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253“Let it be known that, as of January 20, 2017, the undersigned staff of Mueller Charter School and Bayfront Charter High School declares our K-12 school community to be a safe haven and a sanctuary for all students and their families; it is our collective resolve to protect and insulate every individual from persecution, harassment, hate speech or intimidation.”

Simple as that.  Our Safe Haven Initiative.  We declare that at least our two schools–Bayfront and Mueller, will be sanctuaries against anything that the trump,inc. government can bring.

Well, almost anything.

At the very least, this resolution is a strategic response to the climate of heightened fear and anxiety that now exists for many school-aged students and their families;  to the intolerant rhetoric made over the course of the 2016 presidential race; and to the steady increase in hate speech at public and private K-12 schools across the United States of America. Among other things, trump,inc. promised to end an executive order that granted temporary status to immigrant students living in the country illegally. During his campaign, he also promised to launch a “deportation force” and withhold federal funding from sanctuary cities.

He has already built his wall.

The president elect, and the cadre of bigots, blowhards and billionaires that he has selected to serve in his administration, have collectively made statements that are denigrating to women, immigrants, Latinos, African Americans, LGBT, Moslems, people with special needs, and even veterans. Our school community is a rainbow comprised of all of these groups and we happen to be unapologetically committed to diversity, inclusion, and justice for all students.

In recent weeks, the College for All Coalition, with the support of more than 120 other organizations, has been urging California educators at both the K-12 and university level to stand with them in defiance of any effort from federal authorities to harass our students or families.  So we are standing:






We are designating both of our charters as “Sanctuary Schools”  

–Specifically, we will refuse to comply with immigration authorities regarding deportations and raids, and will refuse to allow any immigration agents onto our school campuses without a judicial warrant.

–We will guarantee privacy of all our stakeholders and will refuse to release information regarding the immigration status of students, staff, or community members.

–We will continue to assist our families, as we have always done,  with resources and services such as immigration legal assistance, mental health counseling, and undocumented student support programs.

We will strategically allocate resources to promote diversity, inclusion, and intergroup harmony.

We will provide the tools, training and resources to nurture a learning environment free from bullying and discrimination. In the face of intolerance, we will make sure that every adult that works in our schools has the information and training they need to be effective advocates for all students.

We Vow to Protect All Students from Bullying, Intimidation, Harassment, or Discrimination

We will insure that every staff member understands and enforces state and federal laws regarding bullying, intimidation, harassment, or discrimination on the basis of protected categories, including actual or perceived immigration status, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation.

–If and when such incidents of harassment do occur, our schools will take prompt action to ensure accountability and justice through restorative justice and other approaches that focus on repairing the harm caused to the victim and the wider community.

–Counseling and other supportive services will be provided to victims, but also made more broadly available to all of our students.

–We will compile data on every incident of bullying, intimidation, harassment, or discrimination on the basis of the protected categories listed above.

We will Promote Civic Literacy as a School-Wide Theme: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Our students will need to find their own voice.  They must know their history, their civil rights, and the promise of both the State and Federal Constitution.  They must learn how to monitor their government and their world. They must learn how to research and read critically and distinguish between propaganda and the truth.  They must learn to speak up, advocate, defend, protest, and organize when they observe social injustices around them.

We will Challenge Every Student to Rise to Their Academic Potential and Compete on Merit

 We can’t rely on any special accommodations or assistance to be structured into external school or social systems. Our students must demonstrate—by every measure– a profound capacity for academic excellence. They have to learn to compete on an uneven playing field… and they have to excel.

America will change on January 20.  We are taking no chances. While we’ve never had to organize to protect our students from their own president, we have also never experienced such a hostile takeover.

We’ve never had to fortify the walls of holy ground, or declare our house of learning: a  sanctuary.









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Power and Privilege and the Boiling Frog

“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America, the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.”–A Nation at Risk, 1983


All schools have a choice. My schools have a choice. Bayfront Charter High School and Mueller are at a familiar crossroads, and the world is not waiting. On January 20, Trump will begin to govern as he promised and we can prepare our students to compete in that game or we can soldier on—business as usual.

And as usual, we ain’t taking that chance.

Inside my building are Latinos, immigrants, girls, African Americans, LGBT kids, Moslems, Jews and children of democrats. At least that describes 99% of them. And of those, 85% qualify for the free federal lunch program on the basis of their parents’ income. They are–if we falter– the next generation’s working poor. And they are all in our new government’s crosshairs to either deport or demoralize.

America’s educational system has experienced multiple defining moments during which sweeping social or political events have led to ideological and transformational change in the direction of our schools.

Think US History 101:

In the earliest days of our country’s founding, there was a clear religious motive behind teaching kids to read. As waves of Christians colonized the new world, they brought their Bibles and handed down their favorite verses to children who were expected to spread the good news. After the Revolutionary War and the subsequent ratification of the US Constitution, our Founders banked on an “informed citizenry” to nurture and grow the new experiment in democratic governance .

Fast forward 100 years and the industrial revolution churned kids out of farms and prairie schools and into factories that prepared kids for the factories.


Then in 1958, the Russians launched a rocket into space, and the subsequent race to the heavens was on. Sputnik scared the crap out of America’s post-WWII “Greatest Generation” who realized in the span of one evening newscast—that their kids had somehow been passed up in math and science. So the education pendulum swung to math and science with a vengeance—and schoolkids paid.

Then there was the Civil Rights era. The malaise of the 70’s. Forced desegregation and bussing and waves of white flight to suburbs and private schools. And education was the medium for maintaining the sociocultural and economic advantage that was a perceived birthright of white families.

The ominous warning of “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 unleashed the pendulum again. Reagan’s ‘rising tide of mediocrity’.

Then the Apple IIe drove a whole generation of post-Viet Nam War era teachers to ask “what am I supposed to do with an Apple IIe?” And they used them as door stops on the theory that this too shall pass.

By the early 2000’s Bush had appropriated no child left behind from the Children Defense Fund and we were awash in still another pet project of Republicanism: “back to basics” and the core belief that what we really need to do in schools is just test the hell out of kids and fire the teachers and the schools that can’t produce evidence of extraordinary achievement.

Public education. America’s whipping boy. Always something.

So now what?

George Bush’s “soft bigotry of low expectations” has given way to trump’s straight up, bold-face racism. And our students have heard every word.

ap_77642174753What is the purpose of schooling in a trumpian culture where bluster and lies and bullying and misogyny are rewarded with keys to the White House; when shadowy election schemes and gerrymandering and voter suppression and an archaic electoral “college” are intentionally designed to undermine democracy; when in 2016 it is harder for citizens to cast their ballot then it was in the era of poll taxes and literacy requirements; when it is impossible for citizens to believe that their vote is even really counted; when half our nation considers it anarchy to remind ourselves that black lives matter?

unknownRemember the parable of the boiling frog:

If you place a frog in a pan of hot water– he’ll jump right out. But if you place that same  frog in a pan of cold water, then bring it gradually to a boil—he will be oblivious to the changing temperature. Pretty soon it’s too freaken hot to jump!

Our schools move too often like the boiling frog. They wait until it is too late to jump, and for our children, even generations at a time, the results are fatal.

One thing this past election has taught us is that our students need the skills to navigate a massive sea of propaganda and misinformation that seems to routinely persuade the adults to vote against their own best interests. They need a discerning eye that separates entertainment from “the truth”; that rejects Facebook’s brand of political discourse and revives the tradition of deep critical thinking and informed debate.

They need to compete in a workforce that demands higher levels of thinking, innovation, and entrepreneurialism.

They will need to find their generation’s “true North”. And then their voice. And then a spirit of activism which is in their DNA: empathy, vigilance, authentic patriotism, and advocacy for others.

Our kids will need the armor of resiliency– in the face of an apparent national sentiment that their success, their future…their very lives may not matter at all.

So in our school at least, at Bayfront Charter high School, EVERY student will be…

  • Ready for college whether they go there or not; and they will be
  • Equipped with the real 21st Century skills: including the ability to think, create, communicate and play nice with others; and they will be
  • Masters of technologies that are befitting of digital natives; and
  • Keen and curious observers of their community– with a depth of civic literacy and   global awareness; and finally, they will be
  • Beneficiaries of learning that is confined by neither time nor space.

In defiance of who this president promises to be, we will be proactive. The water’s on the boil… but our children rise.


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Liberty’s Re-teachable Moments


“Struggle is a never ending process,” said Coretta Scott King. “Freedom is never really won– you earn it and win it in every generation.”

And so it was on September 11, 2001, when America woke up from its gentle malaise to a very uncertain new world order and a decade of endless war.

Similarly, the election of Donald Trump on November 8, 2016, has scorched the landscape for– among many others– our children of color.

Our first African American president will be replaced by a blustering bully appealing to the worst nature in all of us. 3 steps forward. 5 Steps back.

imagesAs educators, we don’t know what it is all ultimately going to mean. But we know what he has said. He called Mexicans “rapists”, advocated for a ban on all Muslims, argued that a federal judge was unqualified because he was a Mexican, and questioned the citizenship (and thus the legitimacy) of our first African American President throughout his two terms of service. “Why won’t he show us his birth certificate?” asked Trump– as if he were citizen/slavemaster.

And of course, he promised to send millions of immigrants back to whatever hopelessness they fled to get here. “I’m gonna build a wall,” he promised. “I’m gonna send em all back.”  That’s what our children heard. That’s what they saw. And for many, he’s talking about their parents and grandparents.

And we know what his actions mean too.

His first appointments as President-elect included a governor who passed some of the nation’s most discriminatory laws against the LGBT community in his home state; an avowed white nationalist; a Southern KKK sympathizer who has challenged the Constitutional principle of birthright citizenship; and a retired general who has echoed Trump’s own threat to ban an entire religion from US soil.

All of this…while the nation’s most respected media outlets intensified their light on conflict of interest laws, international business ties, and the specter of an American president mired in graft and corruption. Trump’s response is to rail against the messenger. Indignant. Entitled.

And even children begin to wonder why he wanted to be President. Why he wants to be King.

We can’t predict the future or how our nation will move to protect its citizens. We only know what we know:  that the civil rights of others can be sold for votes. And in the 15 days since the red states spoke— we know, that Coretta Scott King was right. Again.


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What The Red States Teach Us


I’m at the tail end of the election-induced grief cycle… and that grief has yielded to action. So I have dusted off this blog page to channel my rage and trepidation– for however long it roils.

I hate what our country did on Election Day. I hate the fascist monster that was elected, and the frightening nest of characters he is weaving in to critical roles… and I will fight every day to the protect the civil rights of my friends and students.

But today… I looked in the mirror and realized just how complicit I may have been in this debacle. We learned that this was–in part, at least–  a revolution of disaffected voters who put their own economic interests ahead of the moral and cultural arc of our nation.

Their disaffection must be profound. And it is. And at least on one level, it is owed to the schools they attended– because their disaffection was, at the core, as much about job preparation… as it was about disappearing jobs.

Alvin Toffler said:  “Our job is not just to prepare students for the future… it is to prepare them for the RIGHT future.”

And this is where my epiphany lies.

In 2014, I founded Bayfront Charter High School in the heart one of the most economically depressed pockets of Chula Vista. 95% of my students are children of color—90% are Latino and 85% qualify for free and reduced lunch. A healthy percentage of those are the subject of the country’s rage about immigration and building walls (which by the way we already have.) This school is organized around preparing our students for College and Career pathways that they might not have otherwise discovered in the other overcrowded neighborhood high schools. And that’s the backdrop for this election.

In the run-up to Election Day 2016, I was, like most Americans, shocked and outraged (and at times amused) by trump’s antics and vitriol. I tuned in every night for the latest daily outrage waiting for him and the Republican cabal to implode.  Then, just as we settled in to celebrate the election of America’s first female President and dismiss trump to the footnotes of history, the nightmare unfolded. I was numb. And livid. I had dismissed trump’s backers as bigots– but that was too simple an analysis.

So I started connecting the dots…

This is the electoral map:



Bayfront Charter High School sits squarely in the blue on the southwest corner of the United States. All that red? Those are the middle class/working class voters we heard so much about. The white, male, non-college educated citizens of Michigan, Alabama, rural Florida and points in between. The ones that were so angry about lost jobs that trump could have thrown babies off a roof top on one of his reality tv shows and they still would have voted for him. It’s the economy, dumb ass!

The problem, however, isn’t necessarily the scarcity of jobs in that red sea.

It’s a lack of jobs that align with the skill sets and education level of the available work force. In fact, according to America’s Divided Recovery: College Haves and Have Nots, 2016– published by the Georgetown Center on Education and The Workforce, “a quarter-century of U.S. economic growth under Democrats and Republicans alike has added 35 million net new jobs.”


But the number of jobs held by Americans with only a high school diploma or less has fallen by 7.3 million. The disparity is striking. The country has experienced a doubling of jobs for Americans with a four-year college degree, while the number of jobs for those with a high school diploma or less has fallen by 13 percent.”


This trump can’t bring jobs back to an unskilled or undereducated work force. But that’s his problem.  And theirs.

Meanwhile, the large swath of blue on the two coasts is not coincidental. California is the largest state in the union and the strongest driver of our nation’s economy… fueled by rapid innovation in technology, energy, and STEM in general. And many of the companies driving that growth—can’t find enough skilled candidates—American or otherwise—to keep up with the job opeings.

It’s not just a demand for folks with a specific degree– it’s the degree plus some very distinctive skills: like the ability to adapt, solve problems, collaborate, make stuff, innovate, and exercise creative and critical thinking.

Those skills. Soft skills. The ones we have been talking about since the SCANS report of the 1990’s. The ones that the Common Core actually demands and develops. And the ones that are still not front and center in our schools. The ones required in every community of America that can’t quite figure out how to reinvent itself– short of importing a regional arm of Amazon.

So at Bayfront, we are sharpening our focus around preparing our students for the right future.

Yes, they live in a country filled with racism and intolerance that has bubbled to the surface– and at least for the moment it is personified by our bigot-in-chief.  They are the very students who trump wants to deport and to whom he would deny fundamental civil and constitutional rights.

But we intend to fight; to launch our own counter-revolution to assure that the cultural direction of our high school positions our students to compete in an entrepreneurial economy.  We intend to prepare every student to achieve whatever they imagine…whether its a career in Silicon Valley, or their own community,  or one right there in the White House.



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Napalm in the Mourning

I’m pissed.

I’m disgusted.

Americans have elected a monster and they are jubilant.

The adjectives are endless. Authoritarian. Racist. Bigot. Mysogynist. Narciscist.


He has come from the same party that gave us George W. Bush and the inevitable world chaos that spun from 9-11 into an endless war that had been planned long before he became Cheyney’s puppet.

He has been elected by otherwise good people who would wave this ugly flag with the sole objective of denying Hillary Clinton the presidency.


The republican party has aligned itself around a man so vile that even their own leaders are repulsed. They pushed a few predictable candidates out on the stage and Trump annhialated them by saying things that—in previous years— would have lead to instant revulsion and elimination from serious contention for any public office—let alone the Presidency. Think George Wallace. Think David Duke.

Anything to deny Ms. Clinton.

The entire party is complicit in this. They smeared Hillary with every possible lie they could muster—as they would have even if one of their other weaklings would have been selected: Vince Foster, Whitewater, Lewinsky, Benghazi, emails. Hundreds of millions of dollars, senate investigations, and

Liar… criminal… unethical… unaccountable… above the law…

So she will not be President. Trump will be. And I am disgusted. I hate that this has happened in our country. This is beyond politics.

When Americans voted for George W. Bush, they did so fully knowing that he was maleable and not real bright. But he ran on the illusion of family values and the right to life and all the platitudes of phony evangelicalism— in spite of the Constitution’s commitment to the separation of church and state. When Cheney appointed himself vice president, and the right wing arm of the Supreme Court anointed them all in 2000—we should have known we were in for trouble. And it started on September 11.

When Obama was elected in 2008 Republicans vowed to block him at every turn and undermine and emasculate his presidency—and they stayed true to their promise. To justify their treasonous opposition they peddled the lie that he wasn’t an American and that his Presidency was illegitimate. He served 8 years and made some mistakes—but led our nation out of the deep deep ditch into which Bush ran our nation.

He succeeded in spite of them. But he succeeded because he is honest, intelligent and deeply committed to serving all Americans—including (and especially) the haters.  Obama has righted the ship in the face of very public opposition—not opposition to his ideas as much as to his race. So the counter-response is Trump. The birther.

Friends, we are all accountable for the votes we cast. If you voted for Trump, if you made an “informed and rational” decision that he is best suited to lead our nation, then whatever happens next is on you.

You knew full well that he promised to build a wall on our Southern border, to deport millions of American born children, and to ban immigrants from the United States on the basis of their religion and you voted for him anyway.  You heard him express disdain for woman, people of color, veterans, judges, media, elected senators and congressmen of both parties, and you voted for him anyway. You know he simply refused to illuminate the concerns raised by trusted journalists about the state of his financial affairs and his international ties and you voted for him anyway. You heard him bully and bullshit his way through debates and interviews and you voted for him anyway. You heard him claim to know more about our enemies than our generals do and you voted for him to be our Commander in Chief.   You listened as he defiled and embarrassed our country and you chose to award him with the presidency. You heard him threaten to use nuclear weapons, because, “that’s what they’re there for.”

And maybe all of this will be ok some day. But when democracy is at its weakest, when people are deluged with so many lies, conspiracies and hoaxes that they begin to believe them– and when a strongman is given power he has not earned, we pave the way for fascism.

So while republicans celebrate and wave their flag and shout jingoist chants about the good old USA—it all repulses me now.  We are now supposed to respect the democratic process that he was contemptuous of.  We are supposed to suspend judgement, give him a chance, get behind the new president-elect…while he quickly assembles a transition team of alt right renegades who are as deplorable as him.

I won’t fly or salute or even possess a flag that flies above this shit pile. I wont stand or even listen to the National Anthem again until I am convinced our country has the courage to protect its own people and that the Constitution—upon which it was founded—is not trampled on by this cartoon character that poses such an existential threat to our national security and civil liberties.

This is not my America. This monster will never be my President. I’m with Kapernick.


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images-7Cheating is such an integral part of baseball culture that it is almost endearing.

Stealing bases when nobody is watching can get you into the Hall of Fame, for sure.  But I’m talking about real cheating.  Knowingly violating the rules of the game  to gain some perceived advantage– which, in baseball’s long history, takes on many forms and variations. And some are more compelling than others. Like George Brett and his pine tar bat, for example, producing one of the modern game’s most dramatic and memorable highlights.   Or the notorious spit ball.  Or Phil Niekro slipping a fingernail file into his hat so he could scratch out a better knuckleball. Or corking the bats.

images-2But then there are the extremes. Pete Rose bet on his own team.  In 1919 the Chicago White Sox accepted bribes to intentionally blow the World Series.  And more recently, there are regular accusations and suspicions about players  juicing.

Baseball is America’s game.  And so is the cheating that goes on that makes baseball baseball.

And so it was fascinating to watch the shockwaves ripple across the nation when one of our preeminent superintendents and a fistful of teachers were all indicted for their elaborate scheme to doctor their students’ test results.

The horror.  The scandal.  The betrayal. This is public education, for God’s sake.  Not baseball!


But for those of us who work in schools everyday, it should not be surprising at all that educators went to such unethical extremes to gain an advantage.  When you threaten people with their jobs, their livelihood, their professional careers… they become resourceful.  Welcome to the legacy of No Child Left Behind. High stakes testing is when you have everything to lose and nothing to gain.  When a system that we KNOW is bad for kids is treated as if it is worthy of our outrage when it is violated.

But the real question we ought to answer is this: What exactly is “cheating” when it comes to testing our kids?  When do we cross the line from stealing the catcher’s signs or corking the bats– to intentionally losing the World Series on a bribe?

This week, for example, I discovered the extreme degree to which many of the schools in my district are engaging in test prep with only three weeks remaining until the California Standards Test.  Test prep includes practicing sample test items and drilling in the strategies for how to select a correct answer in a multiple choice item.  The entire school throws out the rest of the curriculum and locks in on a single imperative.  All day.  Every day.  It’s legal.  Even encouraged with a wink– because it can definitely inflate results.

But it’s not good teaching.  It’s not good for our kids.  It doesn’t advance learning.  It doesn’t promote thinking or collaboration or communication or entrepreneurialism or any of the other 21st century skills that will soon be treated as the coin of the realm when the Common Core is ushered in.  In fact, devoting any more time at all to the various state assessment  packages that are now all but obsolete… seems to be the worst form of cheating.  It’s cheating our students of their time for authentic learning. Wasted days and weeks and months in pursuit of a mission that has nothing to do with our children’s future.

So ok… “test prep strategies “are not quite the same as calling for pizzas as you hunker down and change all of your students’ test booklets to reflect correct answers… but it’s still a hoax to pretend high test scores mean our kids are actually  learning.

imagesProfessional baseball is intensely competitive and the rewards are great for those few who excel in it.  So great in fact, that it creates a climate where cheating is inevitable.  But the game is pure and it will survive the scandal.

Educators, on the other hand, are typically driven by an instinct for service and advocacy.  Teaching a child is its own honest reward.  But NCLB was never  designed to promote performance as much as to punish the status quo.  It wasn’t really intended for teachers to improve instruction or close the achievement gap among our children- as much as it was for politicians to quantify their competing ideologies about what they believe matters in our schools.

Atlanta reminds us that we’ve lost our soul as a profession–and as a nation– not because of cheating scandals, but because we legislated the game away.


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I don’t know where the bickering has taken the lawmakers on Capital Hill.  I don’t know if we are closer to a bill that begins to slake American’s out-of-control thirst for guns.  But I found this photograph from Education Week to be chilling:


These are educators in Clifton, Texas at a shooting range. The new professional development.

Does anyone honestly think armed teachers make our school safer?

I’m thinking about  the lockdown we experienced last year when some tweaker off the streets  jumped a fence and entered one of our classrooms with a knife in his hand.  I’m thinking about how many teachers I passed on my way out to confront him in the classroom.  The look in their eye.  The terror. I have no idea how many people might have been hurt if one of those panicked teachers had whipped out a gun (they would keep it locked up, right?)… managed to load it (locked in a safe, un-loaded, right?)… aimed it at the wild-eyed  intruder and commanded him to drop his weapon.  And of course he wouldn’t have complied any more than he complied with me when I offered to escort him off the campus.

So what do naive, common citizens do when they are armed to the teeth and staring down an stranger at their school and the whole episode does not seem to go according to the script from the “School Safety Plan” or the last tv show they watched that made it all look so easy and antiseptic.

What happens when a teacher kills an un-armed visitor who poses no real threat at all?

What happens when a teacher starts spraying bullets through classroom walls into areas where other kids have “ducked and covered”?

What happens when the intruder quits laughing long enough to take her weapon away from her– and now instead of being armed with a pen knife he is armed with that freaking gun?

UnknownThe NRA has figured it out.  They know how Apple Computers benefitted from their partnership with schools (considerably more than schools benefitted!) and how the endless cycle of technology upgrades has affected their stock market fortunes. They see thousands of schools, millions of educators, and an endless stream of future customers sitting in desks learning about the Second Amendment of the Constitution. They see momentum building off of the Sandy Hook tragedy, and they want to ride it all the way to Wall Street. It’s a bull market.

They see pictures of entire school districts teambuilding out on the firing range. Target practice for God and country;  improving public education in the bargain.

Not me.  I still see that terrified look in our student’s faces as they ran out of that classroom, fleeing for their lives.  And the relief when it ended so quietly and peacefully.  No one hurt.

Nothing good will come from more guns in places where they don’t belong.  Just more red dots on the HP map depicting the number of gun deaths since Sandy Hook:


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“When you come to a fork in the road… take it.” — Yogi Berra

images-1We stand at a crossroads and I realize I’ve been here before.

If we continue to do what we are doing– to walk a curricular path that is confined to reading and math and mastering only one language — we will not die.  But many of our children will.  Just as they have during this past decade when school reform meant preparing students for standardized tests that ignore the many natural and innate ways in which kids are actually intelligent.

Or we can go back to the old road– the one we all walked through the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s when we were just kids ourselves;  where inequalities were enshrined in law and in our cultural DNA.  Remember that road?  The public school system convulsed from one legal mandate to the next trying to reflect the very Constitution we taught in social studies every day:  Brown v Bd of Education, PL94-142, Title IX, Lau v Nichols, and on. And on… until we got it (sort of) right.  In that era, there were no standards.  No expectations.  No accountability.  And little growth. Children of privilege did as well as they wanted. Children of color… not so much.  And the achievement chasm split the socioeconomic continuum like a great Grand Canyon.  There were haves.  And not.

And now there is a pathway toward the Common Core.  This is where the handwringing begins.Unknown

This is when educators fear a loss of control– as if they forgot their place in the political machinery of public education.  (Don’t you know? Public tax dollars pay for schools and salaries.  Those dollars are allocated by elected officials.  Those elected officials represent voters who demand certain actions in exchange for their votes.  Things like… schools where all children are learning what the community wants their children to learn.)

This is when the loudest voices are often from those who haven’t even read the standards, but envision a set of mind-numbing factoids that every kid will be required to swallow.  They hype their own fear.  The nationalization of learning.  The standardization of our kids.  (Wasn’t there a song about that from Pink Floyd or somebody?)

This is when educators begin to doubt their capacity to behave as they would have their students behave.

After a decade of complaints about the road we were currently on– the so-called reform road– we are beginning anew.  We are on the cusp of another full-scale transformation from basic skills and test prep academies to 21st century skills.

Never in the long (constantly changing) history of public education has there ever been a more promising opportunity to insure that every student has the skills and knowledge and values to compete and contribute in their world:  the ability to think creatively and critically, to seek relevance in daily school tasks, to readily apply new learnings to authentic problems, to communicate effectively in multiple ways and contexts and audiences.

Entrepreneurialism. Innovation. Civic Literacy. Activism. Voice.



At the crossroads, there is angst in the air.  There always is.

But when you come to that fork in the road…

*     *     *

• More from Kevin W. Riley at the official website of The Milagro Publications

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Filed under 21st Century Skills, California charter schools, Common Core State Standards, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gifted children, innovation and change, public education, school reform, standardized testing, teaching, technology in schools, Uncategorized

TRADING MACS FOR GLOCKS: A Twisted Vision and the New Frontier

gunsWe’re trading in our Macs. We don’t need them anymore.

Trading our laptops too. We have thwarted the nascent rise of iPads. Now. Before they become too familiar.

I mean, what good is digital literacy if some sinister shadow drops in out of the sky to shoot up the school. And we all know it happens. We all feel that sense of dread lingering, remotely familiar, like the acrid cloud of cafeteria food prepped daily for a thousand kids. We all read the headlines:

L.A. School District Buys 14 Semi-Automatic Rifles To Protect Students

Southern California Schools Get High-Powered Rifles

GOP Lawmaker Wants High Schools To Teach Kids To Shoot

Mother Writes $12,000 Check For Armed Guard At Daughter’s Elementary School

5-Year-Old Suspended For Pink Bubble Gun Threat

Duncan: You Can’t Teach Kids Scared Of Being Killed

The School Where Nearly Every Student Has Experienced Gun Violence

18 States Already Allow Guns In Schools With Few Restrictions

Utah Teacher Wants To Carry Gun Without Telling Parents, Students

Minnesota Teacher Brings Loaded Gun To School For Fear Of Newtown Shooting

Our fences cannot rise any higher and still stand against the wind. We have rows of metal detectors. Our children remove their shoes for inspection as if they were boarding an airplane. They know the drill. We scope their pockets and their backpacks. We x-ray their intent. They are each sworn daily to refrain from brandishing arms. At least in any menacing way. It is our new and collective oath of allegiance to protect one another from mutual annihilation.

We are America’s most innovative school. We are widely renown as the first in any line of early adopters. First to be wired. First to go viral. First to poke holes in the internet firewall. We used to camp out for iPhones but we can’t afford dual priorities: upgrade learning technology or arm to the teeth?

So we invest in the latter. Once secure in our conviction that Macs were superior to IBM’s, we now know what we know: Apple expenditures are so pre-Newtown.


So we have glocked up. Every kid. Every teacher.

We ripped out the fitness stations that lined our running track and installed target shooting pods. They are creative. Colorful. They lend themselves to seamless integration of the so-called 21’st Century Skills– to which we have now unilaterally added: “Mastery of Firepower.”

Our students may be prone to childhood obesity and Type II diabetes, but they can freakin’ shoot. And besides, are you going to be the one to tell them they are fat?

Our “Gun Free Zone” is the registration counter, where in exchange for enrolling here you get your guns for free. (Ammunition clips are provided at no cost– however, any modifications are subject to the discretion of individual families.) Frankly, I worry about that policy. In the name of equity, is it fair that some families can afford state-of-the-art ammo packs while others can not? Are we perpetuating another national divide of “haves” and “have more pop”?

teacherOf course, without trained teachers, what good is an entire student body strapped to their sidearms?

So on minimum days we target and crouch and shoot and load and afterwards debrief. There’s a lot of peer coaching. A lot of self reflection and goal setting. We feel morally obligated to out-shoot the kids.  And so we do.

As of late, we are frequently invited to present break-out sessions at state and national conferences: “Shooting Straight:  How Schools Can Target the Real Common Core Priorities.” And: “The New Literacy Standards: How Guns at School Somehow Sharpen Everyone’s Listening and Speaking Skills.”

We’ve done keynotes. Workshops. Webinars. TED-talks. Book signings.

This year we intend to run a booth when ASCD merges with the NRA at the the national gun show in Las Vegas.

And while our academic metrics have virtually imploded, our kids and our staff generally feel good about themselves. We feel like pioneers of the old west. Revolutionaries. And we feel safer in the bargain. Sort of.

Now that we have a baseline established, we can afford to debate whether glocks are enough. We are nothing if not professionally diligent. We are an ever-visionary and forward thinking lot:

“What if Sunnyside arms their kids with higher caliber weapons?”

“How do we keep up with the inevitable modifications and weaponry upgrades– say…Glocks 2.0.?”

“If we hire a sniper coach, where should we place him or her on the salary scale? And would she have to be credentialed?”

“What happens when we discover that we’ve been  left behind in the arms race?”

Taken together the questions are chilling. Where’s the leadership?

So I sidle into my office and remove my firearms as I sit at my desk to Google updates on best practices. I reach for my laptop when I am reminded– that we traded our technology for glocks.  It’s gone.


More  from Kevin W. Riley…

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Filed under children at risk, education spending, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gun violence, health care, Human-Centered Design, innovation and change, public education, school reform, technology in schools, Uncategorized, zero tolerance policies



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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Filed under charter schools, children at risk, El Milagro, Fighting for Ms. Rios, gifted children, health care, public education, resiliency, school reform, spiritual intelligence, Uncategorized, zero tolerance policies