Monday, October 27, 2014

NCAC in Washington, DC--Reflections

It was very productive this past weekend to spend some time with colleagues both old and new in the Hyatt Crystal City outside of our nation's capitol. The occasion was the annual conference of the National Career Academy Coalition.

My school will be the first online school in the world, to the best of my knowledge, to gain accreditation under the NCAC National Standards of Practice. This requires satisfying members of a review committee and will likely not happen until at least 2016, when we are currently scheduled to undergo review. There's a lot of work to do prior to that.

But my last post was about an accreditation, so I'm steering clear of that topic for now. What I want to do is briefly detail my experiences at the sessions I attended, all of which, without exception, were in the lecture format. This is not an adverse criticism, though it may sound so. I have thought for years that a format that encourages interaction between the participants/attendees would demonstrate leadership by example in the professional development arena, and after years of providing alternatives in the way of "Playground" sessions at ISTE conferences, I have come to settle for the fact that "this is the way we've always done it" may actually be the best way to do it, at least for educators who can actually do get something out of "sit and git."

So, that said, however inelegantly, here are the sessions that I attended, along with notes and insights gained:

Friday:
9:00 - Teacher Externships: Bringing Relevancy to Student Learning; Dayna Paine, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Clarksville-Montgomery County School System; Becky Padgett, Academic Coach
This was a most interesting session, as Ms. Paine shared a well-thought-out and successful program geared to fill in an experiential gap not in students, but in teachers. She explained that most of her teachers had come to teaching through the regular pathway, high school, college, then to teach. Many have not had varied experiences in other working conditions, at least not in full-time, career minded ways. My main takeaways were that roles of all sets of participants need to be explicit and clear from the outset, and that the externship relationships are intended to be maintained throughout the school year. The "collatoral skills" teachers experience and maybe even learn can make what they do in the classroom all that much more valid and real for their students.

10:30 - The Academy Model in an Alternative Setting: The Roosevelt Way; Dr. Heidi Houy, Principal, Roosevelt Learning Center; Jennifer Carson, Academy School Counselor, Rockford Public Schools
This session was close to my heart, since as we work toward the brass ring of accreditation, we struggle with many of the same issues of practice that any Alternative school will find. Roosevelt has come a long way in their implementation of the Academies model in spite of that. Clearly their ongoing response to Theodore Roosevelt's call to "Do what you can, with what you have, where you are" informs that. The transience of their student population, their practice of meeting each student where they learn and how they learn, and their robust community partnerships all weigh in toward success of their program. And it is a program, though the school diploma is the same one that students in a regular brick and mortar school receive. That said, with 1200 students moving through their system a year, in one way or another, they are working to give students who rarely get the attention they need the special small learning community that Academies can provide. Dr. Houy came from Special Education into Administration and if she had not told us that I would certainly have been able to guess it. She cares and does so in a proactive way. I was most impressed by her adaptations of the Academies Model to the Alternative School setting.

12:15 - Lunch and Keynote Speaker; Roberto J. Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant to the President for Education, White House Domestic Policy Council; Johan Uvin, Acting Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Education; Portia Wu, Assistant Secretary, Employment and Training Administration
Mr. Rodriguez came in after our Dr. Jay Steele, Chief Academic Officer for our MNPS (and, I was proud to learn, incoming President of NCAC!), had pitched some policy questions to our other guests. The answers were predictable but supportive. Mr. Rodriguez also preached to the choir, though I don't think anyone in the room was expecting anything otherwise. He mentioned that President Obama has visited not only our McGavock High School but several other schools across the nation, drilling down to the student level to help inform policy by what works. Disclaimer: I still believe in President Obama, despite his famously low approval ratings these days. I think history will be kind to his Presidential service, especially in the light of mostly successful opposing partisan blockages. If the country is polarized, I am just left of middle but absolutely nowhere to the right. I like his style and his humor and his effort to do well in a bad system. Watch this and see if you can do so with a dry eye.

2:00 - Melting Pot Marketing; Beverley Flatt, Program Manager (for the Academies of Nashville), Metro Nashville Public Schools
This was one of my favorite sessions, and only 20 minutes long. It was "sit and git," but a modified version since it was one of three sessions that could be chosen during the hour as participants rotated between 7 sessions. I spoke with two presenters who told me they had prepared for one hour sessions, so as you can imagine Bev talked fast. And she had alot to say. Her scientific research into the amazingly diverse Nashville community demographic and the appropriate ways to market to each of them is nothing short of brilliant. Raised eyebrows and smiles announced surprised learning around the table. Here's our Beverley's Prezi so you can learn too.

I was sooo tired of sitting down that I took a long walk down to Harris Teeter during the final session. There were some good ones offered though, with topics covering:
  • New software for career and education planning
  • Leadership practices for National Standards of Practice
  • Georgia Career Academies
  • School Counselors in academy settings
  • Career Academies and afterschool programs
  • Engaging business partners
  • and another software demo, from ConnectEd Studios
  • Monday morning units
  • Critical skills for career readiness
  • Lessons learned developing Career Academies
  • Developing a State network of Academies
I wish I'd gone to at least one of these, but the excellent thing is that many, if not most, of the presenters have uploaded their presentations for download.  I still have the NCAC conference app and will take a good look at what I can.

From 5:00-6:00 There was a "Speed Networking" session, billed as being like Speed Dating, and it would have been fun to watch but no one I knew went to it. I wonder how it went. Anyone go? Comment here if you did.

Saturday:
  I had room service breakfast, which cost me my entire per diem for the day but was pretty tasty. Then I jumped right into it:
  • I next attended (Innovation) Developing Workplace Internships: PG&E Energy Academy Summer Internship Program; Geneve Villacres, Community Relations, Pacific Gas and Electric Company; and Jerry Winthrop, Lead Consultant, California Department of Education. This session was an engaging look at a big program, statewide, really, and uniquely designed to deal with the rapidly graying demographic of their current skilled workforce. Though we don't have an Energy Academy, learning the way this huge project was implemented and has developed was heartening. I'm sure there are similar situations in Business and Marketing and that we can help provide skilled workers in this field and I will keep those methods in mind as we proceed. I was sure to leave my card with the capable Ms. Villacres since they did not upload their presentation and they promised sharing with those who reached out in that way.
  • I tried to attend the "Recent Research on Career Academies" but it was very slow paced "sit and git" describing research solely conducted in California and I needed something more "git up and go." So I went to what had been my first choice anyway, something unfortunately typo-titled in both catalog and app as "Managing by Manage: Team Work in Nashville" Huh? Just goes to show that no matter how many sets of eyes you get on a document things can slip through. However, this was my friends and colleagues and I wouldn't have missed it even if the data talk had been more hands-on or broadly based. Whitney Weeks, VP, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce; Chaney Moseley, Director for the Academies of Nashville; and Matt Seaton, Director of the Pencil Foundation, tag teamed around the topic of the big overarching Leadership Councils they have created and improved to further focus the work between Business and Education Community Partners who support the Academies of Nashville. I was interested to see the reactions of attendees from Montana, Illinois, Hawaii, and a couple of other places, to the suggestion that this really effective system might be helpful in their settings. First of all, none could summon up a local organization that might fill the role(s) filled by Pencil Foundation in Nashville. Some seem to have strong disconnections between what their students need and what the community can provide, and imho I feel that Leadership Councils could help with this. Nonetheless it was fun to see these three more or less sardonically play off one another and I could tell that their presentation was both entertaining the attendees and challenging them to think. I'm grateful to work with them if not daily, at least regularly.
  • Lunch was on your own ("Who doesn't serve lunch at a conference on Saturday?" was the question posed by one of my fellow lunch explorers) and we met at Italia Cafe Italia in a quaint strip of mostly ethnic restaurants on 23rd Street, just a few long blocks away from the hotel. I don't think the food was all that good--my "Caesar salad" was iceberg lettuce and dry sliced chicken breast but the Calzone was reportedly good. The best thing was that my nephew Ed drove down from his home and met us and I got to chat for an hour with him and have him meet four of my Academies colleagues. 
  • Back at the conference playing field, I hit "Teaching Game Development in High School;" Eric Preisz, CEO, GarageGames, LLC. This vendor-delivered session surely enlightened me and I learned a bit, and though we don't have an IT academy (yet) we do have a Gamers' Club and this might be something of interest to them. I know the development structure I learned may be of great use in any development project. I'm pretty sure it flew over the heads of some in attendance, though, and when it was just about to wind up I headed out for a bio break.
  • By then we were down to the last session, and since I was somewhat sleep deprived from a great night eating, laughing and hiking 4.79 miles (yes, Beverley measured it) I went upstairs and took a power nap, which turned out to be a good thing since I was about to have a very decent roasted chicken dinner at the NCAC Awards Banquet, ending with Nashville receiving the first ever Model Community award, all 50 or so of us onstage (will add pic when I can find it!), then walk to Bar Louie with my colleagues to have tasty adult beverages and play "HeadsUp" on our iPhones. Another late, but fun night

Hiking to the Lincoln Memorial from the Washington Monument
The conference was over, and so am I.

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