I had a great visit today to University Park Campus School. It's in the former Freeland Street School (built, as it says over the door, in 1885), right across the street from the Goddard School, which makes no sense until you discover that Goddard used to be South High (chalk that up as something I learned today; thanks, Mr.Navin!). Now, of course, UPCS serves grades 7-12 selected by neighborhood lottery, while Goddard is the large elementary school across the street.
I have to admit that I'm a sucker for historic buildings, but that wasn't the big thing that I took away from UPCS.
The thing that hit me first about UPCS, because it was palpable, was how much the teachers wanted to be there. I could feel, walking around the building, that this is a place where people want to come to work, want to teach there, want to work with the students there, want to improve what they're doing with the help of their colleagues. It's probably the most important thing you can have in a building, and it's a difficult thing to create and sustain (and I had an excellent conversation with Mr. Hall, the principal, about how it happens and how it's sustained).
Now UPCS gets called out a lot (most recently by Diane Ravitch after her recent visit, on which more anon) and one would only expect that it might cause resentment (and I don't know if I'm helping by commenting on UPCS at all here!). UPCS has advantages: while they don't get money from Clark (no, rumors to the contrary, they don't get a cent from Clark), they do get substantial support from Clark, from use of facilities to grad students to professional development supports.
What they have that's more important, though is a clear, building-generated vision on what they're about, and it doesn't have anything to do with the vagueries of state and federal ed policy: they prepare kids for college. It's not about the MCAS, the Common Core, NCLB, or any other thing that comes down the pike: it's about getting kids ready for college. The faculty's there, the kids are there, the parents are there: it's why the school exists. And they work at getting there.
I fear that because we're spending so much time chasing after whatever-it-is-that-Beacon Hill/Capital Hill-wants, we've lost the building-based vision. Why are we here? What are we pursuing? Well, it depends. What has Arne Duncan said lately? What was the latest Board of Ed vote? What is Congress deciding matters this session?
That's no way to run a school. It's also no way to get teachers energized to go in there every day and get kids really thinking, writing, reading, and engaging with ideas.