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Monday, August 23, 2010

Gravity Arc

I was just walking the big black dawg, on one of the very first pleasant evenings of the fall. I watched a bird flying and had a moment where an analogy formed and I want to share it.

Gravity Arc.

A sparrow flew out in front of us. You've all seen this, I know you have. The tiny bird flew in spurts, beating its little wings and gliding and falling, then beating its little wings again to proceed. I thought, "That fall must have a name, let's call it the Gravity Arc." That's the space it falls in, where gravity takes over, it rests, and, inevitably, it works again. That's where we are now, in the Gravity Arc.

We presented our program to the Metro Nashville Public Schools Board of Directors today. Barbra set out the state of our progress to date: Website creation, identifying students in our core pioneer group of 13 students, all with qualifying states of their own education that made them prime candidates for involvement in our first group of full-time students, all eager to learn in ways that traditional schooling fails them, all with parents who want them to succeed. Kecia shared some important legislative issues we need to deal with. The Board was interested, supportive, and I think visibly excited for the possibilities. Our key advocate, Jay Steele, MNPS Associate Supervisor of High Schools, was supportive and vocal. I do believe that I heard a little tentative applause at the end of our presentation. We went back to work, involved ourselves in the incredibly difficult and insanely complicated task of enrolling our pioneers into online classes. Flapping our wings we were.

Tonight, I'm walking the dog, and I'm watching that sparrow (maybe a wren: no matter) and thinking, "This is what I'm doing now, falling, resting, and the inevitable next thing is flapping our wings again to make the next forward progress. Tomorrow."

The process is predictable and repetitious. The path is not. The path is forward.

I hope this analogy will help those of you who are making progress. I'm happy tonight in ways I haven't been happy in a long, long time.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Words, words, words...

My dear friend Cathy Walker, of the uber-innovative initiative MUVE Market, has often expressed an opinion just this side of disdain for the blogger or tweeter who only parrots what he's heard in the dialog, creating online presence completely based on others' thoughts. I personally think there's a place to that but I also value the extra input generated by those who contribute to the viral discussion. So much information is flowing by that the more a brilliant thought is repeated the more likely it is that I won't miss it altogether.

I hope, though, that this characterization is not applicable to me. That said, I'm parroting here.

I discovered Sam Chaltain's blog yesterday evening on Facebook, his "We Need a New Set of Words, Words, Words" post called to my attention by a share out statussed by Bonnie Brace Sutton, an educator I've never met in person but whose train of thought I get to glimpse occasionally through our connection on Facebook. Her post was basically a snippet of Chaltain's Shakespeare-fueled musings about the way our efforts in educational reform (there's another word that needs replacing) are crippled by our established lexicon, especially those old standby jargon staples "data, testing, and accountability." It was enough of a snack to make me want more, so I hopped on over to the original post.

I want to offer a couple of snacks here, then to hope that you'll do the same. How about:
"... it’s unquestionable that the words we use are somehow divorced from the essence of what schooling is all about — helping children unlock the mystery of who they are by acquiring the skills and self-confidence they need to be seen and heard (at college, in their careers, and as citizens in a democracy) in meaningful, responsible ways.

Why is the significance and power of this goal so absent from the most common vocabulary of the current reform movement? The optimistic side of me says it’s simply because we haven’t thought about it enough. The pessimistic side wonders if it’s because we’re so blinded by the current charade of labeling schools (or reform efforts) as successful or unsuccessful based on a single measure of success that we’ve come of believe our own press clippings: if the scores go up, we really are closing the achievement gap. If the scores stay stagnant or go down, we’ve made no progress whatsoever.
or chew on:
"Every time you want to talk about testing, talk about learning instead. Tests will always be a component of our education system. But take a moment to reflect back on your most powerful personal learning experience, and I can guarantee you it did not involve a test."
or, finally, and then you need to read the source, which will likely spur you to get your hands on a copy of Chaltain's book, American Schools: The Art of Creating a Democratic Learning Community:
" case you think this is flowery progressivism at its worst, you should know that I’m partially basing this notion on the insights of renown business guru Jim Collins, who says the best organizations create environments where employees need no motivation, and leaders trip up when they destroy that drive."
There you go. I've done my best. If I haven't spurred you to go read Chaltain's stellar post in its entirety, perhaps I've served by parroting some of the best bits...Cheers!

Friday, August 06, 2010

From Metro Nashville Public Schools News 08-06-2010

MNPS Virtual High School: A new era in education
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Aug 6, 2010) – Imagine the day that all 22 credits needed for high school graduation could be earned in a student’s own time, a time when students will be able to learn at their own pace earning credits based on mastery not seat time. Metro Nashville Public Schools is excited to say that day is here thanks to the district’s new Virtual High School.

“Virtual High School will open so many doors for so many students,” said Executive Director of Instructional Technology Dr. Kecia Ray. “We will now be able to meet students where they are on their path to finish high school on time and provide options for students where the traditional school or classroom is not conducive to their learning style. Our opportunities with Virtual High School are unlimited.”

For the 2010-11 school year, Virtual High School will seat 10-15 full-time students and will be able to seat more than a thousand part-time students at any given time. 

Full-time students can take up to three courses at a time. Though all courses will be taught entirely online, the group will be required to meet at least once each semester for non-academic reasons, such as social skills and bonding. Students will maintain a Virtual High School blog and other social elements to help them feel part of a bigger community.

“The beauty of virtual education is that students are in control of their own education,” said Associate Superintendent of High Schools Jay Steele. “We want to meet students where they are academically, regardless of age or geographic location.”

Upon completion of a course, they can immediately enroll in a new course, regardless of day or month. This will allow all students the opportunity for accelerated learning. Eligibility guidelines are still being developed, though five full-time students have already been identified for the upcoming school year. The district is now accepting full time students or students may enroll part time through their regular high school.

Ray explains this first class will be very small so that the district can “build out student support.”

“We have to be able to provide every student certain support services -- access to advisors and counselors, assistance with financial aid and post-secondary education opportunities, online resources like libraries, social networking -- all the things students in traditional high schools have access to. So we will start with a small group of full-time students in 2010-11, but we expect to be completely open by 2011.”

The school will also be open to students enrolled in other high schools in the district. These students will take a regular load of classes at their enrolled high school and be able to take additional courses online. This will benefit students who want to take classes not offered at their regular school, or those who want to get ahead but not miss out on the traditional high school experience. There will be a fee for non-Metro students; it has not been determined.

All students interested in Virtual High School must have access to a computer. Parents must also be prepared to learn. All parents of full-time students will be expected to participate in a training program that will teach them how to help their children.

About online learning
Online learning is different from e-learning, which MNPS already offers in the form of A+ Credit Recovery. While e-learning does not require an actual instructor, every online course has a full-time instructor. The teacher may be in another state, but he or she monitors and instructs the students daily.

MNPS will contract with an online learning vendor to locate and provide courses. The district will purchase so many “seats” which can be used for any course and any student. One of the greatest benefits to online learning is the unlimited number and type of courses MNPS will be able to offer students. According to Ray, “Japanese, AP Archaeology, you name it. If it’s out there, we can offer it.”

MNPS has a Coordinator for Virtual Learning and a Virtual Curriculum Specialist in place. Coordinator Barbra Thoeming worked with Florida Virtual School as an instructor and Instructional Manager. In addition, she was an online student during her Master’s Degree program. This gives her a unique insight into the needs of students, parents, and teachers in the virtual environment.  

Specialist Scott Merrick was recently selected as a National Association of Independent Schools “Teacher of the Future” and is chairperson of the Virtual Learning Environment Special Interest Group for Virtual Environments. He served 14 years as a Technology Coordinator at University School of Nashville.

Virtual High School will be funded through federal grants. This is the first school in our state to offer online learning in this capacity.

Important Reminder:
The 2010-2011 school year begins on Thursday, August 12, 2010, with new immunization requirements for pre-school, pre-K, kindergarten and 7th grade students. Vaccination information is available, in English and Spanish, at

- MNPS -

Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools serve more than 76,000 students with the goal of being the first choice for families in Nashville and Davidson County. The governing body for MNPS is the Metropolitan Nashville and Davidson County Board of Public Education, a nine-member group elected by residents of Metropolitan Nashville. For more information, please visit

Wednesday, August 04, 2010


Dearest Parents of my dearest Students,

It is with a heavy heart and a firm sense of hope for the future that I bid University School of Nashville goodbye. Last week, I was interviewed for and accepted a position with Metro Nashville Public Schools to join a small team of educators who will craft the new Metro Nashville Virtual School into a model of its kind. Over the coming years, tens of thousands of children who for whatever reason cannot or will not attend a traditional school for a traditional learning experience will have an opportunity to become excited about learning, to learn, and to earn a high school diploma through our efforts.

Accepting the job, the "call" really, was not an easy decision. Most of all I will miss the daily interaction with your children. Over the last decade and a half, they have been at the center of my personal fulfillment, joyfully filling my days with challenges and successes. The announced plan for filling my position is to hire a capable substitute to work in the lab until a capable full-time replacement can be found.

Appropriately, this will be the final post at this blog. Whether my replacement will choose to communicate in this manner is anybody's guess. I plan to leave it up as a resource for her or him and an archive and resource for anyone in the world. That's the way the world works now, and I do hope it's helpful in some way.

If you wish to keep up with our progress in MNPS, I'll be posting, of course at and I will be setting up new channels of communication on the internet. I'm on Twitter and Facebook as well, and  feel free to friend/follow me there.

I wish you and your children all the best, and I leave them in the care of some of the most dedicated and capable educators I know. I'll be around, of course, only not as much. If you are in the neighborhood of the Martin Professional Development Center on Fairfax Avenue, next to Dragon Park, please feel welcome to drop in to say hi.

I just got word from NAIS that I'll still be welcome in their "Teacher of the Future" cohort for the year 2010-2011, so I'll be contributing to the resources there over the coming year as well.

Take care, and as I always told your children, "be good and have fun."

Scott Merrick
Virtual Learning Curriculum Specialist,
Metro Nashville Public Schools


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