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Superman #2 – The Pit in my Stomach

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superman-2-the-pit-in-my-stomach.jpgTwo weeks ago I posted a reflection on Waiting for Superman with a pit in my stomach. Let me explain … SVP had a real-life Superman-like experience at Cleveland High School.

We invested in them from 2001-06 and for 3 or 4 years it was a “home run,” powerful work being done by a lot of community members – parents, teachers, funders, leaders, STUDENTS – to get Cleveland back on the right trajectory. SVP funded the Info Tech Academy at Cleveland High School.  The basic model of a career academy is the creation of a small school environment organized around a career theme. Students are part of a smaller learning community that integrates the career theme with core subjects. Because teachers work with a narrow set of students over a longer period of time, the career academy creates a focused, attentive environment that heightens students’ sense of relevancy, motivation and potential for academic success.

In 2003 Cleveland transformed itself from a comprehensive high school model into 3 small schools, of which Info Tech was one.  At the end of their senior year, every student in the Info Tech Academy had applied to college. Re-read that last sentence. This was a huge breakthrough for Cleveland .. Cleveland’s school culture was changing into one characterized by increased academic rigor and high expectations for all students.  For the first time in Cleveland’s history, students were choosing to attend Cleveland, a school that had previously been “last choice” for many students.  The Info-Tech Academy was widely seen as the catalyst for many positive changes, but …

… although the Info Tech Academy appeared to be flourishing , there were persistent challenges.  One of the key challenges was scheduling.  Another ongoing challenge was appropriately staffing the Academy.  Lack of sustained administrative leadership.  The Steering Committee faced obstacles due to dysfunctions at the district. By fall 2005, it was apparent to the Steering Committee of community members that Info Tech was not getting adequate support and attention . In January 2006 Info Tech, as we once knew it, was no longer in operation at a level that the Steering Committee could endorse in good faith. Although SVP’s lead partner and many other partners and community members devoted considerable time and energy to the project, their involvement could not overcome the lack of accountability and bureaucratic challenges of trying to create lasting change in a public school.

To this day, it’s painful when I think about it. Several dozen students applied to college because of the Academy (that is a lasting success, no matter what) and it had the potential to change ONE school. It was beginning to do so and then it unraveled. We know firsthand, in our hearts as well as our heads, how hard and how vital public school reform is. Watching Waiting for Superman and knowing that Michelle Rhee was already out the door while we were watching her on screen brought back that pit in my stomach I felt and still feel when I think about Cleveland high school students.

What would a Seattle public school system where every student graduates from high school ready for college or employment really look like?  How do we get there?

– Paul Shoemaker

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