The biggest bang for $10 million bucks?

March 6, 2012 at 11:30 AM 3 comments

What would I do if I won the lottery and wanted to make a big difference? What would you do?

I just read Diane Ravitch’s piece in the NY Review of Books “How and How Not to Improve Schools“, following on from her article on the Finnish model in “Schools we can Envy” and her talk in Oakland last month. And then there is 27 years of thinking about this while teaching in a whole variety of school settings. Because, really, winning the lottery is just around the corner. Or it would be if I actually played.

So here’s what I’m thinking. So fun to day dream and who knows what will come of that, perhaps some action…

I’ll start with where I am, here in El Sobrante. We hear gunshot across the creek behind our house most Saturday nights, we carry pepper spray and a heavy flashlight when walking our dogs in case any of the neighborhood pit bulls are on the loose. There’s at least one obvious drug house within an easy walk. It’s a mixed neighborhood of renters, owners, musicians, teachers, people struggling to make it and others who are doing well. We know each other mostly, and have a cohesive neighborhood that I love. Our local public schools have a bad reputation, especially the middle and high schools.

With 10 million, here’s what I see.

A school that grows from a pre-school/ kindergarten up each year. That has before and after care and a place for parents to come for support – employment readiness, parenting, and being linked into the school community of their children.

A school that is walkable and bikeable for children and their parents. That is also safe with whatever that takes to ensure that.

An interesting play ground that backs onto the wild lands – actually, the local East Bay Waldorf School does this AND has beautiful, interesting and eclectic play areas for children.

That has a school garden that children help with but with professional gardeners from the local young people (or parents) needing a job, so they and the children and their families have access to fresh food.  Breakfast, lunch and dinner for children at the school will be free if needed, or at cost. The cafeteria will be open to all, and will have a cafe and space for people to be comfortable together. There will be enough supervision to keep it safe for all.

A school that includes a nurse practitioner who will treat any of the school community with no charge. Free vaccinations. An arrangement with a local dentist and optometrist. Help with accessing MediCal.

After school care that includes tutoring and a whole range of activities like dance class, garage bands, exploring the local wild lands, improvisation, building stuff, horseback riding (we have lots of local stables) and robotics/invention classes. Stuff that’s so fun and meaningful that students WANT to stay late. Late night basket ball and street hockey will be supervised on lit courts for local young people wanting something safe and fun to do.

The school will be open all year from 6am to 9pm. The academic calendar will be on a year-round schedule to prevent the summer slump. Instead, there will be week-long breaks every 6 weeks or so, for teachers to plan and for students to relax. In the summer, there will be a month off, and 2 weeks at spring and winter break time. Enough teachers and after school staff will be hired to keep hours reasonable.

The success of the school depends upon the quality of it’s teachers – educators who can weave together what children love to do with what they need to do and learn, who love them enough to demand a lot: “Those who expect the best very often get it”. Smart and flexible thinkers who can work together. Where professional expectations are clear and supported, where teachers are trusted.

Where the organizations goals are co-constructed and regularly revisited with all stake holders. Sounds like edu-jargon, but I’ve seen it work.

A school were there are enough computers, paper, crayons and clay and enough time for regular recesses. A block schedule in the middle/high school that allows for project work and field trips. Where there is art and music, as well as the core academics. Where children use and apply what they learn to their lives. Where their sense of curiosity is fanned and leads on to effective problem solving – the real definition of ‘inquiry’.

Service will be part of the curriculum for all students – working in the garden, the school cafe or cafeteria, helping with younger children, training as a teacher’s aide or with the school nurse. Or going into the local community.

Outreach to local older citizens who might be interested in having a child read to them, or reading to children, working with them in the garden, or teaching them to do a craft they enjoy, with the supervision of a staff member as needed.

Parents need to have a stake in the school to ‘invest’ their children’s future in it. We’ll expect something from all parents, depending on what they can offer and what they need.

The children who get places will be based on who lives nearest, who has siblings there. That’s it. I like the old-fashioned view of community as people who live near each other.

A school that produces young people who are energized and effective, who know how to make good things happen in their lives and care to do the same for others. Citizens who will be persistent, creative, compassionate and resilient in the face of the hard changes facing our futures.

That’s my dream for right now. Interested? I wonder what we could do? Shall we tap the 1% to fund this?


Entry filed under: Reflections. Tags: , , , .

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3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Becky  |  March 6, 2012 at 4:07 PM

    Wow! yes, that was close to the original vision, a long time ago. Not everything. Not the hours or location, educational counselors rather than nurses. We did many of those things, more than I had expected, BUT!!!


    • 2. Sue Boudreau  |  March 6, 2012 at 4:45 PM

      Becky actually got a school going herself – the original founder of Windrush school in El Cerrito. I’m honored to have her as my friend.


  • 3. EricIndiana  |  March 7, 2012 at 6:36 PM

    Excellent post – I like the fact that you approach it by thinking of how to improve the climate of school – how to make schools more compassionate and to address the whole child, instead of just railing against teachers or relying in more rigorous testing. Here are my ideas on school reform, and I think they are in alignment with your thoughts:



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