As has been our tradition, SW TURN tries to focus on what teachers think are the better ways for improving schools for all students. To that end, we visited the Mathematics and Science Leadership Academy (MSLA) the teacher-led public elementary school that has been in existence for seven years.
Following the visitation, Kim Ursetta, Kindergarten Teacher, and Ruth Ocon, Lead Teacher, discussed how their school differs from the traditional elementary school. Visitors remarked how engaged in learning the students were and appeared to be happy to be there. Ruth discussed the reaction of MS principals who received students from MSLA who remarked how focused the students were in guiding their own education and were leaders in their own right. Kim discussed initial and constant work was necessary to keep this school from being absorbed into the district bureaucracy and processes. They also described their extensive parent outreach program and how significant a role parents take in the school.
What followed was a excellent session on Community Schools, their value to bringing communities together and how they are an effective counter to charter schools. Kyle Serrette, Director of Education of the Center for Popular Democracy (CPD) and Amie Baca-Oehlert, VP of the Colorado Education Association, discussed the threat of charters to providing equality of educational opportunity to all students. They then reviewed the theory, design and promise behind Community Schools and stressed the resources that are offered for free from the CPD for those interested in exploring the concept.
The overlap between the MSLA session the Community Schools session was obvious as coalitions with parents and community members are necessary to make these schools happen. Such coalitions make these schools more powerful in their own right.
Ellen Bernstein SW TURN CoDirector and President of the Albuquerque Teachers Federation lead a session framed as: Is there a connection between teacher-led schools, pedagogy, equity and community schools and answering the essential question What does “Equity in Education” really mean?
She took the group through exercises designed to better understand equity through the lens of pedagogy. Using relevant articles on cultural wealth and the pedagogy of engagement for students in poverty, she led participants through a scenario in which they described what their teacher-led school looks like, what is taught, what resources are needed and what must be changed from the schools we have now. The ultimate goal of the school must be to ensure rich experiences for all students rather than for a few and improvised experiences for many, combining excellence and equity.
Shelley Potter, President of the San Antonio Alliance of Teachers and Support Personnel focused more on what “inequality” is and its impacts on students. Before we can message inequality and its impact on our students, we have to be sure we really understand it ourselves. The first part of Shelley's presentation helped participants make a connection between income inequality and poverty and to get some understanding of why income inequality exists, what are some of the things that influence a person's income, and how the gap between productivity and income has increased. Small-group discussion centered around what inequality looks like to the students themselves. To change the narrative, we have to look at students from poverty in terms of their assets rather than their deficits. Shelley then had the group look at some data on concentrated poverty as well as the impact of the environment on brain development. Shelley then led the group through an initial exercise of fitting inequality and its impact into the SW TURN messaging frame “Results for Students.” and explored what the frame was that would be used by the detractors of public schools as it relates to inequality.
The interrelationship between these four sessions built enthusiasm for unions using teacher-led or community schools as a strategy locally for turn around schools or those being redesigned through an innovation process. Participants recommended continuing the discussion of these topics at future meetings.