Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Accreditation! Check!

Yesterday MNPS Virtual School rounded out two days of intensive review by a four person visiting committee from AdvanceED, the accreditation organization which handles Continuous Improvement model review for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

The extensive review process was described afterward by one of our Academy of Business and Marketing partners, who had undergone it herself, as "maybe more intense than writing my [Masters] dissertation." It involves weeks of collaborative work within the organization, compiling documentary evidence that the school meets or exceeds a set of criteria set by the reviewing organization, which serves over 32,000 schools in 173 countries. The process needs be driven by a single person in the school but everyone in the team is tapped to help provide evidential  documentation. Dr. Witty was the driver, and our "small but mighty" Executive Leadership team, aided by most of our Adjunct v-Teachers, contributed.

In order to even begin compiling said evidence, long meetings with a detailed self-evaluation tool were held in order to identify which kinds of documentation may be needed for each individual element in an extensive rubric. 

During the visit, the four team members from AdvanceED scheduled and held separate interview sessions with stakeholders, including students, parents, staff, faculty, and administration. They sequestered themselves in a conference room for hours, also spending time meeting off-campus in their hotel, discussing and debating findings toward preparing an exit review report rooted in consensus.

At around 2:30 yesterday, Dr. Karla Gable, the leader of the review team, reported out. She presented our brief "External Review Exit Report for Digital Learning Institutions." Toward the end, Dr. Gable shared what AdvancED calls their "Index of Education Quality, "a set of numbers that represent the review findings in quantitative ways so that they can be compared with those achieved by all of those many schools in their system. Our scores in each of the free domains, "Teaching and Learning Impact," "Leadership Capacity," and "Resource Utilization," were very significantly higher than the averages. I won't detail those but I will share that our overall score was 337.80 and the AE Network average overall score is 282.79. The final slide in her PowerPoint set proclaimed the news:

Dr. Karla Gable prepares to present final findings
MNPSVS recommendation

We had done it. The information we had collected and shared in a massive Dropbox folder, then summarized in a 43 slide PowerPoint of our own on Monday, had clearly demonstrated that we deserve to be among the digital learning institutions accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The committee team's report further noted a few things, including that the strides toward excellence we have made over our brief life as a program and a school--these at other districts have only been made with both funding levels and staffing levels at 3 or 4 times the ones we have had in place. Either we are very efficient or we are very lucky. I'm guessing it's a combination of the two. And we are blessed to be led by Dr. James Witty, our Executive Principle, who is organized to a tee and completely knowledgeable about how Continuous Improvement philosophies and concepts drive a school to excellence.

Our team is very special, and by that I mean not only our core Leadership team--I extend that description to everyone in the school, all the stakeholders, all of us. Importantly, now that we have distinguished our school in this way we can return our full attention to exercising the continuous improvement we have demonstrated thus far. Thank you, AdvanceED, SACS, and Metro Nashville Public Schools. We're on it.

Over and out,
Scott
Cross-posted from MNPS Virtual School

Friday, September 26, 2014

The How and Why, Long Story Short

Interesting. No matter how long I live, there's always something more interesting to learn.

As I float into the second half of my sixty-fourth year, I'm finding myself more and more reflective. I guess that's natural. And when I tapped into my LinkedIn account this morning, I discovered a post from Penny Christensen, a LinkedIn contact and "e-Learning Specialist," leading to something called HotLunchTray.

I'm up early as always, my pesky dog sitting next to me on the leather love-seat, and though most lately I've been using the morning time to level up
Scott's Blood Elf in WoW
Sophyae, my Warrior Blood Elf in World of Warcraft, I'll bite.

Back when I first joined the Vanderbilt Center for Science Outreach in 2001, hired on one day a week as Teacher-In-Residence, when it was the Office for Science Outreach, I attended a start-of-the-school-year retreat that was held in an office at Vanderbil. That morning, to begin to get to know one another, the small team sat around the table and shared about ourselves. Around that table was Jan Zanetis, Ginny Shepherd, I think Kecia Ray, and half dozen or so other educators who by turns shared about their lives leading up to the day. The date was September 11, 2001.

My ten minutes were hands-down the most convoluted story of the morning, which as you likely have already surmised became much more so as the day wore on. I shared about my first attempt at college in Knoxville, at UT, all the way up to the day. Maybe a list would suffice:
  • Dropped out of UT after 4 quarters, having been denied Sophomore entry to a fiction writing class limited to Juniors and Seniors after having created and published a year's worth of the off-campus literary magazine "Druid" (I just discovered this digitized version!)
  • Worked in the UT Undergraduate then Main Libraries for 5 years
  • Published in small poetry presses
  • Left on a Leave of Absence to write on a journey to Alaska
  • Played music for income for two weeks for the first time in Bozeman, Montana at the Holiday Inn while the VW camper was having its engine rebuilt
  • Played music and worked in book and liquor stores in Anchorage, AK
  • Apprenticed in the Alaska Repertory Theater, mainstaged in two runs of the play "Diamond Studs"
    That's my Stetson on the left, and that's the northernmost school gym in the USA
  • Formed the Last Frontier Band, the official Iditarod Race band for 1979
  • Moved to Los Gatos, CA and played music full time, also working in the public library
  • Wrote a novelette, "In the Running," never published
  • Moved to Nashville and worked as Master Bartender for TGIFridays
  • Saw my dad through his death, left as a traveling Master Bartender for Fridays
  • Wrote a novel, Lives, and a book of poetry, Speculativity, self-published and available at Lulu.com and Amazon
  • Moved to North Miami Beach to tend bar for Fridays
  • Sold dedicated word processors to lawyers in Miami
  • Became Head Bartender for Williams Island in North Miami Beach, then Manager of the Tennis Club Restaurant
  • Married the love of my life, Lee Ann
  • Moved to Nashville as General Manager of Slice of Life Restaurant and Bakery
  • Second love of my life, Miranda Lee Merrick, born 
  • Assistant Manager of Ruby Tuesday's in Bellevue, Green Hills, and Rivergate
  • Experienced an Interest Inventory weekend in Louisville, where they said, "Duh, you're a teacher."
  • Returned to Peabody College at Vanderbilt University and finished out college with a Cum Laude degree in Elementary Education with a second major in English, Creative Writing
  • Third love of my life, Colin Stafford Merrick, born
  • Student taught at Sylvan Park Elementary (6 blocks from my current school) and Dodson Elementary
  • Hired as interim sub for half a year at Dodson, teaching 4th graders
  • Hired as 3rd grade teacher at University School of Nashville
  • Transitioned to Lower School Technology Coordinator
  • Hired as Teacher-in-Residence at Office of Science Outreach
That pretty much got us up to the day of the share. I went on to create a podcast for the CSO, "Snacks4theBrain," recording and publishing 84 episodes of interviews with working scientists and technology tips, laced with independent music. That was a wild ride, working Mondays for CSO and teaching K-4 students in my technology lab. CSO's funding ran out for the TIR position in 2008, and I went back to 5 days a week at USN. When Kecia approached me to help craft a virtual school for our large urban public school system (the 42nd largest in the country, of  "about 13,600 school districts") I agonized about it, since I loved my work. In the end, which was to be the beginning, I resigned from USN (becoming pretty much a non-person in that institution's eyes, but that's another story) and took on the task, and here I am today, still riding that fascinating wave, looking at our final review for SACS accreditation this coming Monday, as MNPS Virtual School maintains and continues to improve its standing as "Tennessee's First and Highest Achieving Leader Since 2011."

Dig through this blog and you'll find a bunch of stuff, including some awards and other junk, but the main deal is that through teaching, I believe I've done some good in the world. Last evening at our annual Picnic in the Park I grilled, with a student's able assistance, 48 burgers and 30 hot dogs. It's just work, but it's good work. I'll keep plugging away hoping for more. It's for the students.

Adrienne was really the grillmeister!

Done. Thanks, Penny! Now back to that Blood Elf.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Happy 2014-15, Educators and Students! Celebrations!

Wow. Just wow. This has been a whirlwind startup this semester. In many ways, it reminded me of our infant days. Now entering our 4th year as a honest to golly public school, our 5th year as a working collaboration, I'm amazed and pleased at where we stand at MNPS Virtual School. This blog has always been a chatty mishmash of the personal and the professional, and this post will lean toward the latter.

To begin with, we celebrate a new team member! Ms. Kelby House, our new v-School Counselor, has come on board to join the illustrious and ultra-valuable Adrienne McNew in serving the Counseling needs of our growing student body. Kelby is clearly a fantastic choice for this position on the team. I accompanied her to last week's Middle School Preps rollout at the Discovery Science Center and if anyone left there without her business card in hand I would be amazed. She'll be strong ammunition in our efforts to struggle out of the box if misunderstanding. Hello!!! We are NOT the commercial option. We are a tried and true Public School, part of the 42nd largest public school district in the nation and one that is gaining national attention as a model for school improvement on a district scale.

We celebrate growth. Currently we have 137 full-time students in grades 7-12, an accomplishment we can largely credit to our Ms. McNew's refinement and faithful delivery of a rigorous interview process designed to make sure we are enrolling students who can succeed in online learning and who can benefit from the move over to us and away from daily bricks and mortar schooling. Around 750 students around the District are taking one or more classes with us this semester while attending their school of zone or choice. The latter, by the way, has been made much more doable with the district-wide implementation of free breakfasts and lunches for all MNPS students. Wow, just wow.

I'm celebrating in advance because communications went out from Pencil Partners last night inviting our business and post-secondary Partners at our Virtual Academy of Business and Marketing to sign a little agreement that they'll work with us this year. You can read more about that at the Academy page on our website. Once those are concrete, I'll share it all right here, an on Facebook, and everywhere else I can. The Academies model has done wonders for the students in the district, and its innovative implementation at our school will help pave the way for other online K12 schools to adopt it. Hey, we're workin' here! I'm so looking forward to attending the NCAC national conference in D.C. come
late October!

Hey, that's enough for now. More celebrations later. Thanks to my PLN, to ISTE, and to my students and teachers and staff for making every day I work my best day ever.

Oh, and I want to celebrate this fish. May I catch him again after he's put on another pound or two, but four pounds was my biggest catfish ever on Marrowbone Lake!

Thursday, August 07, 2014

TV News on MNPS Virtual School

Our school got some GREAT media "ink" on Tuesday night at WKRN's NewsChannel5 6 O'Clock News. Enjoy!

v-Lead School Counselor Ms. Adrienne McNew shares hopes and expectations for the coming semester with prospective students.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Last share from the THE Journal Thing, I Promise

Howdy, and happy Friday.

I realize I've shared, perhaps overshared, the various elements resulting from my selection as June, 2014's "Education Innovator of the Month" at T.H.E. Journal, but I'm so pleased with the several ways this honor has presented for me to share the work I do on a daily basis (usually here and elsewhere I'm chasing other treasures and sharing them, like virtual environments and ISTE) that I want to share here just the .ppt that underscores the webinar presented by EdWeb.net on June 26, just after the release of the monthly online publicaton.

That webinar can be seen at http://home.edweb.net/starting-maintaining-virtual-school/ and the .ppt contains links for follow-up that I mentioned during that hour of yammering. If you just want to mine the links, dive on into...

Thursday, July 03, 2014

One from ISTE2014, more to come

Hey, all,

Just back from #ISTE2014 in lovely Atlanta, GA and I'll be reviewing and sharing over the next couple weeks here. In many ways it was the best ISTE ever. I've been going to them since it was called NECC and actually my first one was in Atlanta back in 2000. This was my twelfth conference, since I missed a couple for family vacation conflicts and such, but I'll certainly pick up lucky 13 in Philly come summer 2015.

There have been many changes, many of them recently since the coming on board of CEO Brian Lewis. I tend to be a positive sort, so I swing with them. My friend Peggy Sheehy bent both my ears for nearly a half hour the other day actually reading aloud the loud rant she recently posted on her blog. So there are definitely dissenting voices. I share with Peggy the intense disappointment in not being able to connect with friend David Warlick this year--that left a hole in my ISTE experience--but I share my admiration for Brian and the job he is doing with what I believe is the vast majority of ISTE members. I do believe that Peggy has some insightful points about not throwing out the experienced babies with the ISTE bath water. You see where you stand.

So there. Do read that letter: It completely captures the firebrand that is Peggy Sheehy.

But to the purpose of my post today. Gord Holden's wonderful presentation at our Online Learning Network's (formerly SIGOL) one-hour-with-11-educator "Extravaganza" this past Sunday in Atlanta experienced some technical difficulties that we were not able to sufficiently rectify in our short time. In particular, Skype took over my audio settings and would neither yield them to video or use audio itself. Then the projector refused to display my laptop image, deciding instead to show a screensaver not displaying on my laptop monitor. Though we did share with some who stayed past our one hour, I posted Gord's PowToon video this morning at ISTE Connects so that it might find a broader audience. I reshare here to broaden its audience at least a bit further. Watch for more reflections on ISTE 2014 in the days to come.

Here's Gordon's

Saturday, June 28, 2014

At ISTE2014

It's a great morning to be in Atlanta, Georgia, high up on the 26th floor of the Marriott Marquis, with a Starbucks Dirty Chai and my honey asleep in the bed.

I just did an hour in the workout room on a treamill and a stationery bike, by turns, and now that I've stopped perspiring I'm going to shower quicklikeabunny and get out there to volunteer help for a couple hours before taking my pick of sessions presented by the leading and learningest educators in the world.

I'm going to put my pics up at http://tinyurl.com/merrickiste2014 at the book of the face, in an album titled intuitively, so if you want to see some of what I see don't hesitate to check that out.

Yesterday I spent some quality time with my dear good budd, Andy Wheelock, and I'll be seeking out more dear good budds today. Driving in from Nashville, arriving around noon, we got straight into our lovely room and after picking up something to gnosh I met Andy at the conference center. We scoped out our presentation spaces and we caught one of the last (of 5) sessions of Hack Education, a fabulous hour with Chris Aviles, techedupteacher, sharing how he gamifies his classroom and how incredibly powerful are the motivators Status, Access, Power, and Stuff. Some great resources were shared by Chris and by others in the 40 or so educator session. I'm going to jot those down then I'm signing off. Time to experience! You do the same by visiting...