Sunday, December 19, 2004

Winter's Breaks

Winter break is upon me and so was the hangover from my Christmas Party on Friday until this morning. I over did it in a spectacular way and I think it's because there is a lot on my mind.

Sometimes patience, persistence and positioning all work together perfectly to make the exact outcome you hoped for and sometimes they end up in a knot so twisted you have to sit back and pull each strand away one by one to see how things could get so stuck. When I first heard about High Tech High, I saw a great opportunity to take the new facilities and equipment the district promised and move our program with it's annual state funding into it. I will admit that the reasons I wanted this to happen were both personal (I really want more equipment for the other teachers in my department) and practical (Any other group that would take this on would have no guarantee of annual funding to keep class sizes down and give teachers the collaboration time they need to keep from burning out leaving the latest equipment with no one to explain how to use it).

If everything had worked out the way I had planned it, the Academy Teachers would have become High Tech High. We would have continued adapting our focus away from electronics and towards media skills (video, animation, music recording/editing). The move into High Tech High would have given us a new name and help to remove the reputation of being drop out prevention, which was preventing us from getting the correct mix of high, middle and low performing students that we need to be truly effective (It's hard to get low performing students motivated about academic improvement without a good mix of high performance role model s and a solid group of middle performers to show them that high standards can be met through time, effort and dedication).

This plan was not well accepted as people felt the Academy teachers already had enough benefits with the annual income from the state. As I saw it, the annual income from the state is a boon that should be applied to the best teachers in the best equipped department for the service of students that are representative of the entire Sequoia population. Too many programs in education are started with only enough money for equipment and initial training. These programs have a successful first year thanks mostly to the dedication and energy of the new teachers that are assigned to them. Their second year see's a slow in their success as staff starts to leave as they realize that working 7am-7pm Monday through Friday is not a sustainable pace. (I think this tendency to fill new programs with mostly new teachers is a major reason that so many effective new teachers quit before their third year.) It is important to keep new teachers teaching for longer. This is because the difference between a good teacher and a bad teacher is that a good teacher continues to improve their practice from year to year. Thus any program without funding for teacher collaboration to draw in the best new teachers and protect them against burnout will not last or make a lasting difference.

With that option at a dead end, I began to push a second option where the Academies switched focus to medical technology and high tech high became a media careers pathway. This move made sense for several reasons. First, the Academy and High Tech High would not share the same focus, which would allow the school as a whole to offer students more options. Second, the students that the Academy has traditionally had success in recruiting need more vocational options after graduation and the medical technology and nursing fields are both expanding with the aging baby boomers population so the switch of focus away from electronics makes sense. Third, if High Tech High is built as a set of media career pathways, it requires less support for teacher collaboration. Rather than having High Tech High become a small school in the sense that students are housed their for the majority of their classes, it would be a set of 2 year course series that would be focused around an annual project that all classes in the department would work towards. For example, students in the acting strand would work with those in the video production and music production strands to create a video for their annual project.

This was the last suggestion I made. Somehow it got mixed with my first suggestion and seems to have ended up with the Academy moving into High Tech High and switching it's focus to medical technology. This still makes a lot of sense in a lot of ways and I would be happy to see this happen over the next few years. It however puts me in the awkward position of no longer having a class to teach in the Academy after the change happens.

When I heard about this, I started talking with teachers that I thought would be interested in being part of a media careers pathway program like the one I discussed above. They have the backgrounds in music and drama and even better knowledge of the technology involved than I had expected, but their schedules have no room to take on new classes and neither has classes they are willing to give up to free more room to participate in the program I'm interested in creating.

Then at Christophe's Christmas Party, he, Lexi and I started talking about my idea for reinventing student information systems. The conversation was exhilirating. Both Lexi and Christophe have knowledge of different parts of the applications development process. Together they started to make it all sound so achievable in the short term if I was willing to devote my time principally to that project. The only problem with this would be that I'd be giving up on my promise to put in 10 years teaching before I left to go back to school or private industry. On the other hand, there is so much more that students, parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, researchers and policy makers could get out of a student information system that really worked.

So the choices lie before me.
1. Try to forge a new High Tech High.
2. Leave teaching and put all my effort into a better student information system.
3. Just make sure I have enough classes to keep teaching once I am outside of the academy.
4. Start my PhD early and not rush the development of the new student information system.
5. Screw it all and play poker for a living.

And the time frame is getting shorter.
1. New classes need to be proposed at the beginning of spring semester (February) and the rest of the staff that would need to be involved need to have their schedules fixed and funding needs to be procured for planning the strands and annual projects.
2. The size of the market for such a project has to be gauged. Ed Code regulations regarding work of this type needs to be deciphered. The use patterns for all groups involved need to be researched. The spec needs to be written. Funding needs to be procured.
3. I need to make sure there are enough students for an extra animated art and find a video course outline in the district that I wouldn't mind teaching to.
4. Start my application and find my recommendations
5. Log on to

Atleast I have 2 weeks of winter break to introspect.

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