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!