TGIF! Feb 16 2018

Dear Constant Readers (hat tip, SK):

We’ve made some amazing strides towards opening a truly innovative learner-centered high school this fall.  We have a clear vision, a proven model, interest from authorizers, and enthusiastic parents and students – and that is awesome.

But we don’t have a school facility, and we don’t have enough money to open.

Let me be clear – I’m not just saying that we aren’t ready to open this fall. I’m saying that I don’t at present see a way to open the school, period.  I have been working on this dream for three years; the last two years full time (and unpaid).  I promise you, I remain as passionately dedicated to Imagine today as I was at the beginning.  But if I’m brutally honest with myself, I know we haven’t made sufficient progress towards a facility or raising startup funds.   We’ve run down a lot of promising but ultimately dead ends, and while there may be paths we haven’t tried yet, I know I’ve exhausted my skills and resources, and that of our small board of directors.

I am incredibly thankful to have had the opportunity to go on this amazing journey.  Your stories, your needs, your dreams for your kids and our community have touched my heart.  The students and teachers I got to meet who are doing this kind of education were inspirational and will impact me forever.  No law, no regulation stands in the way of changing the high school experience in way that quite frankly could change the world.  I couldn’t pull together the resources to do it from scratch. But the only thing stopping everybody else is the curse of “how we’ve always done things”.  You’ve seen a better way.  Keep fighting for it, wherever you end up.

In humble gratitude,



“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi


TGIF! Feb 2 2018


Stay healthy, everyone.  My oldest child is home with the stomach virus, and my youngest two get a long weekend since their school will be closed for illness Monday.  Tails you win, heads I lose?

Facility update

We are still waiting on the final answer to our fire inspection application on our primary potential location.  We did turn up an inkling of possibility on a second site which we are investigating.  We fully understand that it’s now February and as a board we will be making decisions about our Fall opening timeline very soon.  We will keep you posted.

Learning Links

Who wouldn’t want responsible students? They listen in class, take notes, and complete their homework on time without nagging. They are easy to teach… But responsibility comes with a price.  A price paid in engagement, personal goals and expectations. Responsible students have taken ownership of their teachers’ and parents’ agenda – to get good grades and be a “good student… Responsible students are easy to teach, but they are like a two-dimensional cut-out of their true potential. Agenic students [students with agency] are not only easy to work with, but a joy, and have ownership of reaching the potential inside them. Perhaps it is time to stop seeing responsible students as a blessing and start recognizing them as a problem of a different kind.

Read more here: The Problem With Responsible Students

Listening to Nicole’s impassioned and detailed presentation on the Puerto Rican debt crisis and its impact on the island’s healthcare system, it was easy to forget a high school senior was addressing a group of 100 students and teachers.

Nicole’s story was a personal one. She has family members on the island who deliver and receive health services, and she described her cousin’s personal struggle as a doctor who could have gone to the mainland United States to practice medicine but strongly desired to stay in his native homeland despite the economic difficulties. Nicole’s engagement and mastery of the subject matter was evident to everyone in the room as she skillfully wove together her personal story with facts, policy issues and a vivid picture of the political and economic environment of the island.

How does a school engage a senior and the entire learning community, especially in late April when seniors are close to exams and all students are grappling with spring fever and the not-too-distant target of summer?

Read more here: How Senior Capstone Projects Let Students Research—and Present—Their Passions

In closing….

You’ve probably heard by now that Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow.  But TIME reports that ol’ Puxsy Phil has just a 39% accuracy rating.  Here Are 8 Other Groundhogs That Predicted Spring.  Here’s hoping!!!


TGIF! Jan 19 2018


Super-short TGIF this week – our family is taking a little up-north vacation weekend with friends, doing some skiing at Caberfae.

Here at Imagine! we are still waiting for final word on the building and brainstorming backup plans.  Thanks to those I’ve had conversations with this week for bouncing around ideas with me!  Thoughts?  Feedback? Concerns? Questions?  Shoot them my way!!

Have a great weekend everyone.  I promise you a ‘real’ TGIF next Friday.



TGIF! Dec 8 2017


Welcome, winter!

High School Update

We are proceeding with State inspections for a potential site in Ferrysburg.  This is super-exciting, but also not a slam dunk: while we are hopeful that the space in question will be deemed suitable for a high school, we also know bureaucracy can be fickle – so we kind of hold our breath and wait for now.  Bureaucracy is also SLOW (hmm, maybe we should reconsider holding our breath!) – so if it seems like we don’t have a lot of news to share here in the next few weeks, it’s because we are waiting, waiting, waiting.  Keep those fingers and toes crossed for now!

Learning Links

Personalized learning all over the blogosphere this week!

From the 74, on personalized learning and technology (and equity and a few other themes too!):

I visited a school — I was in England, south of London, a school there that had been a failing school. What they had done was unbelievable. They had completely transformed the school using a personalized learning model, and all of a sudden, all their graduation rates were up, they had students that were engaged. It was just one of these unbelievable stories.

I was talking to the teachers, and they sort of looked like zombies. They were all falling asleep, they were all yawning. They showed me this room, and after school every day — it was all on paper, sitting there with paper and pencil — they would literally redesign and adapt the learning experience for the kids for the next day. So they were there until 8:00, 9:00 at night doing this very difficult manual process. And I was like, “Why do you keep doing this to yourselves? This is crazy.” And they were like, “We are watching this transform the lives of these kids, how could we possibly stop?” And I said, “Yes, I take that point, but there are also some ways that you could enable this.”

I share that story because when people say, “Do you need technology to personalize learning?” No, but if you want to get some sleep at night, then yeah, you actually do need some tech to help take it to scale.

From a Medium post on the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative:

From settings as various as inner-city Chicago to the decks of naval ships, comes increasing evidence that when education is truly “personalized” — when it is genuinely tailored to the needs of the student — the shift can be profound, blowing away the expected “bell curve” that dictates a handful of failure, a bit of excellence, and a bunch of mediocrity in between.

In each of these cases, the not-so-secret ingredients included:

  • an intense focus on the individual strengths, aspirations and needs of each student
  • a willingness to redesign the learning environment and experience to meet those needs
  • a deep understanding of the strategies and practices that would be most effective
  • a belief that dramatic outcomes were possible.

That, in short, is a description of the education all children deserve, but few are privileged enough to receive. And that is what we are seeking to change: to take the kind of focus on individual needs and support that define privilege and make it available to all — to make equal opportunity real.

In that effort, we strive to hold two ideals in tension: boldness and humility. It will take boldness to reimagine what’s possible for students, radically elevating beliefs about their potential. Yet it also takes humility to recognize that what we describe as personalized learning is an extension of what Maria Montessori was doing a century ago. And while there are more questions to answer and new science to bring to bear, this work is not simply about invention — it’s also about listening to and engaging students and teachers in designing their own solutions while connecting effective practices that exist today in the classrooms of great teachers all over the world.


In closing….

Stay warm, enjoy the snowflakes, and have a joyous weekend.



TGIF! Dec 1 2017



Thank you for your donations, Facebook shares, and support of our Giving Tuesday fundraisers.  In total, you donated $1,055 in just over twelve hours!  All processing fees were waived so 100% of those donations will flow through to us.  And, we will receive an as-yet-unknown financial match – bringing our total to hopefully right around $1,500.  (There is a lot of speculation right now as to what time the $2 million in matching funds was exhausted. Best guess right now is that it was around 9am, unfortunately.)  We are so grateful for your support!


I heard from a few of you that you missed Tuesday’s opportunity, and wanted to know how you could still help.  Our tax-exempt information and mailing address for donations by check is on our website’s contact page.  For donations by credit card, debit card, or PayPal (no fees for the last one!) we also have a link to our PayPal donations site.  Or click right here to make your one-time or recurring donation today!

Learning Links

Sometimes I’ll read an editorial and think, “wow, that’s harsh”.  This was an example over this past week.  Here was the quote that struck me:

Today’s school system results in three general patterns of high school graduates: 1) students who peak in high school and live off the social capital they created as students, often not attending college, failing out, or coasting; 2) students who finish high school, go to college, and then establish a career that’s either unfulfilling or doesn’t have longevity in today’s shifting workforce; and 3) students who are far more ready to contribute to society in meaningful ways with or without college, whose motivation and ideas come from somewhere else, and while the system may nurture them, it is not always the reason for their success.

At first I thought – it can’t be that bad!  So I thought back to my last high school reunion (if that’s a fair sampling) and most of the attendees really did fall squarely into one of these three patterns.  There were plenty of folks from Bucket #1, busting their butts to make ends meet in relatively dead-end jobs.  There was a whole collection of college-educated people with financially successful but unfulfilling careers who were making mid-life career changes – Bucket #2.  There were a fair number of people who had experienced job loss and were back in school to retool for another career – again, Bucket #2.  Then there were the ones who “didn’t amount to much” by the yardstick of high school, who were now running their own businesses or succeeding in other less straightforward paths – Bucket #3.  There were 50 people in that room at least… I can picture one who was doing what he went to college to do, and was happy and successful at it.

I still think the quote is harsh.  But I also think the author may be more right than we want to admit. And even if not – we can do better.  There is too much passion, too many hopes and dreams in those teenage years to squander them in the artificial bubble of high school.


In closing….

Thanks again for your phenomenal support this week.  You are appreciated!



TGIF! Nov 17 2017


In six days, we’ll sit down for turkey, feasting, and thanks-giving.  I am truly grateful to you for your continued support.  2 ½ years ago, Imagine! was just a crazy idea I just couldn’t bat aside.  But today, when I look at the names of our future ninth graders, or when I drive by the place I hope we’ll call home next year, it’s already so much more.  And it’s each of you that has made that possible – if you didn’t want (need!) this school, it would have remained just an idea.  A good friend said the other day, “It’s no longer ‘build it and they will come’ – they’re coming, and you’ve got to build it.”  Mission accepted.

Enrollment interest

Speaking of that list of future ninth graders – if you have a son our daughter considering Imagine! for next year (as a 9th or 10th grader only), and you haven’t filled out our enrollment interest form, please go to to make sure we have you on our list.


Education Reimagined kicked off their annual conference for learner-centered education, SparkHouse, yesterday in Washington, DC.  Lots of Big Picture Learning students representing!  Checkout the tweetstorm that ensued on the question of “what makes an environment learner-centered?”  Adults have so many filters, so many models they (over)use to try and define these things.  The kids’ answers were pure.

What if I like structure?

Here was another great question mentioned during this event’s Facebook Live recap – “What if a kid sees school-centered education as the way they enjoy learning? What if they like the structure and the subject-by-subject nature of it?”  I hear this often, too, from parents – but the beauty of a learner-centered environment is the inherent choice: you have a choice to learn in the way that works for you.  If you like a lot of structure, you’ll learn to set up a structure for yourself. If you like more traditional learning methods, you’ll learn how to figure out where to access them. But learning to take ownership of your own learning is a skill that will be yours for the rest of your life.

Learning Links

Why wait to learn and do? (video clip):

On communicating better with your teenager –


In closing….

No TGIF next week.  Wishing you a joyous Thanksgiving Day with friends and family, and a restful long weekend.


TGIF! Oct 27 2017


Let’s do a quick Q&A edition this week.  Here are answers to a couple of questions I’ve received over the last two weeks or so.

So where is the high school going to be?

So just to clarify, we haven’t signed anything and it will take another couple of months to determine if the site we are investigating is going to work out.  Here’s what I can tell you so far: The site is located in the tri-cities of Grand Haven / Spring Lake / Ferrysburg, and is fairly central to all three communities.  It’s bigger than we need in the first year (and potentially a little bigger than we even will need at full capacity) – but, there is the possibility of co-locating with another interested tenant and we are exploring how that could work out. It offers the possibility of leasing rather than purchasing and could be made ready for use as school at minimal investment. If all these stars align (minimal renovation to meet code, lease versus buy, and sharing the space) this would all help to keep our start-up costs much lower.  That reduces our fundraising burden AND it means more of the money we will need to raise can directly impact our future students – purchasing the furniture they will work in, the technology they will leverage, the books and materials they will use, etc… and less of it needed just to update mechanical aspects of the building itself.

[From a student]: I heard we’ll be able to try out different jobs at your school.  Could I try out being a photographer?

I actually get this question a lot (well, fill in any of a dozen different careers at the end!) And my answer is usually both liberating and scary for teens.  The liberating part is that they don’t have to worry that their interest won’t be “on the list” because we (the adults in the building) aren’t going to be picking out internships for the students.  The scary part is, they will be.  But as I told this young lady on Wednesday, we’ll help with all the preparation necessary to identify, approach, and secure an internship and they definitely CAN do it.

Learning Links

There were a few good articles lately all relating to how traditional grading practices get in the way of actual learning.  From author Stephen King, “That fearlessness always comes when a kid is writing for himself, and almost never when doing directed writing for the grade.”   And another piece on how tough it is for students to work for learning, as opposed to doing work for a grade.

In closing….

Do you have a question I didn’t answer today?  Just reply to this email and I’ll respond either personally or in the next TGIF (or both).


TGIF! Oct 13 2017


Happy Friday the 13th!  We continue to explore potential locations – did a walkthrough of one facility this week and proceeding with due diligence.  Nothing we can publicly announce yet and still much work to do, but please keep your fingers crossed!

Since I’ve been digging through the fire code much of today, we’ll keep this TGIF short and sweet with just a couple of learning links:

HS Stress and Anxiety

From the NY Times this week:

For many of these young people, the biggest single stressor is that they “never get to the point where they can say, ‘I’ve done enough, and now I can stop,’ ” Luthar says. “There’s always one more activity, one more A.P. class, one more thing to do in order to get into a top college. Kids have a sense that they’re not measuring up. The pressure is relentless and getting worse.”

It’s tempting to blame helicopter parents with their own anxiety issues for that pressure (and therapists who work with teenagers sometimes do), but several anxiety experts pointed to an important shift in the last few years. “Teenagers used to tell me, ‘I just need to get my parents off my back,’ ” recalls Madeline Levine, a founder of Challenge Success, a Stanford University-affiliated nonprofit that works on school reform and student well-being. “Now so many students have internalized the anxiety. The kids at this point are driving themselves crazy.”

Life Skills Matter

From a (British) research study published yesterday:

Essential life skills such as confidence, motivation, resilience and communication are associated with better academic outcomes and better prospects in the workplace, and there is an increasing emphasis on their value, given labour market trends towards automation. While ‘character’ has traditionally been a focus of British private school education, provision in the state sector has been patchy, and it is only recently that a concerted move has been made towards prioritising life skills education for all children.

There is wide recognition of the importance of such life skills, with 88% of young people, 94% of employers and 97% of teachers saying that they are as or more important than academic qualifications. In fact, more than half of teachers (53%) believe that life skills are more important than academic qualifications to young people’s success and 72% believe their school should increase their focus on teaching life skills.

In closing….

Thanks for your continued support!  Please continue to share our mission with others!


TGIF! Sep 29 2017


Good morning and happy return to fall.  We continue to look at different building options for the high school and while our hope is to purchase a suitable existing facility (or really cheap land!) we also want to look for a contingency plan to get up and open with our initial class of 9th graders.  This would be a couple-of-classroom-sized space we could use for the first year (or two).  If you are a member of a community, civic, social, or religious organization that has some spaces that sit unused during the weekdays, we would be interested in learning more about potentially leasing that space.  The #1 clue that the space might meet school building code requirements is if it has a newer sprinkling system. So, look around as you go through your week this week – our school’s first home may be sitting under your nose!  We just need to hear about it!

See below for a few thoughts on why we need to see this school come to be, in the first place.

Purpose at the center

Our mission is to support each of our students to construct a life of meaning and purpose, and this mission is built into the heart of our school design.  This is an opportunity students in traditional high schools don’t often get, as Mind/Shift pointed this week in Helping Teens Find Purpose: A Tool For Educators To Support Students’ Discovery

“For you to have a sense of purpose you need two things: One, you need to know what’s important to you and what you care about,” Cook-Deegan said. “And two, you need to know how your work is going to have consequence in the world.” Many high school students go through four years of school doing exactly what they are told to do. The work often feels divorced from the real world — a prescriptive set of “shoulds” that adults say will lead to a happy life. But for many students, the end goal of all that work — college or a career — is a hazy future, not a tangible one.

The article goes on to point out two key structures that help bring purpose into focus for students – Advisories and Real World Experience. Learning in real-world internships allows students to test drive “possible futures” for themselves, and the support of their Advisor helps them to make sense of those experiences and grow in their understanding of their own talents and passions.

Cause and effect

I think the other reason for the “hazy future” problem is that our traditional schools, to the degree they address developing purpose, get the sequence backwards.  From another great piece, How to Help Teens Find Purpose:

“Young people do not usually develop a specific purpose and then go become an expert in that thing. Rather, they are exposed to something new that helps them develop their own sense of purpose. In short, in most cases experiences lead to developing purpose, not the other way around.”

Most people (4 out of 5 according to the Stanford Center on Adolescence) don’t have a clear vision of where they want to go, what they want to accomplish in life, and why.  And that’s OK.  But what’s not okay is telling 80% of young people to mimic those 20%: just pick something you think you can be passionate about, then go to college and study that thing, then get a job and make a career out of it.  (I’m not sure that works for the 20% all that well either.) We need to give kids a different roadmap:

“Most people do not have that one thing they are passionate about—that singular motivator that drives all of their life decisions and infuses every waking moment with a sense of purpose and meaning. (If you’ve found that studying the mating habits and evolution of mollusks from the Cambrian period until the present day is your purpose for living—we salute you. Charles Darwin spent thirty-nine years studying earthworms; we salute Charles Darwin.) …[But] most people are passionate about many different things, and the only way to know what they want to do is to prototype some potential lives, try them out, and see what really resonates with them. Once you know how to prototype your way forward, you are on the path to discovering the things you truly love.”

Our school model provides for that prototyping, and starts young people on their life’s journey so that graduation is just another step, not the end of the road.

 In closing….

Thanks for reading.  Please share our newsletter, and share our story with people you meet!


TGIF! Sep 15 2017


We’ve had a few long newsletters in recent weeks, so how about a short and sweet one?

Update update

(The title above was a typo as I searched for the right adjective.  Then I decided I kind of liked it as is – so here’s our ‘update update’.)

Summer is always a slow season in the education arena, and this one was no exception.  However, with the new school year fired up we are making some good progress as we approach the end of the quarter!  The two big things on our radar are facility and fundraising.  On the former we are working to nail down our location – vetting the feasibility of our frontrunner in terms of availability, zoning, cost, timing, and terms. On the fundraising front, we will be meeting with the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation next week and we very much look forward to their assistance and advice as we kick off that very important aspect of our school-founding journey!

Heard in the community…

I attended a meeting earlier this week which was held to solicit a wide variety of feedback to inform a local nonprofit’s upcoming strategic planning process.  In attendance were representatives from other non-profits with a variety of missions, local governments, local schools, etc. It was a big, diverse group.  It was amazing how, despite all the potential social issues facing our community, one of the top themes that emerged from the conversations was youth social and emotional health.  I look forward to reading a complete summary of the feedback they gathered; I think it will be helpful to our organization as well!

Learning Links

Speaking of mental health, a reminder that we all need time to daydream:

In closing….

What topics should we cover in the coming weeks?  Feel free to drop me a line with your questions and suggestions, to make this newsletter the most relevant to you!