This, the final week but certainly not the final frontier, is a significant marker. Just as our cohort begins to jel and as we gain a familiarity with this new frame as doctoral students, our intensive summer comes to an abrupt end.
I wonder on days like today just how much capacity human beings have. I think we see ourselves, our abilities, and our output as substantially fixed. Afterall, we all have seen our own limits. We need a certain number of hours sleep, companionship, food, the newspaper, some form of media and entertainment to sustain us as we move forward in this life. In our relationships and in our work, we push boundaries, but ultimately we accept that there are boundaries up against which we continue to push.
I am so inspired by Nancy Slavin who is part of the Chicago Public Schools HR Department. She is so good and doing such amazing work. Watching people make transformative change is so powerful. It makes me believe that change in possible even in hierarchical systems that tend to reward and sustain mediocrity. She described the beginning of her job as feeling like she started as “captain of the titanic,” and yet she still transformed her domain. I like this example. Let me restate that: I love this example. When I’m around leaders like this, I am inspired with every part of my being to actualize my leadership potential. Greatness seems to come from Chicago these days.
Today we met the cohort that is two years ahead of us. They seem so far ahead of us, mostly working as district leaders–some already superintendents and even former superintendents. Perhaps they came in more seasoned than we are now, but perhaps two years from now we will have grown into the leaders they clearly are now.
I’ve always been passionate and driven. I’ve always had a clear vision for the direction and arc of my life and a strong set of hypotheses about how to set about making that vision a reality. I believe that there is meaningful, impactful, and urgent work for me to do at the nexus of community and schools. I believe that we can create equitable and just educational systems truer to promise of the ideals that launched the great American democracy experiment. This sense of purpose and vision formed early for me–at sixteen, in a public high school in rural Vermont. My teachers, my classmates, my community, my family all played central roles in forging my identity as an achiever, activist, and educator.
At points in my career, I have struggled to identify the best way forward–this past couple of months of career and life transition being the most recent example. Happily, this past weekend at Teachers College provided enough perspective and opportunity for deep thinking and reflection to allow me to find some clarity and articulate a strong set of hypotheses about the arc of my life and work in education.
Hypothesis 1: University-School Partnerships is the best lens for my academic and professional work going forward.
I have a diverse set of interests and competencies: teaching literacy across the high school curriculum, history curriculum development, school leadership, new teacher development, bilingual education, dropout prevention, equity in classrooms, participatory action research, teacher leadership, building a culture of achievement in low-performing schools, school-community partnerships, family engagement, community service learning, technology in the classroom, professional development, inclusion/special education. These represent what I have done and have been interested in as a practitioner and as a researcher over the past ten years in urban schools. I am stepping in the Urban Education Leaders Program recognizing these as assets and potential areas of further development in my pursuit of my own personal development to become a district leader in urban school reform.
In my work with establishing New Mission’s dropout initiative with professors Theresa Perry, John Diamond, and Terry Meier in Boston, I have experienced the power of university-school partnerships to catalyze change in schools. In reading about examples of schools that have created a culture of achievement for students of color–like the University Park School in Worcester, MA–I have been inspired to explore further just how deep and powerful those university-school partnerships can be. My recent interest in larger-scale urban reform like the Harlem Children’s Zone has pushed me to consider the yet-to-be-realized possibilities for university, school, government, and community organization partnerships to create expansive change in urban districts in terms of increased equity for students and families.
I think my diverse interests (past, present, and future) all can find a home under the research umbrella of university-school partnerships, and I’d like to use this lens to focus my dissertation research and my practice.
Hypothesis 2: In my practice I can have the greatest impact in urban education reform by becoming a principal, launching one or more schools in concert with university partners. Down the road I will seek both district leadership positions and eventually a college/university professor position to the end of improving school leadership and equity.
I know that I have the capacity to be an outstanding school leader, and I would like the opportunity to create a team of educators, university partners, and families to found a 6-12 school centered on Literacy for Freedom–rooted in the traditions and history of African American, Latino/a, and other groups’ struggles to achieve full citizenship, freedom, and liberation in America and around the globe through literacy and education. I see my time at Teachers College as a way to study efforts like the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science, and Engineering (as well as other examples) in order to gain the knowledge and skills necessary to successfully launch my own school. I can imagine collaborating with professors like Theresa Perry at Simmons and Terry Meier at Wheelock College whom I have already begun working with over this past year to embed the transformative ideas and legacy of freedom for literacy in the curriculum and school culture of one Boston pilot school.
This is an ambitious project, but my work in Boston over the past 10 years and the opportunity to do the Urban Education Leaders Program in New York at Teachers College over the next four years should afford me the contacts, knowledge, and resources to begin implementing this vision.
I propose the Boston Literacy for Freedom Schools Initiative.
I have some reading to do tonight because I didn’t quite finish the required reading ahead of time, and we’ve received more to read and think about before tomorrow, so I’m excited to dive into it and learn more about Iran. I have to admit that I know shamefully little about Iran’s history beyond the general narrative that World History tells us about the Ottoman Empire, WWI, and the chaos that has ensued since the discover of oil in the Middle East. I feel fortunate to spend time with brilliant scholars and dedicated educators. It promises to be a gratifying and edifying week.
The Wire, in my view, is the Invisible Man of our times—a story whose characters both symbolize and actually live at the fraying edges of our awesome and terrible American society. At once fiction, literature, and entertainment, this moving, breathing, speaking novel deftly crafts a Baltimore where the lives of urban residents unfold believably, at once intertwined and individually distinct. Mirroring our American entertainment culture, The Wire does not entrust its social justice mission to one narrator, one character to which we pin our aspirations, our judgments, our own moral authority. We walk in Snoop’s shoes, see know McNulty’s nose, take in Michael’s burdened breaths. As viewers and readers of the American urban experience, we find the human experience in each of The Wire’s characters—though we crave with an unexplainable hunger those moments when The Wire allows us to live Omar’s code, Stringer’s smarts, or D’Angelo’s vulnerability on screen.
The character Bunny Colvin reappeared last night on the 59th episode of the 60-episode arc of The Wire. We see him as a foster parent sitting in the audience of an Urban Debate League competition in Baltimore. He proudly watches the character Namond argue in favor of the resolution that the U.S. should substantially increase health aid to Sub-Saharan Africa. Namond it appears, once a corner boy and school delinquent, is the only one of a group of four (Michael, Dukey, Randy, and Namond) adolescent Baltimore boys to find a place the city and in the city’s schools. We have seen the other places that the other boys find in the city, and none of us would want our sons and students to settle for long in those places.
I was struck last night by the use of the Urban Debate League; I am a coach in the league, and the pride I felt swelled as my own aspirations and judgments aligned with those of Bunny Colvin. I am Boston Public School teacher, a cultural outsider to American cities, a proponent for social justice, a college educated woman, and a current urban dweller: one of many types of fiercely loyal fans this TV show attracts. I am proud of my affinity for the show; I know that it says something about the way I believe the world is and the way the world should be. The character of Bunny Colvin, in my view, is the moral and the story of this TV show. I see in him my desire to reform, to do right by people—regardless of class, race, and the like—to exercise my professional obligation as a public servant. Next to that, I see the cautionary tale to potential system-wide reformers, to people like me. I see Colvin’s fall and forcible, disgraceful ejection from the system he so passionately sought to fix.
I believe in The Wire. I believe in David Simon and Ed Burns, their experiences, their vision. My friends, my colleagues, and my students all eagerly await episode 60. We crave this fresh, intricately woven re-telling of the great American novel.