On February 17, we launched the New Mexico Center for School Leadership, Networking and Redesign. Our first formal activity was to host all of the new New Mexico charter school applicants for two days to help them imagine the most innovative solutions to design challenges they face. We were heartened by our guests’ passion for finding new answers to sticky problems faced by our public schools. Below is a letter I have written to our faculty that outlines the importance their role in helping new school leaders visualize the change they wish to see in their schools.
February 23, 2012
Dear ACE Leadership High School Faculty,
Thank you for welcoming visitors to our school and into your classrooms. On February 17, we launched the New Mexico Center for School Leadership, Networking and Redesign (the Center) by hosting 16 potential school founders and their teams. As the day progressed, it became clearer to me that Einstein was right when he said, “you can’t solve a problem within the same consciousness that created it.” It is vital that we open our doors to such hopeful people so that they can see a school that lives its mission to provide the best education for the young people who need it the most. They said many of the same things we said before we came to ACE Leadership High School:
Students are the core of our work and we are frustrated:
“Our students are disengaged and they think school is boring.”
“I realize that our school cannot adapt to the challenges our kids face and our one size approach cannot meet their needs.”
“I feel that our school doesn’t care for the dignity of our students. We have a mechanized approach that can’t account for the human development needs of young people.”
“Our students won’t be ready for the ‘real’ world.”
“We can’t give our students the attention they need and they just fall through the cracks.”
The adults cannot solve the problems we witness because:
“We are dispirited by our professional culture.”
“Our school administrators are unable to lead.”
“It takes for ever to make a decision–our school is too bureaucratic.”
“I have time to work with my colleagues, but I don’t know where my school is going.”
“I want to make change happen, but I don’t think the professionals at my school are all on the same page.”
I know these challenges because I was a teacher in a large comprehensive high school. However, I also know that diagnosing the problem is much easier than prescribing a solution. After all, we are talking about incredibly complex institutions full of challenges created by human beings in another time and for other purposes. The implication of Einstein’s quote is that their professional experiences here at ACE Leadership are the critical ingredient needed to help others visualize a new solution.
I have had the great fortune to visit some excellent small high schools across the country (Boston, New York City, California, and Colorado.) These experiences changed me. For example, every visit gave a real-life frame of reference for the theory that the pathway to learning for students is through care and concern. I also know what it looks like to see a mission that is so powerful that all the adults rally to the work rather than having to be told what to do. I submit that without places to see the work in action, there is little hope for our community to break free from the constraints we face.
Last week, we ventured more concretely into the school reform arena. We put ourselves under the microscope and welcomed new charter school applicants to witness our work. We did this to fill the gaping hole in our regional community’s collective imaginations of what is possible. We invited our fellow entrepreneurs to spend time with us—visit classrooms, talk with teachers and students, hear about our journey and ask hard questions. During the visit, I took the time to speak with a couple of our guests and here is what they told me after their visit:
“I was inspired by the philosophy, the student’s motivation and caring and taking care of their school/family community here at ACE. Wow, students have ownership.”
“I know now that we are on the right track and we need to go forward. Things have to change and educators can change it.”
I hope we can help these entrepreneurs move from their good intentions to actually creating school models that can help their dreams come true. Finally, thank you again for sharing your expertise with our guests. We expect a lot from you every day when you work with our students and I am grateful that you are so willing to give back to new school founders who care so deeply about changing the lives of young people in our state.
Principal and Executive Director
ACE Leadership High School &
New Mexico Center for School Leadership, Networking and Redesign