Jul 03

Graduation Speech to the Class of 2016

Ladies and gentlemen, parents and friends, teachers and honored guests, what a wonderful evening in an incredible place to celebrate the achievements of an outstanding group of young women and men, the Science Leadership Academy Class of 2016.

Thank you to our partner, The Franklin Institute, led by Chair of the Board of Trustees, Don Morel and CEO Larry Dubinsky and to our school’s liaison, Dr. Frederic Bertley. To be partnered with a cultural institution such as this one is to share a belief in the true spirit of inquiry and its continued value in our lives.

And graduates, before we celebrate all that you have done, let us also honor the work of all of those who have helped you reach this moment in time. So please, let us have a round of applause for the parents and friends and teachers and loved ones who have helped you reach this milestone in your life – and let me shout-out specifically Mr. Bey, Ms. Jonas, Mr. Latimer, Ms. Pahomov, Ms. Manuel, Ms. Martin and Mr. Kamal, the advisors who have taken care of you throughout your journey through SLA.

And parents, thank you for sharing your children with us. It has been our distinct honor and pleasure – more than we can possibly say.

On a personal note, there are a lot of people who wonder why I do two jobs – why I don’t do the district work full-time. Simply – the answer is you. The chance to be at SLA and watch you all grow – you and your younger schoolmates – is a great joy of my life, and I thank you for it.

I think it is well-known how outstanding you all are academically. The Class of 2016 represents some of the highest achievement Science Leadership Academy has ever seen in college admission – with students of to attend schools all over this country including many of the most highly competitive colleges in the nation. Perhaps more importantly, what struck all of us at SLA is how cohesive and close you came to be as a class — and how much you deeply believed in the idea of service to school and community. You all represent the best ideal of what we hope for in our graduates – fully realized citizens, ready for whatever is next, ready to make the world a better place as you have made our school a better place.

This week, we watched the underclassmen and rising seniors immerse themselves in Challenge Week projects for the first time, and I couldn’t help but think of how the cycle of school is ongoing, that those students will soon sit where you sit now, that they have learned so much from the example you all have set and I thought about the iterative process of learning that never ends and how much you have grown through that process.

It is always my hope that the four years you spend with us help you become more thoughtful, wise, passionate and kind – full of thought, with the wisdom to apply thoughts in powerful ways, with the passion to power through the times when people tell you it cannot be done, and kind… because the world needs more kindness. And let me say now, that you all embody those values powerfully and beautifully.

And as much as tonight is a signpost for you to begin what you will once you leave us, it is also a night for us to engage in that fifth SLA core value – reflection. So let us take some time to look back over the past four years, the work you have done, and the role that we have all played in each other’s lives.

Let us step back and think about all that you have done.

You have completed nearly 10,000 benchmark projects over the last four years. And at least three or four of them were completed before the night before they were due.

You have been Student Assistant Teachers in over fifty 9th, 10th and 11th grade classes, helping students in class, in our halls, on Facebook and anywhere you were needed – guaranteeing that our younger students know what it means to go to SLA.

You have spent over 20,000 hours at your Individualized Learning Programs, working at hospitals, and schools and businesses and universities all over our city.

You sent out over 900 college applications, across 250 schools, receiving over 400 acceptances and over one million dollars in scholarships.

You have set a new standard for the students of Philadelphia in debate, winning city championships, and representing our school and our city at the national championships – not once, but twice.

You have taken Rough Cut Productions further than we could have imagined, creating hours of original work, documenting 100s of hours of SLA functions, winning national recognition for your short films and creating the Rough Cut Film Festival – a week-long event that is going on this week, culminating with Monday night’s award ceremony — and I look forward to seeing many of you there.

You spent hours working on an incredible robotics team that went up against teams with more resources and a longer history, and you went further than many of those teams thought you could go.

You wrote and performed your ideas onto the world with the incredible slam poetry you created on our award-winning PYPM team.

You rebuilt Kamalot, and by that I mean Room 304, transforming that space in your image, and I am wondering… are we ever going to find a place for all that wood in the hall?

You wrote hundreds of articles for SLAMedia.org — setting a standard for on-line student journalism for high schools all over the world.

You have furthered the partnership with The Franklin Institute, working on Project SPACE, teaching 9th grade mini-classes, and meeting with Franklin Award winning scientists who are engaged in some of the most powerful work in the world.

You have run thousands of miles with Students Run Philly Style, running the Philly Marathon, the Broad Street Run, and so many Saturday morning training runs that I am tired just thinking about it.

You have played — and won — on the fields and courts of Philadelphia, never letting the lack of a gym or a home field stand in the way of your desire and ability to compete, always wearing SLA’s colors with pride and representing us with dignity even in the face of adversity.

You have spoken truth to power – rallying in the streets in support of your teachers, speaking passionately to SRC members about why this school is so important to you and standing up for the causes you believe in over and over again.

You have hosted thousands of educators from all over the world who came to see how you learn. They often came skeptical that high school students could do what you do, speak the way you speak, learn the way you learn, but to a person, they left convinced, recommitted to the idea that schools should be places where students — and learning — matter greatly.

And last week, you presented the culminating work of your time at Science Leadership Academy – your capstones. The projects were as varied as you all are. You built solar charging stations, you coached youth sports teams, you taught classes, you created original pieces of art work that will live in our school long after your days here are done, you built gorgeous pieces of furniture, you made movies, you illustrated Siddhartha — which no one had ever thought to do before… ever — you engaged in political action campaigns, you created digital scale models of the solar system, you wrote a word processor, you taught us about the broader world and the people who live in it. In short, you led, you created, you learned.

You took our core values – inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection – and applied them to your own ideas, your own passions, and in doing so, created incredible artifacts of your learning. You stood in front of your community and said, “This is the scholar – the artist – the activist – the maker – the person I have become. This is what I can do.” And in doing so, you reminded all of us of what young people can do when given the freedom and the support to dream big.

But that should come as no surprise, because it seemed like no matter where the bar was set, you all always exceeded it.

And you have done all this at a time where public education in this city remains under attack. You created all of this at a time when our state politicians see fit to turn education into a political football, not passing a state budget for months after their deadline because they would not agree to fund education equitably across our state. You did this despite funding levels in our city that are nowhere near what is spent on the children who live on the other side of City Line Avenue. And to my eyes, your accomplishments over the past four years are proof to any politician of why public education is so vital, so important. You have proven over and over again what the kids of Philadelphia can do when given the resources they need and when they are supported by teachers who care for them.

And while tonight is a night for celebration and reflection, it is also a night to look forward. You have completed one chapter of your life tonight, but it is our hope that the lessons you have learned with us propel you into whatever comes next. You are our hope now. For the parents and families and teachers gathered with you today, you represent our best chance, our best ideals, our most hopeful promise that the world tomorrow can be better than it is today.

You must remember that inquiry means asking the hard questions, not just of yourself, but of others. And you must remember that the true spirit of inquiry means never settling for the easy or trite answers, but rather seeking out those small “t” truths that will lead to new ideas and new solutions.

You must have the humility to understand that we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and your humility must lead you to research what others before you have discovered, so that you do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We need you to, after all, make new and more interesting mistakes than the ones we have made. You must keep in mind the path you have traveled, the pitfalls as well as the successes, because it is that humility, that notion that our shared humanity – our moments of frailty – that will keep us grounded in the world, in the notion that each and all of us have value.

You must remember that we are better together than we are apart and seek out collaboration. You must understand that the complexity of the challenges we face are more powerfully understand when viewed through the lens of many, not the lens of one. You have walked for four years in a community that values — and at times struggles with — the diversity of voices that make up the rich tapestry of our school and our city. We all are better for listening to each other and informing each other’s voice. That idea — of collaboration — of diversity — of coming together — is at the heart of how we will all make the world a better place.

You must continue to make your voice heard. And no, I can’t imagine that will be a problem for you all, but when you make your voice heard, remember that presentation is a two-way street. Continue to speak for the purpose of educating your listeners. Keep working to make your voices inclusive, so that others can pick up your cause, your idea, your voice, and echo and amplify it for many more. Ideas do not live in isolation. And I know that all of you will have the courage of your conviction, and the passion and voice to speak your truths to those who must hear them.

No matter busy you get, no matter how important the work you are doing is, you must remember to take the time for reflection. For it is when we reflect on our actions, on the world around us, that we can process and learn from what we have done. Never be in such a rush to do, to create, to lead, that you lose sight of the importance of listening, of stillness, of the wise counsel of others, so that you can always be thoughtful about what you have done and what you have left to do.

And, of course, make sure you remember that unspoken sixth core value – care. So many of you have spoken about how SLA is a family – granted, often a dysfunctional one – but a family nonetheless. That is because we all — adults and students alike — took the time to care for one another. It is the heart of this school, the heart of our shared values, that we must be kind. We must care. We must understand that we are better together than we are apart.

And through that ideal, all of us here have benefitted from being in a caring environment where questions like, “What do you think?,” “How do you feel?” and “What do you need?” are not admissions of weakness, but rather of strength. So know this… To listen deeply to others, to thoughtfully construct answers, and to create solutions that empower many – that is the heart of what we have tried to teach you over these four years, and as I look upon you now, I am reminded of dozens of instances where you all have taken that challenge and succeeded gloriously – beyond anything we had a right to expect from you.

And that matters, because we need you now. Much as we urged you not to simply view high school as preparation for real life, nor can you view the next stage of your life that way either. If being part of a community like ours mattered to you these last four years, then you know what you must do next. You must carry these values forward into all you do next.

The work you do, the challenges you embark upon, the causes you champion once you leave our halls matter. It won’t always be easy. There are still too many people in our world who believe that it cannot be done. There are too many people who seek not the best in people, but the worst. But you all know better. You all know what is possible – what can be done when people come to the world with wisdom and care. Simply, you are our best hope for the future. In our classes, in our hallways and on many Facebook and Twitter chats, we have discussed the challenges our world faces. The world cannot wait for you to take them on.

Because, not to put too fine a point on it, the world needs you. We were reminded of that this week, with the tragedy in Orlando where 49 people were killed because of who they chose to love. We are reminded that when we read about the base nature of the political debate in this nation. We are reminded of that every time we have to continue to fight for the civil rights of all people, working to ensure that a person’s race, gender, religion, economic status or sexual orientation is not used by others as a barrier to equity, fairness or joy.

It is undeniable – we face challenges in our schools, in our city, in our country, in our world, that will require the best from those who have the passion to create change and the skills to do it. You do not have the luxury of hoping that other people will say what must be said, do what is needed, work to make the world a better place. That is not the world we have left you. You must be smarter than we have been, more compassionate than we have been able to be, and braver than we can imagine.

But as I look upon you now, I see a group of young people more than able to rise to the challenge. You have accomplished so much in your four years with us, and it is only a beginning. On behalf of the entire SLA faculty, we are so proud of all you have done, and we cannot wait to see what you do now that you have left our halls. Congratulations to the Class of 2016. Long may you shine.

Apr 12

Join the SLA Team!

It’s hiring season in Philadelphia, and the Science Leadership Academy schools have openings at all three (three!) campuses!

Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber is hiring for it’s final founding cohort, as next year will “fill” the school. They are looking for the following positions:

  • English
  • History
  • Biology
  • Math
  • Physical Education
  • Counseling
  • Special Education

Science Leadership Academy – Center City

  • History
  • Math

Science Leadership Academy Middle School – Be part of SLA-MS founding faculty!

  • Elementary Education
  • Special Education
  • Art
  • Counseling

Call for Teachers:

  • “How do we learn?”
  • “What can we create?”
  • “What does it mean to lead?”

These three essential questions form the basis of instruction at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) a Philadelphia high school opened in September 2006. SLA is built on the notion that inquiry is the very first step in the process of learning. Developed in partnership with The Franklin Institute – a nationally recognized science and technology museum – and its commitment to inquiry-based science, SLA provides a rigorous, college-preparatory curriculum with a focus on science, technology, mathematics and entrepreneurship. Students at SLA learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes.

The Science Leadership Academy is looking for faculty to continue to develop and implement a rigorous, inquiry-driven, project-based curriculum. In addition, all teachers at SLA have an advisory class where they work with the same students for four years. SLA is a national model for “School 2.0,” a reform movement that seeks to harness the tools of technology, tied to a progressive pedagogy, to re-imagine what high schools can be. As such, SLA is a 1:1 laptop school that uses multiple resources – web-based and traditional – to create meaning and understanding.

Qualifications:

  • Applicants must be PA State Certified or eligible for PA State Certification in their subject area.
  • Applicants must be committed to the idea that we teach students first and our subjects second.
  • Applicants must be willing to challenge students to work in an inquiry-driven, project based environment.
  • Applicants must be willing to work collaboratively.
  • Applicants must be willing to work in a diverse environment with students who reflect the rich heritage of Philadelphia.
  • Applicants should have a strong background in technology infusion into the classroom and be willing to see their classroom as happening both on and offline.
  • Applicants should have an interest in developing extra-curricular activities.
  • Applicants should be energetic, flexible, and have a strong desire to work with administrators, fellow teachers, parents, and students to create a school that reflects SLA’s core values.

How to Apply:
For more information, please visit http://www.scienceleadership.org, http://www.slabeeber.org, http://slamiddle.org/ or contact SLA at teaching@scienceleadership.org. Resumes and cover letters can be sent to teaching@scienceleadership.org but all applicants must apply through the School District of Philadelphia Site Selection Process as well.

Contact Info:

SLA @ Beeber: Principal – Chris Johnson

SLA – Center City: Co-Principals – Chris Lehmann / Aaron Gerwer

SLA Middle School: Principal – Tim Boyle

Email: teaching@scienceleadership.org

Sep 08

EduCon 2.8 – Call for Proposals

It’s that time again! EduCon 2.8 is open for registration!

What is EduCon, you say?

EduCon is both a conversation and a conference.

It is an innovation conference where we can come together, both in person and virtually, to discuss the future of schools. Every session will be an opportunity to discuss and debate ideas — from the very practical to the big dreams.

The Axioms

The guiding principles behind EduCon

  1. Our schools must be inquiry-driven, thoughtful and empowering for all members.
  2. Our schools must be about co-creating — together with our students — the 21st Century Citizen.
  3. Technology must serve pedagogy, not the other way around.
  4. Technology must enable students to research, create, communicate, and collaborate.
  5. Learning can — and must — be networked.

Come to Philadelphia from January 29 – 31, 2016 (yeah, we know, it’s cold) for an incredible three days of learning together where the very pedagogy of the conference is a model the learning we want for our students.

And make EduCon even better – facilitate one of our conversations. Submissions for conversations are open now until November 1st.

This year’s theme is “Empowerment.” Join us as we ask the question – “What are the conditions necessary for empowerment?”

See you in Philly at SLA!

 

Aug 18

Dream Big

The start of the school year is fast upon us. (And for some folks, it’s already here.)

Soon, our days will be consumed by papers to grade, lessons to plan, practices to coach… the day-to-day of the job that makes the job alternatively awesome and frustrating.

But right now, the floors are still clean… the photocopier still works… and while we may all be wishing for a few more days of summer… now is the time to dream big.

I hope that every teacher in every school has the opportunity to sit with colleagues and dream big. Whether it is a school-wide initiative or something in an individual classroom, now is the time to set big goals and think about how to work toward them.

Now is the time to remember the best of what our classrooms can be and to plan anew to on how we can approach our best ideals every day.

Now is the time to dust off a long forgotten idea and see if this is the year that it’ll work.

For our schools to be innovative places — for our students to be inspired to take risks and do new things — we need to model that ourselves. Sometimes, the ideas will come from us, sometimes the ideas will come from our students, sometimes we’ll borrow an idea we’ve seen other people do. It doesn’t matter where the spark comes from – it matters that we take the time to dream and figure out how we might realize those dreams.

This year at SLA, we’re going to try a Challenge Week — a week without traditional class structures where there are grade-wide interdisciplinary teams working to take on big challenges and projects and work to create innovative solutions to what we see around us in our city. I have no idea if it’s going to work, and I have a ton of concerns about all the reasons it might not.

But we’re going to try it.

And this is the year we’re going to try to do our “Capstone Pitch Night.” Every year, there are a handful of seniors who realize that their capstones need some start-up funding. Our kids have sold lots of cupcakes to try to raise money for their ideas, but we’re going to try to help them this year. This winter, there will be a pitch night where we invite the larger Philly start-up and tech communities to SLA to listen to our seniors pitch their ideas, and whatever money we’ve raised (and we’ve got a little saved up) will be granted or loaned as mini-grants to the top ideas so that kids can spend less time fundraising and more time making their visions a reality. It’s something we learned about years ago from Linda Nathan and the amazing folks at Boston Arts Academy, and we had a little success with mini-grants last year, and this year, we’re ready to really go big with it.

What’s your big idea for the year? And how are you going to remember to keep that dream alive and real once the day-to-day start?

Jul 07

Old Hat, New Hat

[This is a note I just sent to the families of SLA. I present it here – with a more whimsical title that references one of my favorite Dr. Seuss books – to let everyone know what I’ll be up to next school year.]

To the families of Science Leadership Academy,

Science Leadership Academy was founded as a research and development school for the School District. For the past nine years, students and teachers from SLA have worked with hundreds of teachers and principals from the School District and beyond on how to change their practice to be more inquiry-driven and caring educators. Under Dr. Hite’s leadership, the School District of Philadelphia is starting the Innovative Schools Network – a hub for powerful new ideas for schools. As part of this network, dedicated to nurturing new models of education, SLA is well positioned to continue its work as a national leader for creating empowering educational experiences.

Today, Dr. Hite is announcing that my role in the School District of Philadelphia is expanding to oversee the Innovative Schools Network. Beginning August 1, I will serve the students of Philadelphia in a dual capacity – both principal of Science Leadership Academy and Assistant Superintendent of the Innovative Schools Network. And, because there are just so many hours in the day, I am delighted to announce that Aaron Gerwer will join us full-time at SLA as co-principal. Many of you will know Aaron as our principal fellow this past year. It has been a pleasure to see him grow into this new role, and I look forward to partnering with him this coming year.

Working with the students and teachers and families of the Science Leadership Academy continues to be the most rewarding experience of my professional career. The work your children do every day is what inspired the School District of Philadelphia to authorize the foundation of Science Leadership Academy @ Beeber and our upcoming effort, the Science Leadership Academy Middle School.

The work we will now do as part of the Innovative Schools Network is a continuation of the belief in the agency and ability of the students and families of Philadelphia. It is my pleasure to be able to continue to serve as principal of SLA and to now help other school communities serve their students in powerful, modern ways.

Best,
Mr. Lehmann

Jun 12

Graduation Speech to the SLA Class of 2015

Ladies and gentlemen, parents and friends, teachers and honored guests, what a wonderful evening in an incredible place to celebrate the achievements of an outstanding group of young women and men, the Science Leadership Academy Class of 2015.

Thank you to our partner, The Franklin Institute, led by Chair of the Board of Trustees, Don Morel and CEO Larry Dubinsky and our school’s liaison, Dr. Frederic Bertley. To be partnered with a cultural institution such as this one is to share a belief in the true spirit of inquiry and its continued value in all of our lives.

And graduates, before we celebrate all that you have done, let us also honor the work of all of those who have helped you reach this moment in time. So please, let us have a round of applause for the parents and friends and teachers and loved ones who have helped you reach this milestone in your life. And parents, thank you for sharing your children with us. It has been our distinct honor and pleasure to teach them.

As Mr. Best referenced, your time at SLA has been one of the most challenging times in the School District of Philadelphia. In your time, you have seen over one billion dollars of cuts to the district’s budget which has resulted in the closure of dozens of schools, the layoffs of thousands of teachers, the cutting of many programs, such that, you’ve never known SLA to have a librarian or extra science electives, and often, what you have known was a school that had to ask, “How can we do more with less,” as opposed to, “How can we make sure that we can do all we know we can do.” Year after year, you had to stand with your school and fight for the resources you deserved in your education – in fact, fight for your teachers’ jobs. And year after year, when we needed you, you stood with us. And in ways that humbled us in ways I cannot describe, you told us that it was because when you needed us, we were there for you.

Throughout this city, the narrative of public education in your time in high school has been one of deprivation and loss, and yet, each of you stands before us today as a shining example of the resilience and strength and brilliance of the children of Philadelphia. Each of you stand as a sharp rebuke to those who would say that the children of this city do not deserve more. Each of you can speak powerfully to what the children of this city, when supported by teachers who care for them, can achieve in their high school careers.

You, the Class of 2015, along with the teachers who have walked this walk with you, have sent a clear and powerful message to all those who would say that public education in Philadelphia is not worth funding. You have made it clear that our schools, your education… your lives matter. And it is my hope that the active, vigorous education that has been your SLA experience means that your voice for the need for a fully funded, fully realized educational experience for all our nation’s children will be heard in the halls of power in our city and beyond for years and years to come.

Because your class – more so than any class that has come before you – has made itself heard far beyond the walls of our school, into the halls of power in this city. Just recently, Dr. Hite told me that, no matter what meetings he goes to, it seems like there are students from SLA there advocating for the causes they believe in. You all have shown the adults of this city that the ideas and voices of young people can power not just the future of this city, but its present as well. You have not been willing to wait your turn to lead. You have done so now, and it is my profound hope that you will continue to do so, in our city, on college campuses across this nation, and wherever your lives may lead.

But before you go… let us engage in that last core value – reflection – one last time, and let us think about all you have accomplished in your time at SLA. You came to us four years ago as a group of individuals, with all your different elementary school experiences. You represented over sixty different schools from all over our city, and you came together to be one class – one school. And all of you shared a vision of your high school experience that believed that school could be more than what so many kids across our city and across our nation experience. It is time to think today about what that has meant… what that has looked like… and what you have done.

You have completed nearly 10,000 benchmark projects over the last four years. And at least three or four of them were completed before the night before they were due.

You have spent over 20,000 hours at your Individualized Learning Programs, working at hospitals, and schools and businesses and universities all over our city.

You have been Senior Assistant Teachers in over fifty classes, helping students in class, in our halls, on Facebook and anywhere you were needed – guaranteeing that our younger students know what it means to go to SLA.

You have taken part in Rough Cut Productions, creating some of the most polished and original films this school has ever seen, all while capturing the life of this school – including filming tonight’s graduation.

You have written dozens of articles for SLAMedia.org – creating an example of student journalism for all to see.

You have spoken out against injustice and brutality, organizing rallies and die-ins and protests and worked tireless on political campaigns, again showing our city that the easy narrative of the apathy of youth simply does not apply.

You have crafted yourselves onto the very canvas of our school, creating murals and spaces that will make us think of you and tell your stories long after you have left our walls.

You have run thousands of miles with Students Run Philly Style, running the Philly Marathon, the Broad Street Run, and so many Saturday morning training runs that I am tired just thinking about it.

You have completed engineering projects – including designing a water purification system for use in Cambodia. And I would speak in great depth about those many projects… except I don’t fully understand them well enough to explain them.

You represented SLA at the National Championships of Debate – marking the first time in history that students from the Philadelphia public schools have competed in that tournament.

You have gone further in the baseball playoffs than any team in SLA history, with a magical run through an undefeated regular season. You led a girls soccer team to Class 2A Public League Championship, beating schools that were four times the size of our school along the way. You made the playoffs in Girls Volleyball, Boys Soccer and Girls Basketball. And of course, you finished third in the state in Girls Ultimate and 11th in the state in Boys Ultimate – both higher finishes than any team in SLA history in any sport. In all, you have competed all over the fields and courts of Philadelphia, never letting the lack of a gym or a home field stand in the way of your desire and ability to compete, always wearing SLA’s colors with pride and representing us with dignity – the best of what student-athleticism can be.

You have also spent more time in the ballroom than any class in SLA’s history, and I think your senior teachers might still feel some kind of way about that.

And despite that, you have received over 400 acceptance letters to universities and colleges across this country, and you have received offers of millions of dollars of scholarship money. You will be going to 53 different schools in sixteen different states, as well as representing us in our home state as well. Your class represents the largest ever SLA incoming classes at Temple University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Pittsburgh.

You have hosted thousands of educators from all over the world who came to see how you learn. They often came skeptical that high school students could do what you do, speak the way you speak, learn the way you learn, but to a person, they left convinced, recommitted to the idea that schools should be places where students — and learning — matter greatly. And barely a day goes by without an educator reaching out to me, telling me about how you all have changed how they teach, changed what the do. Your work, your passion, the example you have set has made school better for thousands of young women and men across our country.

And earlier this week, you presented the culminating work of your time at Science Leadership Academy – your capstones. The projects were as varied as you all are. You ran tournaments, you created original films, you hosted mayoral debates, you helped make science education accessible to children in Paraguay, you built a smart bee hive, you made original music, you taught other children about issues of importance and passion to you, you curated galleries of your art. In all, you took our core values – inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection – and applied them to your own ideas, your own passions, and in doing so, created incredible artifacts of your learning. You stood in front of your community and said, “This is the scholar I have become. This is what I can do.” And in doing so, you reminded all of us of what young people can do when given the freedom and the support to dream big.

And again, you have done all of this at a time when politicians are saying that the children of Philadelphia do not deserve the financial resources of the districts at border our boundaries. I believe that your work will forever stand as testimony. And it is my hope that you will continue your advocacy for all of Philadelphia’s children – if not children everywhere – to be able to engage in the kind of education we share at SLA.

Because while tonight is a night for celebration and reflection, it is also a night to be forward thinking. You have completed one chapter of your life tonight, but it is our hope that the lessons you have learned with us propel you into whatever comes next. You are our hope now. For the parents and families and teachers gathered with you today, you represent our best chance, our best ideals, our most hopeful promise that the world tomorrow can be better than it is today.

So, if you will indulge me one more time… let me leave you with some thoughts on how you may go about the profound challenge of trying to change the world… because I have no doubt that you will continue to do so.

You must remember that inquiry means asking the hard questions, not just of yourself, but of others. And you must remember that the true spirit of inquiry means never settling for the easy or trite answers, but rather seeking out those small “t” truths that will lead to new ideas and new solutions. You must remember those moments of the past four years when you challenged yourself and those around you to discover new ideas, to shed old illusions and create anew our world.

You must have the humility to understand that we all stand on the shoulders of giants, and your humility must lead you to research what others before you have discovered, so that you do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We need you to, after all, make new and more interesting mistakes than the ones we have made. You must keep in mind the path you have traveled, the pitfalls as well as the successes, because it is that humility, that notion that our shared humanity – our moments of frailty – that will keep us grounded in the world, in the notion that each and all of us have value.

And that means that you must remember that we are better together than we are apart and seek out collaboration. You must understand that the complexity of the challenges we face are more powerfully understood when viewed through the lens of many, not the lens of one. You have walked for four years in a community that values — and at times struggles with — the diversity of voices that make up the rich tapestry of our school and our city. We all are better for listening to each other and informing each other’s voice. That idea — of collaboration — of diversity — of coming together — is at the heart of how we will all make the world a better place.

And to do make the world a better place, you must continue to make your voices heard. And no, I can’t imagine that will be a problem for you all, but when you make your voice heard, remember that presentation is a two-way street. Continue to speak for the purpose of educating your listeners. Keep working to make your voices inclusive, so that others can pick up your cause, your idea, your voice, and echo and amplify it for many more. Ideas do not live in isolation. I know that all of you will have the courage of your conviction, and the passion and voice to speak your truths to those who must hear them.

And I urge you, no matter how busy you get, no matter how important the work you are doing is, you must remember to take the time for reflection. For it is when we reflect on our actions, on the world around us, that we can process and learn from what we have done. Never be in such a rush to do, to create, to lead, that you lose sight of the importance of listening, of stillness, of the wise counsel of others, so that you can always be thoughtful about what you have done and what you have left to do.

And, of course, make sure you remember that unspoken sixth core value – care. So many of you have spoken about how SLA is a family – granted, at times a dysfunctional one – but a family nonetheless. That is because we all — adults and students alike — took the time to care for one another. The hallmark of the SLA community is how often you see students and teachers caring for one another.

Because all of us here have benefitted from being in a caring environment where questions like, “What do you think?,” “How do you feel?” and “What do you need?” are not admissions of weakness, but rather of strength. So know this… To listen deeply to others, to thoughtfully construct answers, and to create solutions that empower many – that is the heart of what we have tried to teach you over these four years, and as I look upon you now, I am reminded of dozens of instances where you all have taken that challenge and succeeded gloriously.

And that matters, because we need you now. In our classes, in our hallways and on many Facebook and Twitter chats, we have discussed the challenges our world faces.  And just as you never simply viewed high school as preparation for the rest of your life, nor can you view the next stage of your life that way either. The work you do, the challenges you embark upon, the causes you champion once you leave our halls matter. You are our best hope for the future, because you truly are what we hope for our SLA graduates – you are thoughtful, wise, passionate and kind. And you are — all of you — what the world needs.

We face challenges in our schools, in our city, in our country, in our world, that will require the best from those who have the passion to create change and the skills to do it. You do not have the luxury of hoping that other people will say what must be said, do what is needed, work to make the world a better place. That is not the world we have left you. You must be smarter than we have been, more compassionate than we have been able to be, and braver than we can imagine.

But as I look upon you now, I see a group of young women and men more than able to rise to that challenge. You have accomplished so much in your four years with us, and it is only a beginning. On behalf of the entire SLA faculty, we are so proud of all you have done, and we cannot wait to see what you do next. Congratulations to the Science Leadership Academy Class of 2015. Long may you shine.

Apr 08

Do Real Work That Matters

This afternoon, Amy hosted the Youth Strategy Session for Philadelphia Ceasefire. All but one of the 2015 mayoral candidates came and debated ways to reduce the gun violence in our city. Students from all over the city came together to talk, listen and strategize how to make their city a safer place for all its residents.

This evening, Nikki and TJ discussed the role of standardized testing in education with Robert Pondiscio on 900am WURD. Robert is one of the toughest debaters I know – I always feel like, if I’m going into a conversation with Robert, I better bring my A game because his mind moves as quickly as anyone I know. And Nikki and TJ were amazing. They asked great questions… pushed back well when needed… and established themselves as heavyweights in the world of education in their own right.

Every day… every single day… I am awed by the work of the students at SLA. They do real work that matters. And that work builds on itself. That’s the awesome thing. Younger kids saw what Amy did today and were inspired to pick up that ball. Nikki and TJ both mentor younger students at school to be leaders all the time. And all three of them would (I think) tell you that while, yes, they are amazing young women and men (and they are), they are able to do more, be more, because they are part of a community that supports and believes in their ability to be active agents in their world.

That’s what school can be. That’s what school should be. I’ve got several emails in my inbox I have to reply to from social change organizations that are asking for SLA kids to help them with their projects. Rough Cut Productions (our video team) kids are being contracted to do work all over the city. SLA kids are in-demand as interns through our ILP program. Our SLAMedia journalists have the respect of the professional journalists when they cover the same events. And all of this is because kids can do incredible, amazing real world work that matters now.

And it starts with the idea that our classrooms have to matter. It starts with the idea that “Why do I need to know this?” is a fundamental right of every student to ask. It starts with the idea that education matters not just for “someday” but for today. We can learn about the world as we work to make it better. We can apply the skills and content we learn in our classrooms to passions and challenges and ideas we have outside of them. And when we merge the two — when we understand that the classroom is not defined by four walls and floor, but rather the physical space is the place we come together to debate, discuss, build, create so that we can then fully engage in the world around us — that’s when incredible things can — and will — happen.

And here’s the next step… today, in four different classrooms in School District of Philadelphia schools, SLA grads Freda, Sinnea, Julia and Zack were doing their student teaching practicum. All four of them are taking what they learned as students at SLA and passing it on to their students, helping other students to believe in their ability to change the world as well.

In fact, Zack is my son Theo’s student teacher. Not surprisingly, Theo has already falling in love with him.

Of course he has.

And I know that Zack will help Theo – as a second grader – build the skill and the strength of self to do real work that matters. Not someday, but today. I know that Zack will see the passion and energy and ideas that Theo has, and he will help Theo to do something that matters with those ideas.

I’d expect nothing less.

Apr 01

Exciting New SLA Partnership

As most folks who visit this blog know, these have been some very difficult years for the School District of Philadelphia. It has meant that many principals have found themselves in the role of Fundraiser-in-Chief. For me, it’s a skill-set I never really wanted to develop, but after years of cuts, it has become what was necessary to maintain the program at SLA.

Probably, we could have thought of a better financial time to open our second campus – SLA@Beeber, but so many families made it clear that an inquiry-driven, project-based education was what they wanted that, even under financial duress, we felt that we needed to move forward. And I am amazed at what the teachers, students, parents and principal, Chris Johnson, have done in such a short time.

Realistically, however, the work needs more support. SLA@Beeber needs to find a sustainable financial model to thrive as I know that it can. As such, Chris and I have been working to find ways to ensure that the incredible work of the students can continue, no matter what the outcome of Gov. Wolf’s and Mayor Nutter’s budget proposals.

It’s not easy work, and after nine years at SLA, I know how frustrating it is to chase grant after grant, donor after donor, knowing that all the time you spend fundraising is time you aren’t spending with teachers and students, doing the work you believe in the most.

Like it or not, this has become part of the job of the principal in too many under-resourced public schools all over the country. And no matter what SLA and SLA@Beeber can do as individual schools, it does not change the need for equitable and adequate funding for all of Philadelphia’s schools, and nothing changes our commitment to urging the politicians of our state to do the right thing for the children of this city and this state.

Fortunately, SLA has benefitted from the kind words of so many educators who have walked the hallways of our schools that we have been able to work with some amazing people who want nothing more than to see the schools — and the kids who do amazing work within them — thrive.

One of the challenges of fundraising is that often donors want to influence the work of the school. Too many grants, too many donors, often money with strings. We have been both very lucky and very deliberate in that all of the organizations we have worked with – whether it has been The Franklin Institute or Dell Computer – have wanted to support our work and grow and learn with us. I fully recognize the gift that has been, and I am thrilled to say that our latest donor shares the same belief.

Our dedication to our core mission – of an inquiry-driven, project-based education with a deep ethic of care is steadfast. Our donor spoke powerfully about how what he saw at our school could have saved him from making some of the bad mistakes he has made in his life. He spoke to our students, and in the midst of making his own personal, powerful changes, he saw a powerfully opportunity to give back. All he asked in return was one small change.

Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to announce the renaming of our second campus, now known as SLA@Bieber. Thank you, Justin!

See the full press release here.

Jan 29

See Your Students

[This post has been rattling around in my head after EduCon and really had to be written after a truly wonderful conversation I had with a parent today.]

“The teachers here really know my child.”

I’ve heard many parents tell me some version of that. What is amazing is that parents take this as something rare or unique – and that always makes me sad. The reason all of us at SLA really are so adamant about saying “We teach kids <subject>” instead of “We teach <subject>” is that we never want us to lose sight of the child in front of us. Because when we lose sight of the humanity of our students, we lose the soul of what it means to be a teacher.

“Tell me about my child in your class.”

The answer to that question has to be more than a line in a gradebook or a purely academic answer. As a parent, I am certainly concerned with my children’s academic progress, but I also want to know that you see that Jakob is slyly funny and deeply kind or that Theo has a truly creative mind that comes out powerfully when he draws and that he loves to tell jokes, even when the punchline seems to make sense only to him.

When we see the kids we teach as only students in our classes, we can see what value our classes hold for each of them, rather than just assume that all kids will “need this some day.”

When we see the kids we teach as full people, we can help them develop passion, interests and strengths, rather than just seeing kids as data to be mined, deficits to be remediated, or vessels to be filled.

When we understand that our students have vital and vibrant lives outside of the moments we see them, we can understand that they have racial, gender, religious, economic and social identities that they bring with them to the classroom and that our students bring all that they are to the classroom every day – just like we do.

When we make the attempt to see our children for all that they are, we can listen to all that they say, and we can care for them, not just care about them.

And then, when their families ask us to tell them what we know, our hearts, our minds and our voices will overflow with all we cannot wait to share.

 

Jan 23

The Night Before

I’m going to bed as soon as I hit publish on this post.

I’m going to bed because in about 10 hours, hundreds of educators from all over the continent are going to be showing up at SLA for EduCon. EduCon is a special conference where educators from many different roles within the education world come together to dream big about what education can be. It is, as Ben Herold of EdWeek noted today a vendor-free space to talk about pedagogy.

It’s also a ton of work. EduCon is planned and run by SLA students, parents, teachers and me. The planning starts in August and ended tonight when we proof-read the program one… last… time. And this is our eighth year hosting the conference.

There are moments every year when I think to myself, “We can’t keep doing this.” But we do. And there are some really good reasons for it. So many attendees have told us that EduCon is one of their favorite professional learning of their year. And we at SLA learn a ton as well. It’s kind of wonderful to have an amazing PD experience with brilliant educators from all over the country right in your school. And yes, the conference raises important money for us every year that serves as the start of my fundraising every year as we try to stave off the Philadelphia budget cuts.

But the best reason for us to keep doing EduCon every year is watching the kids see themselves and their school as important voices in the national discussion about the future of education. This evening, as I was answering emails from attendees about the weather forecast, potential dinner spots, travel plans and what have you, dozens of SLA students were setting up classrooms, prepping coffee stations, running last-minute checks on the video feed and prepping their sessions. And I was listening as they talked about being proud of their school and the role it plays.

And that’s why we do it. Because our kids look at all of you who have come to learn with and from them and they realize that they really can help to change the world. EduCon is that moment for many of our students when they prove to themselves that they can be active, authentic agents in the world beyond their school.

As powerful as the learning all the educators will do over the next three days can be, for me, that lesson may be the powerful thing that any of us learn all weekend.

Thank you to all of the hundreds of students, teachers and parents who have worked tireless to prep for EduCon. Thank you to everyone who got in a car, train or plane to come learn with us this weekend. And thank you my co-chairs, Meenoo Rami, Amal Giknis, Julian Makarechi, Alisha Rothwell, Jasmin Gilliam and Zee Driggers for all the time you’ve spent. Thank you to the amazing Diana Laufenberg who came in this week and troubleshot everything so that the weekend would be awesome.

Welcome to EduCon everyone. Welcome to our school.