TGIF! Jun 16 2017


It’s been a good news / bad news kind of week.  I’m happy to share we had an excellent interview for the $10k 4.0 Schools’ Tiny Fellowship – we’ll learn end of June if we are accepted.  Unfortunately, with summer vacations and the like starting up, the Chamber of Commerce wasn’t able to pull together sufficient numbers to hold our CEO roundtable next week. We’ll reach out personally to all the companies who expressed interest but had a conflict, to set up conversations with their leaders one-on-one. Building a school is not a straight path, but a winding road of two steps forward, one step back.  We’ll get there!

Proficiency-based learning

This is something I have not written a lot about, but it’s important – I saw my recent Facebook post on this topic generated a lot of interest!  When we talk about doing personalized, interest-based, real-world learning at the high school level in a public school, you have to ask how students will still meet the standards.  And if you just take all these wonderful, learner-centered practices and sort of glom them onto a traditional performance system (subjects, grades, report cards) you are creating an inherent conflict for both teachers and students.  (And which side wins that conflict? The grade monster ALWAYS wins.)

Proficiency-based or mastery-based learning is a completely different approach to meeting standards. It requires mastery (hence the name), it separates the assessment of “habits of work” (participation, punctuality, etc.) from the assessment of the acquisition of skills and knowledge (do you know it), and it makes time the variable instead of learning.  To use the language with which we are all familiar, you can’t get an F, only an incomplete.  It’s replacing “no” with “not yet”.

In a traditional system, a “C” in Algebra could mean the student can only do each skill at a 75% level of proficiency, or maybe it means that the student could do 75% of the skills completely but can’t do 25% of the skills at all.  Or, for that matter, it could mean that the student can only do 50% of the skills or less, but earned enough points for extra credit work, class participation, or homework completion to “pass”.  And what happens when that student moves on to Algebra II?

Sal Kahn explained it this way: “So the idea of mastery learning is to do the exact opposite. Instead of artificially constraining, fixing when and how long you work on something, pretty much ensuring that variable outcome, the A, B, C, D, F — do it the other way around. What’s variable is when and how long a student actually has to work on something, and what’s fixed is that they actually master the material. And it’s important to realize that not only will this make the student learn their exponents better, but it’ll reinforce the right mindset muscles. It makes them realize that if you got 20 percent wrong on something, it doesn’t mean that you have a C branded in your DNA somehow. It means that you should just keep working on it.”

Learning Links

Check out this great series of learning sparks, short videos from the filmmakers at Most Likely to Succeed.  I’ll be sharing some of these on Facebook over the next few weeks but if you missed our movie last year and want to indulge, check them out!

In closing….

For my Grand Haven schools’ readers wrapping up the school year today, happy Summer! (SLPH, FCS, WMAAA, WGM, St. Mary’s and WMC families have been warming up the beaches for you! J)


TGIF! May 19 2017


Happy Friday morning!

I hope to see you THIS Wednesday (May 24) at Loutit District Library in Grand Haven, 6:30pm in Program Room A, to share more about our school with you and to hear your feedback!  Please contact me with any questions about this event.

Help Promote!

If you belong to any parent, school, or social groups please share our Facebook event! We would love to see some new faces next week as well as our loyal TGIF supporters. J

Why to How: Part IV

To recap: Part 1 – Becoming an adult entails physical maturity, the ability to live independently, and the development of own’s own identity as a person.  Part 2 – The way teenagers construct their adult selves is by trial and error; testing the world and getting feedback. Part 3 – Modern schools ought to recognize this, and provide supportive environments that allow teens to gain this kind of accurate, real-world feedback.

So how do we plan to do this?

The first key is student ownership.  If independence is a goal, then we need to foster it.  That means pushing decisions closer to students and engaging them in the process of how people within organizations make decisions.  Did you read the article last year about the interns who submitted a petition to their employer to change the dress code?  Perfect example of not having any context or experience on how to engage appropriately and as expected in the “real world”.

The second key is related to the first, and that’s the personalization of learning.  The most important decisions young people need to make are those that relate to the forming of their identities – who am I, what do I want to be?  Within the broad graduation requirements (set by the state and required of all public schools), students will have the maximum flexibility to design their Personal Learning Plans (PLPs) to meet their academic and vocational interests and needs.

We’ll unpack the last two keys next week.

 Learning Links

“Finding purpose in life is more challenging today than for previous generations of young people… Just some 20 percent of high school kids can be categorized as purposeful, the rest vary between being motivated but lacking a plan, being active but lacking direction, and being neither active nor forward-thinking.”  [But,] “You can’t write the script of life for your child.”

“Suppose that, instead of just providing personalized pacing, we fully personalized the learning. We abandon the traditional linear curriculum entirely in favor of projects and problems that are meaningful, authentic and interesting to our specific students. Further, we let the students figure out the solutions largely on their own with peers, working in a safe and supportive environment we create.”

In closing….

See you Wednesday evening at 6:30!!


TGIF! Apr 28 2017


The first draft of our application to become a charter school has been written, minus a couple of appendices I’m wrapping up.  Woot woot! Now we get as much feedback from our trusted advisors as possible before submitting.  But things are coming together!

Back to the beginning

After writing up the school’s charter application, I feel like all the parts and pieces that have been jumbling together over the past 18 months are a bit clearer now, especially on how they fit together.  Sticking to the philosophy that “why” you do anything is the most important question, I’d like to take the next few newsletters to build up a coherent answer to that for all of you, from why to how.

Part 1:  What’s the Goal of High School?

Well, that’s a big question.  And it’s not a question that has a single, clear answer. But if you start with the very simple observation that high school wraps up at precisely 18 years old, the age of adulthood in our society, then it follows pretty naturally that the goals of high school ought to have something to do with the goal of become an adult.

What is adulthood? Part of it is physical maturity, but time has a way of taking care of that with little intervention on our part.  The other big piece, for humans as well as all mammals, is achieving independence to meet one’s own needs, rather than having those needs met by one’s parents.  But unlike all other mammals, humans have a hugely diverse range of possibilities as to what form that independence might take!  So in addition to growing into their adult bodies, and finding a way to become independent, people have a third element to figure out, and that is what sort of person you want to be and what sort of life you want to have.  So adulthood = physically mature, socially and economically independent, and self-aware.  How does this happen, and what role does school have in this process? Stay tuned.

Learning Links

24 credits and a D-minus average aren’t good enough, Washington Monthly on the transformation of a Connecticut high school from traditional learning and grades to mastery (aka competency) education.

A national teacher of the year on her most radical teaching practice, Chalkbeat on trust and responsibility, starting with one’s most basic needs.

In closing….

Thanks for reading, especially since our TGIF came out so late this week!  Glad I still got your eyeballs. Have a great weekend!


TGIF! Mar 24 2017


Happy first Friday of Spring – and finally feels that way!

“I didn’t assign any of that!”

Great piece came out this week (did you see it on our Facebook page?) about efforts to personalize learning statewide in Vermont.  The kinds of student-centered education I’ve been telling you about are NOT just happening in big cities, or in out of the way independent schools.  Here is an entire state which has said “we need to do something different” to prepare kids for life in today’s world.


Shout out

Thank you to all those who offered to share their time and talents, in response to my request last week.  We should be all set with photographers, but if you know a teen who might want to be in our photo shoot, please share!  Also continuing to look for folks to help with copyediting and for parents, teens, and educators to participate in research interviews.  Email me!

Learning Links

Interested in going deeper, and learning more about the ideas presented in this newsletter?  Consider the following – for your Spring Break, or for the evenings in between the March Madness game days!

The book “Most Likely To Succeed”

Today more than ever, we prize academic achievement, pressuring our children to get into the “right” colleges, have the highest GPAs, and pursue advanced degrees. But while students may graduate with credentials, by and large they lack the competencies needed to be thoughtful, engaged citizens and to get good jobs in our rapidly evolving economy. Our school system was engineered a century ago to produce a work force for a world that no longer exists. Alarmingly, our methods of schooling crush the creativity and initiative young people need to thrive in the twenty-first century.  Amazon.

The film, “Race to Nowhere”



In closing….

Suggestions for our newsletter?  Topics you’d like more information on?  Let us know!

Have a great weekend,


TGIF! Mar 17 2017


It’s a mishmash today – there were some really inspiring stories and examples I’ve run across this week I want to share with you.  First, a shout out to our new subscribers!  (By the way, as soon as we finalize our logo I will be moving our newsletter over to MailChimp. As our subscriber list grows, I need something more robust than Outlook to manage it.)

So, two heartwarming stories below and then in the closing, a list of volunteer opportunities – please think about how you can help us make this school a reality!

OneStone – is it a school, or is it a charitable nonprofit?

Here’s an amazing school design I came across this week, OneStone, a tuition-free private independent school in Boise, ID.  At OneStone, “all learners work on One Stone ventures that provide real-world experience while helping to fund the school and its programs.”  Which is really an amazing idea – why couldn’t a school be organized as a “student-led and directed nonprofit”?  Why couldn’t it be funded by philanthropy not merely interested in creating a school but rather by those charitable organizations who are investing in the work of the organization?  And why can’t that good work – in addition to benefiting the community – be a basis for learning?  It gives me hope that one of Imagine’s signature program elements – to create a four-year class community service project where students use design principles to address a significant community need somewhere in the world – will be economically viable.  And, it just goes to show how many amazing, innovative ideas are starting to percolate around the country (more on that below)

Why now could be the MOST amazing time to be a learner…

Great video from Will Richardson (Will was at SxSW Edu last week) on the surprising truth about learning in [traditional] schools, a look at some alternatives, and why now, if we have the commitment and the courage, can be the most amazing time to be a learner in history.

More Learning Links

From Pioneering magazine, a story by Hannah Bertram on her transition from a traditional high school to Iowa BIG, and how it transformed her previous connotations of education.


In closing….

Have you been wondering how you can help Imagine! West Michigan bring this new high school to fruition next Fall (2018)?  Here are our current volunteer opportunities:

  • Participate in a parent interview
    • if you are the parent of a preteen or teen and we haven’t talked, I would love your input! Just reply to this email and we’ll set up a time.
  • Professional quality photographers
    • we are working on marketing materials – print and web – and professional quality photographs will be needed. Email me if you can help!
  • We also need photography subjects!
    • Looking for a diverse group of teens 14-19, email me if you know someone who would like to participate.
  • Copyeditors
    • If you have a talent for writing, are you willing to help review a section or two of our charter application?  Email me!
  • Promotion
    • This is for everyone… just keep spreading the word!  Forward, like, and share Imagine! West Michigan but more importantly – tell a friend!

Thanks, Imagine! West Michigan community – for your interest, inspiration, and generosity.

🍀 Happy St. Patrick’s Day! 🍀