It's Still About Hope...

Hi everyone! As I sit here and reflect that it has been more than 6 months since the School of the Future has opened, I am constantly reminded that this is a work in progress, as are all great challenges. And while the journey has taken many different turns, I’m glad to report that the most important characteristic of this work still exists… hope.

Over the past six months visitors from around the world have come to West Philadelphia and experienced the people, process and environment of the school. We’ve conducted quarterly briefings where leaders from the US and abroad spend 2 days learning the process. We welcomed 50 countries to the School of the Future World Summit where we discussed the opportunities and barriers facing education today and tomorrow. We’ve traveled within the US and beyond talking about the school and why it matters. Articles have been written and movies made. Despite all of this attention…I’m still wondering. Have we done enough? Will this make a difference?

I must say, September 7th is a day I think about often. It was a day full of promise and absent were the traditional tensions of urban school systems. It was a celebration where people were proud and children were happy. Few frustrations had been experienced yet. No budget crisis was looming. People were all focused on the same goal.

Looking back, I think it has been the energy created from that day that has fueled us over the past 6 months. I know this won’t come as a surprise to many, but the first 6 months have been difficult. And yet through the challenges one is able to see that we are pointed in the right direction. We are creating opportunities for kids that normally do not have opportunity. We are demonstrating that while it is hard, it can be done. And that is important.

So where are we? Well, no matter where we go I get asked the same question. I find it very indicative of where we are as a country in our analysis of education… “What are the test scores showing” Well… while the learners will be responsible for taking the PSAA’s in their 3rd year, they are not taking the 6 week bench mark tests. So, from an assessment perspective? Each learner has a 17 page OneNote Assessment Portfolio. It documents and measures their work and competencies against a rubric.  (Below)




Little understanding and minimal display of the skills included in the Pennsylvania Academic Content Standards. There is a major need for additional instructional opportunities and/or increased student academic commitment to achieve the Proficient Level.”


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“Marginal academic performance, work approaching, but not yet reaching, satisfactory performance. Performance indicates a partial understanding and limited display of the skills included in the Pennsylvania’s Academic Content Standards, and the student may need additional instructional opportunities and/or increased student academic commitment to achieve the Proficient Level.”


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“Satisfactory academic performance indicating a solid understanding and adequate display of the skills included in the Pennsylvania’s Academic Content Standards.”


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“Superior academic performance indicating an in-depth understanding and exemplary display of the skills included in the Pennsylvania’s Academic Content Standards.”


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Along with review of content, tremendous attention has been place in the development of the whole child. This work can is summarized below.

Conflict Resolution:

Learners worked independently and in groups to complete tasks which required compromise, discussion and self reflection. Learners completed inventories, reveling their individual styles of conflict resolution and their individual ability to compromise and work as a part of a team. In their continent, learners completed group exercises that revealed their group dynamics and tendencies. Learners achieved a basic understanding of conflict resolution and we will continue to work to develop these skills.


Brand Me – Group Dynamics:

As joint work between “Brand Me of Identity” and “Personal Development,” learners worked to complete a group project identifying their “brands” and the meaning these things have in their lives. In completing this project, learners were asked to examine the impact of group dynamics on their work and their collective identity. Learners answered questions about their group process of selecting images, creating their presentation, answering questions in a group, and presenting their project to their peers. Through this activity, learners achieved a basic understanding of group process and the skills that add to and detract from a quality end product. We will continue to work to develop their group work skills.


Myers Briggs Type Indicator:

Using the following resource:

Learners completed an online personality inventory called the Myers Briggs Type Indicator and then used online resources to investigate their type, the traits common to their type, the famous people who share their type, and the implications of their type on their styles of conflict resolution and group work. Through this activity, learners achieved a basic understanding of personality inventories and their own personality influences on their life. Learners were asked to record this type and we will revisit this information again, applying their self-knowledge in new ways.


Emotional Intelligence Activities:

Using the following resource:

Learners completed various self reflection exercises that investigated their degree of “emotional intelligence.” As a group, learners discussed the definition of this term and the implications on their lives. Learners have achieved a basic understanding of emotional intelligence; this is a concept and innate ability we will look to build in each learner over their time at School of the Future.

First Resume Workshop:

Using a template, learners created their first draft of a professional resume. The document included their personal contact information, educational experience, work experience, school and community activities, and honors and achievements. Learners were given creative control over the format and will use this document as a first draft for a resume. Learners achieved a basic understanding of a resume and will continue to work to improve this document.


Villanova Tutor Preparation:

Learners were each paired with a college student at Villanova University to be their online tutor. Learners prepared for this relationship by completing an interest survey, writing an essay of introduction to their tutor, and reviewing the necessary skills for online communication (email and instant messenger). Learners met their tutor in a face-to-face event at School of the Future in November. At this time, learners completed a interview assignment with their tutor.


Tutor Visit (Oceania):

Over a two week period of time, Oceania worked to design an afternoon program for 70 Villanova tutors. The task included project organization, data management, logistical knowledge and skills, tours of our school, creative activity planning, and presentation design and skills. Each learner was given a different job within the project and every learner in Oceania completed their job throughout the two weeks. Many members of the continent took on creative projects, designing their own presentations, arranging a song, and brainstorming creative activities for their tutors. The learners were praised for their achievements during and after the event and learned about project organization.



Are there challenges? Absolutely. Does a neighborhood school, and the academic variability it brings with it, present difficult scenarios? Absolutely. Is this a challenge for schools around the US? Absolutely. Do we think this is working? Absolutely….


So why do we think this? Let’s look at the trend data.

On any given day in Philadelphia Public High Schools almost 25% of students don’t show up. At the School of the Future there is almost a 93% attendance rate… One for us… they’re showing up!


Another trend… Visit the school. The kids are happy. There are smiles. For a schedule that requires them to be there at 9:15 AM… many arrive more than an hour early and stay far past the end of the formal day. No attacks on teachers. No vandalizing. On a white building, in the middle of West Philadelphia… not one ounce of spray paint has found its way onto the walls. An amazing fact.


So do I think we have something here? I do. Do I think the instructional methodology that is being deployed is a significant contributor? I do. Do I think the way the learners are being treated is a major factor? I do. Do I think the technology has had an impact? I do. Do have quantifiable data to support all of this… I don’t… not yet.


However, I also believe that the absence of quantitative data should not stop the progress being made nor should it cause the system to pull back.  We’ll see.


So what have been the biggest challenges?

Well… the system. And I’m sure this comes as no surprise. And I don’t want to suggest that people have not been supportive. They have. However the system prevents them from going to the edge. The system prevents us from being creative. The system supports the status quo, not innovation. The system gets in our way. The system is frustrating.


I said to Chairman Nevels one day… imagine in our schools, if innovation was swimming downstream. Imagine how much further we could travel and how much faster we could get there. Unfortunately, in urban education, this is far from the case. In urban education, innovation is swimming upstream, encountering tides of policy and practice that slow its pace and prevent it from moving forward. And those taking the trip… swimming upstream is tiring. Let me tell you!


However, we will continue to move on. We will continue to attempt to remove the calcification that exists on the arteries of our systems and we will focus on the kids. That’s the plan.


Am I hopeful? I certainly am. I fundamentally believe that public private partnerships are an important strategy in our attempts to improve education in the United States. I believe our premise of technology making a difference is proving true and I believe our focus on people was appropriate. But most importantly I believe what I have said all along… there is no silver bullet. There isn’t a single strategy that can be deployed that will solve our problems. However if we take a step back… continue to demonstrate the courage and patience necessary to see this work through… support the belief that change takes time… years in fact, then I think we have a chance.


I’ll tell you this… it has been daunting. There has been many a day when I have wondered if this has all been worth it… and then I get a story like this…


One of our learner’s parents had a temp job with a company. When a permanent position became open, she went in for an interview. Unfortunately she did not have the technical skills required for the job and was told so. So the mother went home and told her child who was a learner at the School of the Future. The learner and her mother spent the next 2 weeks using the learner’s laptop to learn about the internet, Microsoft Word and Excel, all through the instruction and support of a 14 year old child. The mother went back two weeks later and yes… got the job.


This family’s life has been changed by the opportunity the School of the Future has provided them. And this family’s story has reminded me of what I believe this project has been about since day one… HOPE.