Tag Archives: Mueller Charter School


crossroadsThis is the anniversary of my first blog.  I have now been blogging for a full year.  59 posts, 147 comments and countless hours and caloric expenditures of creative energy later… here I am.  Somewhere.

But this week I had an epiphany.  

On Thursday  I contributed a comment to Scott McLeod’s blog called Dangeously Irrevelevant, and somehow I think it got deleted.   He is a professor in Iowa and a frequent critic of public education and his own children’s schools. Blogs are good for asking challenging questions and he usually asks some tough ones.  But I took exception to this:

Does anyone think that we were doing a fine job of meeting the needs of underserved populations before ‘the tests?’ Have we all forgotten that school has been boring for generations?

It’s not ‘the tests.’ It’s our unwillingness and/or inability to do something different, something better.

It’s not ‘the tests.’ It’s us.

So whose schools are we talking about?  His kids go to school in Iowa for God’s sake– hardly the crucible for school reform.  Yet this is the kind of statement I see made all the time, especially from university professors who have little room to question the quality of instruction at the K-12 level. So I said, in effect, “I disagree.  We are doing something different at Mueller Charter School and it certainly isn’t boring.” And I cited our partnership with the Chula Vista Nature Center as an example.

Maybe citing Mueller Charter School is considered self-promotion on somebody else’s blog.

Maybe my objection was deleted because I used my own school, as I often do, as an example of a public school that works.

Maybe the critics of the K-12 system don’t like to acknowledge “isolated examples” of schools that work– even though charter schools exist to serve as innovative and sometimes “isolated examples” of courageous change. The way I see it, one example from El Milagro is as valid as criticizing the entire K-12 system on the basis of a single school in an Iowa cornfield.  

So whatever. Dangerously Irrelevant has to live up to its name.  My blog merely needs to live up to El Milagro— the miracle.

All I know is that I am investing too much time commenting and debating in this medium; I’m expending too much creative energy on trying to be a participant and build an audience for my blog.  

I have a school to run.  I have students and staff who need my creative energy to be devoted to them. I have several book projects winding their way to completion.  And we have two extraordinarily promising projects on the drawing board that could profoundly transform our school (and any other school that pays attention to our work.)  

So this is as good a reason as any to steer my blog (and my blogging) in a different direction.  I’m just going to document the transformation from Mueller Charter School into El Milagro and leave the debating to the critics on the sideline.

As for the two projects… stay tuned.


Filed under California charter schools, El Milagro, environmental studies, public education, teaching, Uncategorized


My students speak the language of their fathers and their fathers don’t all speak English.  California is a tough place to live and go to school if you don’t speak English. dsc_0125

We have a long and inglorious history in this state of lining up groups of people in our collective sights, and then stripping them of their fundamental rights through public elections (Remember Prop 8?).  So in 1998 Californians passed a state proposition that effectively banned bilingual education.

calImagine that.  While the rest of the world continues to require two and three languages for children, our state made bilingual education all but illegal.  I wondered:  is that really what Californian’s want for their children?  And if that is what Californians really want for their kids, why is a foreign language still a requirement for the vaunted University of California system?

And just in case any schools had ideas about ignoring the law (like, of course, we did at El Milagro), along comes NCLB  to squeeze every existing bilingual program that might still be operating in the state.

Because in California, the state board of education determined that children must take the state assessments in English. No exceptions.

parkingjpeg1So like all of their native US-born, monolingual, English-Only counterparts, our English learners have to demonstrate mastery of such things as reading comprehension, word analysis, mathematical operations, number sense, algebra and writing conventions.  They have to demonstrate that they know and can do what any child at their grade level should be able to do according to grade level standards.  And they have to do it in a foreign language called English. 

And of course the results matter.  Their school could fail to achieve the AYP goals for English language learners if they don’t get enough right answers on their test.  Their school could become a “Program Improvement School.”  There could be sanctions.  There could be consequences for their teachers and their principals. 

But that’s not all.

Schools with a high percentage of students struggling to learn English typically end up with a lower Academic Performance Index…

Results are published in the local media and the API of each school is compared and contrasted… 

calif-dist-schoolReal estate companies utilize sites like greatschools.net to market properties and neighborhoods with the highest scores…

Prospective new families then move to areas where they perceive there are the best schools…

…While communities with disproportionately large numbers of  English language learners  continue to experience declining enrollment, de facto racial and ethnic segregation, and high mobility.   

It’s a tough cycle to reverse. So schools, out of necessity, abandon their bilingual programs and opt for full English immersion and the bigoted doctrine of  “English-Only” wins. 

But isn’t there a better way? If you really want to assess what a child has learned , do so in the language with which they have the greatest degree of literacy– like the 14 other states (including Texas and New York) already do. 

If you are still unconvinced, please take the simple quiz below.  There are only three questions and if you are an educator or a parent or a concerned citizen—you have the answers!  Just imagine that your school’s reputation, your future, the entire social/cultural/economic fabric of your community depends on your score.  No pressure.  Relax and do your best—even if the quiz is in a foreign language:

Question Number 1:



Если ваша профессиональная репутация, ваша школа рейтинга, и будущее ваших учеников были все зависит от детей, каким образом осуществляется на стандартизированных испытаний, которые приведены в иностранном языке, вы должны:

А. выступаем за то, чтобы дети предоставили оценки на их родном языке ,

B. энтузиазмом участвовать в вашей государства осуществлять в учебных злоупотреблений;

C. вид, что исход отметив делать с языком, или

D. привести ненасильственного протеста

Question Number 2:

كاليفورنيا يطالب بأن تتخذ جميع الأطفال أنصبتها المقررة باللغة الانكليزية للأسباب التالية :

أ. انها حقا جيدة للأطفال

ب. لأنها أكثر موثوقية وسيلة لتحديد ما تعلمه الأطفال

C. لأنها ستوفر معلومات قيمة والمعلمين حول ما يعرف الطلاب

د. وسوف نتأكد من الطلاب لا يملكون غير عادلة رئيس جامعة كاليفورنيا تبدأ اللغة الأجنبية

Question Number 3

Λαμβάνοντας αυτό το παιχνίδι δεν είναι ένα έγκυρο κριτήριο της τη νοημοσύνη μου, διότι:

Α. Δεν μιλούν καμία από αυτές τις γλώσσες

Β. Είναι απλά μια προσομοίωση

C. Είμαι πραγματικά πολύ έξυπνη και μόλις πήρε suckered σε αυτό το κουίζ

D. Αν όλοι μιλούσαν αγγλικά δεν θα είναι απαραίτητα αυτό το κουίζ

checkjpeg1So how did you do?  Are you in Program Improvement?  You can check your answer and the translation here  on Sunday, January 4.


Filed under charter schools, El Milagro


Last week Anne and I drove up to LA to see the legendary Neville Brothers at the House of Blues on Sunset Boulevard. The Neville Brothers have been performing together for thirty years. They started playing their own brand of New Orleans funk in the clubs on Bourbon Street and now play at jazz festivals and concert halls and venues all over the world. Wherever they want. If you have been to a Neville Brothers concert you know that they start with loyal followers standing around talking about where they last saw them play:  “I saw them with Carlos Santana” and “I saw them in a little club on the east coast” and “I saw them the last time they played at Preservation Hall.”  

And if you have seen them perform you also know they don’t leave until Aaron Neville closes the show by singing Amazing Grace.  And when Aaron Neville sings Amazing Grace, or anything for that matter, you are reminded that if all the angels in heaven channeled their voices into one human being… like some kind of celestial karaoke…  it would sound like Aaron Neville.  

I look for metaphors for excellence everywhere and of course if you can consistently make music like the Neville Brothers it’s more than just a metaphor. But as I watched them I thought about what we could learn from them.  Maybe we over-engineer our school organizations.  Maybe Mark Sanborn is right when he describes the “encore effect” in his book by the same title– “The Encore Effect: How to Achieve Remarkable Performance in Everything You Do.”  

• What keeps these people coming back to watch the Neville Brothers perform? • What makes them so loyal?
• Why do they go away and tell their friends about this near-spiritual experience?
• Why are they so enthralled that they don’t notice the little mistakes… if there are any.
• Why can you hear the same song a thousand times and never experience it the same way?

Sanborn talks about five traits associated with high level performance: 

passion, preparation, practice, presence & polish

Aside from the obvious alliteration and convenient formula, Sanborn may be on to something. Schools–like so many organizations–  have complicated the process of creating consistency and excellence.  I saw a post on the same topic on Leadertalk  the other day and had to read it five times before I got the point.

As a Baldrige alumni examiner and a Six Sigma supporter, I thought I really understood processes. Our school system had flow mapped over 100 processes. We have in-process measures linked to strategic measures. However, what I am discovering is that I knew just enough to be dangerous. I have a number of examples where working on the measures of one process have actually negatively impacted other processes. Working on processes while continuing to manage the organization through a function based organization chart often leads to fragmentation, lack of alignment, and unintended consequences.

With a process management approach, our school system is moving away from a traditional function centered organization into a process centered organization. 

Holy smokes. It doesn’t have to be that complicated. Just listen to Yellow Moon and recognize that people have a thousand compelling choices of what to do along Sunset Boulevard on Saturday night. And given all of those choices they are right where they want to be. And what they are hearing, however sophisticated, is not a by-product of Six-Sigma methodology introduced to the bayou. It’s passion and polish.  

Likewise, Mueller Charter School is a school of choice. We are El Milagro or nothing at all. Parents come back or they do not. They stand for the encore and take pictures with their cell phones and scream until the musicians come back out on to the stage. Or they walk away. And they take their children with them.

So prepare as if you are scheduled to play at the House of Blues tonight. You have to enjoy your own music. Play for the fun of it. And sing like the angels approve.  


Filed under Uncategorized