Back In The Saddle Again

I recently retired after a 38 year career in public education. The last 11 years, I worked as an administrator for a district in Montana. I was not “a good fit” there. In a blog post written when I retired, I stated that “the best days of my life haven’t happened yet, and I don’t intend to spend them growing old.” I concluded that post, “Maybe, someplace, I will again be ‘a good fit.”

I have found that place, and am back in the game!

I am a Teacher Assistant at a local public charter school. We are a PK-12 school, I am working at the MS/HS campus.

So what does it mean to be “a good fit?”

Ask yourself these questions:

* When was the last time you felt really listened to?

* When was the last time you felt that anything you said made a meaningful difference?

* When was the last time the work you did felt really valued?

* When was the last time you felt that your efforts contributed to winning?

* When was the last time you could connect your specific actions to school results?

If your answers don’t excite you, you are not alone. Only 30% of employees are fully engaged (Gallup Annual Employee Poll). The vast majority of our human talent is not showing up to innovate, create, build, change, and find better ways of doing things.

During my tenure in Montana, I was part of the 70%. And I was not a good fit.

What would happen if we reversed the numbers? Think of teams you have been on, and meetings you have been in, where the majority of the people were fully immersed and engaged. How productive were you and the team? How much faster did tasks get completed? How much fun did you have?

Prior to moving to Montana, I was part of some elite schools and districts. The paragraph above describes what it was like to work in those positions. I was a good fit, then.

And I am once again, “a good fit.”

The school is quite different from where I worked in Montana, but not very different from one of the elite schools I led elsewhere in Colorado.

According to the Opportunity Atlas: Mapping Childhood Roots of Social Mobility, recently published by researchers from Harvard and Brown Universities, and the US Census Bureau, median family income in our attendance area for Hispanic families, which make up 95% of our enrollment, is $30,000/year. College graduate rate is 24%, employment rate is 73%. Given the income level, the jobs don’t pay exceedingly well.

The local public school district where we are located has been on the Colorado Department of Education Watch List for the last 8 years, and recently became the first district in state history to be ordered by the Colorado State Board of Education to find an outside management group to take over district operations. Obviously, they have not been doing very well with their students, despite the best efforts of a whole bunch of well-meaning people.

Our school opened in 2005. As an open, public charter school, any student in the local district is eligible to enroll with us. Our current demographics: Total enrollment just under 1,000. 94% are Hispanic, 86% qualify for free/reduced meals, (as such, both breakfast and lunch are free for all students), 74% are identified ELL.

On the most recent Colorado Measures of Academic Success, the state report card, our school significantly outperformed the local public district on every measure, and exceeded state averages on virtually all measures at every grade level, including PSAT and SAT scores. Needless to say, we have more than a few “Championship Banners” decorating our buildings.

And there is a waiting list of students wanting to be enrolled with us.

Obviously, we are not a typical school. Our students, and their environment, require that some things must be done differently in order to be effective. If the traditional, typical practices worked, the local district would not be currently negotiating with someone to come on board and take over.

Not really different that what we were looking at in 1993 when we created the Student Centered School program in Center, Colorado.

We don’t look like very many other schools. And I am fine with that. We don’t have their enrollments. What we are doing is working for us.

We are built around an environment of academic success. Every senior is required to apply to multiple colleges, our Commons Area is now decorated with pictures of the senior class, along with the names of the various colleges where they have already received acceptance letters. In addition to our academic focus, we also focus on the the Traits of: Character; Excellence; Nobility; Vision; and Valor. One of them is stressed each week, each school day starts with an assembly where the trait of the week highlighted. Not unlike the Work Ethic Skills that we emphasized at the Central Educational Center when I led the high school programs there and we were a National Model High School.

We are blessed with a wonderful staff who believe in our learners and what we do. It is not an easy place to work, our kids bring a bit more than completed homework with them in their backpacks every morning. But we know that we can, and are, doing all we must to break the cycles of poverty that surround us.

We are led by two very capable, young, and energetic administrators who have high expectations for all of us, and give us the resources we need to achieve them. They realize that both the adults in the building and the adolescents in the building can and will rise to the level of expectation, or fall to the level of what is tolerated. Be that a formal dress code or a level of consistently high academic performance. The key words that describe them to me are “young” and “energetic.” It is pleasure to work with them.

They see to it that I am “a good fit.” I can once again answer yes to the questions at the top of this post.

We are once again empowering our learners to become the architects of their futures rather than the victims of fate. We are once again working for a movement, not a school. Not all of us have what it takes to work in that environment, it is not for the faint of heart. While we pay it lip service, it takes a serious commitment to nurture hope and keep dreams alive in our neighborhood.

But we will continue to evolve and find success. We will end the circle of poverty that I first learned from James Baldwin and Jesse Jackson. We will leave the world better than we found it.

I’m loving going back to school.

And honored to be “a good fit” again.

And so it goes…

2 thoughts on “Back In The Saddle Again

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