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Dead cats and crafts…

December 6, 2008

I usually come home from a day at ARTech with two or three images from the day clear in my memory.  Often, these are images that struck me enough in the moment to cause me to grab my handyimg_0253 pocket-size camera and save for a blog posting.   So, on the screen in front of you are images of a student engaged in a conference with two advisors (taken from down the hallway, I liked the combination of informality and serious focus of the participants),  a group of high school students dissecting cats in Tami’s anatomy seminar and a mass of middle school students creating crafts in the Great Room.img_02572

It so happened that I was giving a tour to a prospective sixth grade student and his mom yesterday morning when we encountered the cat dissection in full swing.  He certainly liked it – although mom was less enthused!   It occured to me that it’s pretty darn hard to define a day in the life in a project-based learning environment.  You really have to be there, which is why we encourage interested students to spend a half day shadowing before joining our school.   It’s also why I started this blog.  As well as an outlet for my ramblings on education, it hopefully gives the wider ARTech community a glimpse of the daily happenings.

Last week I was once again reminded that the media has to be continually cautioned about trying to pigeon hole or too narrowly define charter schools.  I spent two days last week at St. Thomas University participating in a charter school leadership institute.    Alongside other charter school leaders, I was put through a fairly rigorous series of img_0259activities – all recorded and documented – that were designed to highlight my leadership strengths and areas for improvement.   During one group activity, I shared a table with leaders from an online charter school (800 + students) and the director of a charter school serving a population of deaf and hearing impaired students (30 – 40 pupils).     In many ways, we couldn’t be more different and yet, all three were successful charter schools with a mission to serve a population of students that wanted an alternative to the traditional model.    Hence the problem with the narrow focus of some of the reports on charter schools in recent newspaper articles.   They miss the point of a movement that was designed to provide innovation in education and meet the needs of an ever  diverse population.   I was delighted yesterday to read a more balanced commentary in the Star Tribune.  Sean Kershaw, in a piece entitled The Debate Over Schools is Framed Improperly explores the risk of an ill-informed debate that takes cheap shots at individual charter schools. As I clumsily tried to articulate in my last posting,  he points out that this should not be allowed to become a media-led “districts v. charters” battle.  It’s worth a read.   

In a conversation with T (former ARTech teacher, current parent, current board member – he’s worth listening too!) last night, he told me of previous initiatives at ARTech to establish some sort of Ambassadors Group that gives a voice to what we are trying to accomplish at our small school.  I’m excited to explore this idea further and will be initiating meetings with parents in the next few weeks.  It’s time to clearly articulate our purpose and parents in our school community can be the most important of advocates.   The topic of charter schools is going to be a big one in the 2009 legislature and, as Kershaw argues, the conversation needs to be framed around how we serve students, how we provide authentic choice  and how we seek the improvement of all public education.

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