people inside a company develop a shared sense of what’s going on in the world, they see new opportunities faster than their competitors. They have the courage to take a risk on something new. And they have the gut-level certitude to stick with an idea that doesn’t take off right away.

In Patnaik’s view, people are naturally “wired to care” and many of the world’s best organizations are, too. But they must learn to stop worrying about their own problems and see the world through each other’s eyes.

Ms. Rios had a natural gift for empathizing with her students and Aiden writes about it constantly.  In “THE NINTH JOURNAL: The Last Day” he says:

During that time Ms. Rios found hope and inspiration in her students. She believed in every last one of us from Trinity to Atticus Hinzo to Rafael to Angela to Charlie Flowers and Remy Padilla and Vera Ruiz and Inca and even Lester…and me. And Raymond. Especially Raymond.

Raymond, is a special needs student who was placed in her classroom to test his ability to adapt to every-day school routines.   He struggled… (because he had special needs!)  Ms. Rios’ class would have been the perfect placement– but she was a brand new teacher and too easily influenced by Wanda, the burned-out teacher next door.  As we come to know Ms. Rios from Aiden’s writings– a natural born teacher wired to care– we realize that giving up so quickly on Raymond was very much out of character for her:

In his few short weeks with Ms. Rios, he had taught her more about teaching than any university or workshop or conference or colleague ever could.  She knew in her bones that she had given up on Raymond far too soon and she vowed to never let that happen again.  She regretted listening to Wanda.  She should have been Raymond’s advocate.

From that day forward, Ms. Rios never quit believing in her students. No matter what.  She remained resilient. (From “Lambs”)

It is possible (and critical) to design and manage schools–including the systems, services, relationships and programs– from the student out… instead of the outside in.  But to do so, we truly have to see the world through our students’ eyes.  That’s really what “deep customer empathy” is all about– and why, by the end of her first year, we come to regard Ms. Rios as such an extraordinary teacher.  And why Aiden becomes the voice of children in schools everywhere.

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MADELINE’S COSTUME

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The Human Rights Campaign has been profoundly influential in encouraging public schools to develop policies that protect students from any forms of discrimination or bullying– especially LGBT students.  San Diego Unified School District, for example, has developed a model, Board-adopted, anti-discrimination policy that assures children a safe learning environment, regardless of their “actual or perceived” sex, gender, or ethnic group identification.

Adopting policies that prohibit discrimination in our schools is essential for children and staff.  But the real work is in creating safe, inclusive, loving environments that are often the one safe haven in a community.  Like El Milagro.

In “Fighting for Ms. Rios,” Aiden introduces us to Matty in the Fourth Journal: Virtuosos.

Matty was an athlete. Matty was a fierce competitor. Matty played little league. Matty played kickball. Matty wore a Baltimore Ravens football jersey. Number fifty-two. Matty always had a short-cropped haircut and was tall and thin. Matty pounded Augie behind the backstop for trying to cut to the front of the kickball line. Matty cussed and spit and told crude jokes and talked with a full mouth.

For Halloween Matty dressed up as a professional baseball player. A catcher with eye black and all the gear and the shin guards and a cup. (Madeline’s Costume)

Aiden has been playing with Matty since the beginning of the school year, but it is not until the Halloween Carnival– when the kids take a bathroom break and go into separate facilities– that he discovers she is really a girl.  The other kids knew all along.  Perhaps they have known her since kindergarten.  Perhaps they paid attention when their teachers lined up the boys and the girls separately.  Perhaps in elementary school  it just doesn’t start to matter yet.

“Matty is a girl, you dumbass!” said Charlie Flowers. He stopped adjusting the crimson pirate bandana that bordered his crimson head. He paused and looked at me to see if I was serious. “She’s supposed to go into the girls’ restroom.”

Matty is a character based on several students we have served at Mueller Charter School.  Even in pre-adolescent years, some children identify more with children of the opposite gender– and at that age– it is often difficult to tell them apart.  Matty dressed like a boy, wore her hair like a boy, talked like a boy and behaved like a boy.  Enough to confuse Aiden, who seems to blush a little, shrug his shoulders, and move on:  “In any case, it just didn’t seem to matter much at the Halloween Carnival where, at least for one night, we were all hiding behind one disguise or another.”

We have seen children so insistent on behaving like a child of the opposite gender that they refuse to use the school restrooms.  So we just make quiet arrangements for them to use the nurse’s restroom whenever they need to.

Aiden comments on the sensitivity and compassion of the teachers at El Milagro and we can easily imagine that the staff there has adopted policies similar to those inspired by the Human Rights Campaign.  It is as if he knows, even at the age of ten, that  policies don’t change attitudes and that what really matters is how children are actually treated every day.

As we walked around the carnival, I watched all of the adults interact with Matty like she was any other kid. They all knew. Her former kindergarten teacher even called her by her real name: Madeline. “You look like a pro tonight, Madeline! You look stunning!” Matty smiled.

I had a new respect for Matty and for my school. I felt proud of who we were at El Milagro—a place where kids could be who they needed to be for however long it takes to work it all out.

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CHRISTMAS LIVES

MORE STORIES from “Fighting For Ms. Rios:

BookCoverImageIn December, Fighting For Ms. Rios was released in both paperback and Kindle formats.  It is a fictional collection of journals written by a gifted fourth grade student named Aiden, about his school, his friends, and his inspiring first-year teacher– Ms. Rios.  I have resurrected my blog to break down some of Aiden’s many stories and themes… all observations about our schools from a child’s point of view.

Christmas lives.  In spite of the best efforts of the ACLU or whoever else is as busy as one of Santa’s disgruntled little elves trying to dismantle Christmas and remove it from all mention in public schools– it is still mentioned. Frequently. And celebrated.

Aiden is in awe at his teacher’s gift for telling stories, especially when it comes to weaving in cultural traditions. In “Storyteller” he writes:

“In December she told stories about Christmas and Kwanza and Hanukkah and didn’t make it sound like she was just trying to provide equal time to be politically correct.”

That’s the thing with Christmas.  We aren’t supposed to talk about it in our schools because we don’t want tax payer dollars expended to propagandize any one faith. No Christmas carols, Christmas trees, Christmas Santa Clause scenes, or Christmas Tannebaum art projects.  It’s one of those holidays that we are supposed to whisper about as an odd tribute to all the people that don’t actually celebrate Christmas.  As if children aren’t aware of the imminent arrival of their favorite day of the year.

But for Ms. Rios, even the arrival of Christmas presents itself as a teachable moment: there is more to December than  racing to the shopping malls to contribute to stimulate the economy.

“The whole world worships God,” she said at the end of the last story of the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa season. “Each to his or her own. This is all of humankind’s most spiritual time of year—maybe because it’s so close to the beginning of the new year. Maybe because it’s symbolic of our deep, deep desire to live in peace. Maybe because it represents the origins of our collective religions or the source of our individual faith. But it is universally a time for family. And food. And prayer. And light. And forgiveness.”

Aiden’s own references to Christmas are sprinkled throughout his journals- not as prayers– but as vivid metaphors:

It reminded me of Christmas and how time seems to move so slowly in anticipation of the big day, but then when the day actually gets here, it seems to speed past in a blur. (From– Beware of Bilbo)

 Just before Mrs. Holstrum interrupted her conversation with two other teachers, I heard Ms. Rios talking about her class and her students and “light bulbs that go on and off like Christmas trees.” (From– Minimum Days)

• Every child’s eyes were as big as Christmas morning. I looked around and thought, “My goodness…this is gonna be an interesting year.” And I was right. (From– Labradors)

• One day Ms. Rios said that “being a teacher is like coming out to the living room on Christmas morning and having thirty-two gifts to unwrap.” (From– Storyteller)

There is much to unwrap in Fighting for Ms. Rios.  Aiden is unconstrained by political posturing.  For him, Christmas lives.

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THE MILAGRO TRILOGY

For a while I was blogging all the time. Right here.  Some really, really good stuff.  I cranked out blog post after blog post– at least once a week– usually on Saturday mornings.  I would consistently check my stats and it looked like, depending on what I wrote, I’d have quite a few people dropping in.  Then something happened.  I got so tied up in writing and editing my second book, I couldn’t pour any more creative energy into sustaining my blog.  So I didn’t.

Now “Fighting for Ms. Rios” is complete and soon to be released.  It is a story told by a highly gifted fourth grader named Aiden who is not only an extraordinary young writer, but he is amazingly perceptive about adults and their schools. And he can fight.  Aiden writes a series of nine journals over the course of the school year, chronicling his experiences with his friends and with his remarkable first year teacher– Ms. Rios.

I had lots of people edit my book and at one point even had it placed with a publisher called Park East Press.  But I realized publishing can be a sleazy business if you get caught up with the wrong folks– and Park East Press turned out to be the wrong folks.  So I wrestled my manuscript back from them and decided instead to join the hundreds of other entrepreneurial writers and inventors and musicians and filmmakers who value their voice… and I placed my book project on Kickstarter.  Check it out.  There is even a book trailer there.

In the meantime… “Fighting for Ms. Rios” will be released on bookshelves and Kindles in September.  But that’s not all.  I’ve nearly finished a sequel called “Broken in the Middle,” where our gifted little writer, Aiden, is now in 7th grade and struggling to rise above the worst adversity that a kid will ever face.  The theme of the book is resiliency, and it is a hopeful story.

And of course there is a sequel to the sequel.  In “Catching In A Crowd” Aiden is a senior who attends a very unusual charter high school.  He is a decorated high school athlete, but the real offers are coming in from schools that specialize in creative writing.   In the final book of what has now become the Milagro Trilogy, Aiden’s journey through the K-12 system is complete.

So that’s where I’ve been.  Writing the Milagro Trilogy instead of blog posts.  But I intend to resurrect my blog, if for no other reason than to update you on the progress of the Trilogy and Aiden’s latests exploits.

Let me know what you think.

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BEYOND YOUR SCHOOL’S TATTOO

A few years ago The Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology released a study on the trend of tattooing. In it, they estimated that 24% of the population between the ages of 18 and 50 had at least one tattoo. But that was five years ago. It is likely much higher now.

And the most popular tattoo? It is the tribal band, a sun or butterfly, or some Chinese script that one can only hope means what you think it means when you commit to wearing it for the rest of your life.

A tattoo is all about commitment and communicating your “brand”.

So I wonder why our parents and our teachers don’t routinely get tattoos of our school logo. Come to think of it, I see all kinds of tattoos every day at my school, but I have never seen even one that promotes our brand.

That’s troubling. Not because I want to see a bunch of tattoo designs of our school, but because tattoos are the the ultimate expression of a customer’s faithfulness to a product. The single most powerful indicator of customer loyalty is when clients willingly share their positive experience with family and friends and urge them to see for themselves. It is the concept of “net promoter”.

And how do citizens of a capitalist and democratic society express their product loyalty? Through their frequent patronage. By word of mouth. By wearing a tee shirt (Hard Rock Cafe-London?) Through Twitter and Yelp and Facebook.

And by affiliating oneself to an idea… symbolically captured in a tattooed brand: the mercedes benz hood logo, the channel interlocking “c’s”, the nike swoosh, the flirtive persona of the playboy bunny, the venerable “NY” of the New York Yankees.

If you were to Google tattoo designs for Harley Davidson you would find pages and pages of them and no shortage of examples carved into every conceivable body part. It is a small price to pay for attaching oneself to the notion of raw power, independence and engineering excellence. Tattoos are, among other things, metaphoric.

If you Google tattoo designs for your school, on the other hand, chances are you won’t find any. You won’t find my school either and that’s the problem. Our stakeholders would sooner ink images of automobiles or household appliances or tobasco sauce to their forearms than their neighborhood school.

There may be some reasons for that:

• Product brands are familiar and reliable and often represent an attribute that an individual is willing to “advertise” for the rest of his or her life. It is less about the product and more about the metaphor. And our schools don’t make good life-long metaphors.

• When schools do show up as tattoos they are logos for universities like USC or Notre Dame or the bright red “A” of the Crimson Tide. But don’t be mistaken. These tattoos are not in tribute to the math department or to the fine services rendered over in accounting. They represent football teams that win more than they lose. Teams with history and swagger. We all like a winner. The Trojans may be on probation but they certainly aren’t in Program Improvement.

• Perhaps most importantly, if someone is willing to tattoo the icon of a business or product to their body, it is because that brand is incontrovertible and well defined. There is no going back. There is, for example, no debate about who (or what) the Apple or Target icons represent.

The neighborhood elementary school? That’s a different story.

But if people have a positive enough experience in the marketplace, if they are so passionate about a product that they feel it in their bones, if they are willing to shout from the rooftops, to at least buy the (Ferrari) tee shirt until they can afford the car– then you have a brand that works.

And if people are willing to compromise their career aspirations for a visible tattoo, to endure the stinging pain and fuss with the healing process, to brook the criticism from mom and the in-laws, to say nothing of their jealous friends’ incessant chiding–it is only because they believe so deeply in what that brand represents.

And, sadly, that is why there aren’t a lot of public schools represented in tattoos. Neither for metaphoric value. Nor for the sake of sentiment.

When it comes to our experience in public schools, there simply is no “brand” identity that invokes the kind of passion required to allow some 19 year old to carve a Chevy monster truck with Bridgestone tires into your ribcage. We forfeited that responsibility to the marketing genius of politicians who chose instead to brand public schools in a far less generous light: as ineffective, archaic, moribund sinkholes that waste taxpayer dollars.

Time for a different brand. Time to promote the extraordinary capacity of teachers and schools to not only engender amazing academic results in whatever test you want to gives us… but to simultaneously prepare students for a future that they will actually inherit– one that will no doubt require them to think, create, innovate, problem solve, communicate (in multiple languages) and work effectively with others.

What would that brand look like? And would you be willing to tattoo the icon to your body if it all lead to extraordinary results?

(This post also appears on LeaderTalk)

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HOPE, TITLE IX, AND THE QUEST FOR A WORLD CUP TITLE

It never really occurred to me that the U.S. would lose to Japan in the World Cup Soccer Final last Sunday.  Our women’s team was magical.  They came from behind against Brazil and won on penalty kicks and the rest seemed pre-ordained.  All that was missing was Al Michaels roaring into the microphone: “Do you believe in miracles?!!!”  and the jingoistic chant of “USA!…USA!…USA!…”.

So I decided I would write a post about the amazing skill and passion and audacity and focus and persistence and fitness and resilience and talent of this extraordinary team.  I decided I would write about how they flew to Germany and somehow captured the heart of a nation back home.  How, while most of us were bellyaching about the NFL lock-out, our girls were quietly kicking butt.  How they lifted one of the most coveted trophies in international sports: the World Cup.

But then they lost.  Japan came from behind and won on penalty kicks and the tables were turned.

So much for my blog post about winning the World Cup.

Then I noticed something else about our team. I saw how incredibly positive they were– how gracious, even in the face of heartbreak and defeat.  There were no tears.   There was no scape-goating or drama.  Just classy American athletes at a time when “classy” and “American athletes” have long since become an oxymoron.

That’s when I realized that we are all beneficiaries of Title IX.

That 1972 federal law which created new opportunities for women in athletics was based on the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.  (Incidentally, so was the line of cases and laws that defined student rights in special education, school finance schemes, bilingual education, and of course, school desegregation).

“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any education program or activities receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Title IX represented a vision of opportunity and equal treatment that has, forty years later, inspired our daughters to excel in every walk of life.  And not just our  daughters because many of those Japanese athletes grew up watching Mia Hamm and now play professional soccer here in the US.

Engraved in the golden walls of the World Cup is (at least metaphorically) a kind of promise– that when you provide every person with legitimate opportunities to fully develop their natural gift, the boundless potential of the entire human family comes closer to fruition.

The fight for educational equity in the United States is far from over.   There are huge populations of students “left behind” in the achievement chasm.  There are also critical subgroups suffering in silence who are worthy of advocacy at least as passionate as that which produced Title IX:  namely, those who are poor, or homeless, or our gay and lesbian students, or our immigrant children, or kids who are victims of bullying. And now we know what happens when we let all of our kids compete.

The US Team was lead by a goalie named Hope.  That is fitting.  And she would be the first to tell us that you don’t win a world championship on hope, but rather, on focussed energy and effort and commitment.  That lesson wasn’t lost on the hundreds of thousands of young girls no doubt watching their new idols on Sunday and dreaming  of a world cup campaign of their own.

That is the legacy of Title IX which we all inherited–  a promise to our children that they can play too.  As equals. That is what makes the quest for the World Cup worthy of your journey.  And mine.

Cross-posted on LeaderTalk

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THE SUMMER TRIANGLE

Our stars mock us.  I realized that this morning when I read about the Summer Triangle which will appear tonight in the eastern sky just after dark.

There are three stars in the Summer Triangle and while they appear to look the same… they are not even in the same constellation.  Altair is 17 light years away.   That means, in the parlance of astronomers, that the photons of light that strike our eyes tonight actually left their source back in 1994.  Seven years before No Child Left Behind launched our present preoccupation with accountability (and the madness of interminable testing)… Altair issued light.

Vega is some 150 trillion miles away and it’s light left 25 years ago—just after A Nation at Risk called out our schools for their extraordinary mediocrity.  It is also the year that President Reagan decided that he would honor teachers by sending one up on the space shuttle.  We all regretted that decision:

“…they slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God”

On the final vertex of the Summer Triangle sits Deneb.  At a distance of 9,000 trillion miles, we are seeing light that has actually been traveling through space since the 6th century.  And yet when we look at Deneb, the untrained eye will merely see a twinkle… and wish upon a star.

So here’s the point.

For decades we have been in search of stars.   We call them “exemplary” schools, “break-the-mold” schools, “distinguished” schools, “blue ribbon” schools, “award wining” schools.  We mine them for their essence and too often discover one disappointing commonality:  their commonality.

I wonder which “stars” you follow.  I wonder whose light you take your inspiration from.  I wonder why there are so many stars flickering and fading in the cosmic panorama of public education— like heavenly bodies whose light is owed to the by-gone genius of some other era.  Like 1994.  Or 1986.  Or 1886.  Or the 6th century.

Stars are not as they appear.  They are inspired by old and even ancient energy.  They are romanticized and gazed upon and dreamers set their sails by them.  But while they are universally regarded as a metaphor for excellence; for champions and models and promising performers and the best of the best– they are quite literally, a portal to our past.

My charter school is in perpetual orbit in search of new and different results.  There are at least three constants:  our kids keep coming, every one is unique and different, and we can’t live on your star.  We survive on our wits and creativity and courage to change.  On leaning forward.

In “The Myths of Innovation”, Scott Berkun writes  “By idolizing those whom we honor we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves… we fail to recognize that we could go and do likewise.”

Like right now. In the next few stress free weeks– in the shower or kayaking or stargazing on a summer break—fresh ideas will incubate.  We will find our own inspiration.  Our own solutions.

So tonight I am going out to look for the Summer Triangle just because I talked about it here.  (Without my Pocket Universe Ap I won’t be able to tell Deneb from Vega and all their light will look the same.)  I’ll admire its symmetry, but not its wisdom.  The rest is up to me.

“It is an achievement to find a great idea,” writes Berkun.  “But it is a greater one to successfully use it to improve the world.”

(Cross Posted on Leadertalk)

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SAVING SIR KEN

Lately I have been thinking about Spielberg’s movie “Saving Private Ryan”.  Not because we just celebrated Veteran’s Day or because I am particularly inspired by war movies, but because I have been researching models for effective teacher leadership.  And not-so effective models, too.  And because, for a moment there, we lost sight of our mission, just like Captain Miller’s troops.

It happened yesterday when my staff watched Sir Ken Robinson’s video clip on the relative zaniness of the American public education system. We all seem to share a common loathing for standardized tests and what they do to our teaching.  The absence of science and physical education and critical thinking and poetry and joy is conspicuous in our efforts to meet this year’s version of the AYP.  There is deep stress in that.

Moreover, we are healing from a self inflicted (though well-intentioned) wound since we expanded from seven multi-age classrooms to 21 in one year.  Our teachers are struggling.  Searching for support.  Venting. Identifying their frustrations and cursing our commitment to innovation.  And cursing me for promoting the idea in the first place.  Fair enough.

But in the emotions of the moment during our weekly staff meeting when all of our teachers’ patience was at the boiling point, we all forgot that our school is driven by a mission.  Eleven years ago we vowed to get 90% of our students to grade level. At the time, only 19% were there.  That was considered par for our demographics- a low income school 7 miles from the border to Tijuana. But we knew that our students and families and teachers were better than that.  We knew our students had it in them.  We knew our kids would be saddled by low expectations for the rest of their lives unless we changed the culture of achievement at our school and throughout our community.  And so we did.  And now 70% are proficient…and climbing.

Our mission is decent and worthy.  We are not inspired by NCLB or the superintendent or the fear of being labeled an underperforming school.  We are driven, purely, by the boundless potential of our students.

So we promote authentic teacher leadership and democratic models of decision making because we believe that that is the pathway to achieving our goals.  It is the way in which we will get that final 20% proficient.  There is no other roadmap.  No one person has the “right answer’ so we count on all of our teachers to share their expertise for the good of the whole.  It just seems like lately we have gotten distracted by the challenges of implementing  large scale change and we have lost our acuity for identifying the alternative tactics and strategies necessary to move forward.  It is killing morale.  It is testing our resolve.

In the end I am sure Sir Ken Robinson is right and we are all complicit in the destruction of America’s system of public education because we defer to the standardized test.  But that is the game we are in.  That’s the deal. Even when the troops are restless. Sometimes leadership is pointing the compass back to “true north” and holding on to the rudder for all you are worth.

There is a scene in “Saving Private Ryan where Captain Miller’s battalion disintegrates into a dangerous rabble of griping hot heads armed to the teeth and threatening to shoot each other. They had had enough of ‘the mission’.  But he stood his ground in the midst of the chaos. He was calm and decisive.  And for the sake of dramatic effect and unity of purpose, he reminded them all of their lives back home.  Earlier, they had placed bets on what their captain did for a living.  Remember his answer?

He was a high school history teacher.  Mission-driven. A model of teacher leadership.

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CRUCIBLE

Three weeks remain in the 2009-10 school year an we have just finished testing. We expect to see significant growth over the year before and we expect the schools down the street will  have gotten even more growth and we will be reminded that the schools down the street did it right and we are somehow not as efficient or effective or committed or skilled or blessed or insightful or something.

In the meantime, we also moved the ball down the field on our plan to implement more multi-age classrooms and transform our teaching. We are preparing to return to a curriculum that inspires our children to think and create and spring out of bed in the morning and race down the street to El Milagro because there are things happening here that are worth learning.  In the post-test celebration our students danced on the playground and I was reminded how much I miss seeing them find their rhythm.

Along the way we even challenged ourselves to find a solution to that stubborn dilemma that all teachers face in June: what to do with the kids that aren’t ready for the next grade.  Retain them? Socially promote them?  Transfer them to the schools down the street that have all the answers?

We decided that no one zeros in on student needs like we do.  We decided that we wouldn’t have to retain or socially promote kids that weren’t ready… if we just get them all ready!  And since kids learn and develop on their own time , we decided we would give each struggling learner their own timeline and gameplan for promotion… and multi-age classrooms allow us to do that.

So much is happening at El Milagro… even in the face of opposition and cynicism that we are somehow cheating or taking short cuts.  If you read this blog you know… we are totally focussed on finding a better way.  So we dip, even for a moment, into the fires, searching for that wisdom that even those schools down the street might learn from us.

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TOOKIE’S REDEMPTION

The death penalty is barbaric.  I read today that in the middle east they are going to execute a guy for too many spiritual musings on his television show.  He got in a little too deep with the mystics.

But how is it any better here in America? In 2005, the state of California executed Tookie Williams.  He was one of the founders of the Crips and along his journey towards becoming an educator and author of children’s stories and a living model for staying out of gangs… San Quentin finally pulled the trigger.

Somehow, I don’t feel any safer that Tookie Williams was executed.  In fact, as a citizen of California, I felt complicit in his execution because we the people decide these things.

Then I read in the San Diego Union Tribune this morning that the state’s system for the “death penalty” is essentially broken.  That Tookie Williams was one of only 13 death row inmates actually executed since 1978.  Apparently far more people die on death row from natural causes– which I actually feel better about.  Except for the fact that the state spends $137.7 million dollars a year to sustain it’s “death penalty” option.  By contrast, to manage cases toward a verdict of “life without parole” costs only $11.5 million dollars a year.  So the seldom-actually-used death penalty in California costs 10 times what it costs to sentence an inmate to “life without parole”.

You know where I am going with this?

One of my students at USD posted a great piece on our class blog in which she examined the overall prison system in comparison to public education.

Over the last twenty years, state spending on prisons has increased by 40% while spending on higher education has decreased by 30 percent (Williams, 2007).  Today in California, 11 percent of the state budget goes to prisons while only 7.5 percent goes towards higher education.

We will spend  $7,000 per student at El Milagro, but it will cost $90,000 to keep inmates incarcerated on death row!

Seems like we have our priorities ass backwards again.  And it seems like an easy fix.  It will be far easier to sustain and improve public education if we dismantle the costly and barbaric business of capital punishment.

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Filed under California budget, education spending, El Milagro, public education, Uncategorized