Between Passion and Possibility: Creating My Dream School

You never know when your possibilities will unveil themselves to you. I’ve told children that for 17 years. In January, I began to live my own.

You never know when your possibilities will unveil themselves to you. I’ve told children that for 17 years. In January, I began to live my own.

“When are you going to open your own school?” It was January. I’d left a school I had worked at for six years because it had lost sight of its mission, and I had just started at a new school where I was miserable. A colleague from my previous school had come to visit and asked the question. I laughed, and our visit continued.

Now it’s July, and I’m working to open my own school. Every time I say it aloud, I think, “How ridiculous.” And yet, every time I think, “ridiculous,” I also feel that it’s the right thing for me to be doing. Every time I say it to someone else, they respond, “Of course you are! How can I help?”

It Gets Real

Ever since I read about Lori Nazareno opening her own teacher-led school, I’ve been fascinated by the idea in an intellectual, thought-process sort of way. Now, I’m working to open just such a school.

Along the way, I’ve read books by Sir Ken Robinson, Daniel Pink, Linda Darling-Hammond, Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and more. I’ve incorporated their ideas into my own work as a teacher and while pursuing my doctorate. I took an entrepreneur class just because I liked the teacher. I spent years telling students and teachers that the paradigm of education is flipped–that the student must be at the top of the organizational chart, with teachers just below and the principal or head of school at the bottom. I talked and taught that we need to focus on the assets–not the deficits–of students and teachers, to be the champions of the middle kid, the ones who never come up in conversation but grow up to rule the world, and to be happy when students or teachers are enjoying their lives.

So from “When are you going to open your own school?” to today, I’ve put these ideas onto paper and have a plan to open a school that combines all of my learning. I’ve found my passion and possibility and hope to build a school where others find their passion and possibility.

How did I get here?

This is the neat version of what my immense year looks like so far:

  • In January, I accepted the idea that I should open my own school.
  • In February, I attended the Teaching and Learning conference in Washington, D. C.
  • In March, I defended my doctorate and became Dr. Worth, NBCT.
  • In April, I gathered seven like-minded colleagues to form the founding members of Da Vinci High School.
  • In May, we wrote our mission statement.
  • In June, we divided up the generic Maryland charter school application.
  • In July, we became the founding board of directors for Da Vinci and made our final decision as to where we would pursue our possibility.

Sounds so simple… Yeah, right. For each of those short, declarative sentences, there are compound-complex sentences representing constant questioning, worrying, and doubting. But every time I start to think this journey is impossible, I FEEL that it is the only thing to do. And so, I just do.

This CTQ blog, “Passion for Possibilities,” hopes to document our progress as we write the charter application for Da Vinci High School.

Here is the complicated, messy version of the last 7 months. Each step of the way, we had questions. We were able to answer some quickly, and others linger.

January 

Questions:

1) Who should I ask to help?

2) Who can I trust?

3) Who is willing to work this hard for nothing?

4) Who really believes what I do?

Answers: 1–4) I sent an email to seven colleagues, all of whom accepted this as their possibility without hesitation.

February 

Questions:

1) How do you start?

2) What is a teacher-led school, really?

3) How do you fund your possibility?

Answers:

1–2) I joined the Center for Teaching Quality and spoke with Lori Nazareno and some of the staff at CTQ. I attended several workshops led by people opening their own schools, and I had a colleague make up a mock schedule to show me how a teacher-led school could work.

3) I have no idea.

March 

Question: 1) How do I finish my doctorate and begin working on opening a new school?

Answer: 1) You just do.

April

Questions:

1) What is Da Vinci?

2) How do you write a mission statement?

3) Where should we open the school?

4) Who are we missing?

Answers: 1) Da Vinci is a school of possibilities. A place where everyone–student and staff–can pursue their passions. A place where time is sacred for planning, playing, and pursuing. A place where we mean what we say and we walk the talk. A place where everyone’s assets matter and where their deficits are just bumps in the road. A place where everyone has a future of possibilities that are valued and nurtured. A place where the only data that matters is the data that documents growth.

2) You brainstorm all the words that are Da Vinci and begin to synthesize them into a mission, which looks like this:

“DaVinci High School is a teacher-led school that guides members to discover and follow their own path to significant, individual possibilities. That path is illuminated through a shared culture of personal and intellectual growth across the entire educational community that results in a life of positive influence both for themselves and others.”

3) People outside Montgomery County say there; people inside Montgomery say not there.

4) We are missing a male with operations knowledge and a STEM person.

May 

Questions:

1) Who has the expertise or connections to work on which parts of the application?

2) What is a board, and how do we get one?

3) Where is the money going to come from?

4) Where are we going to open the school?

Answers: 1) We have two people for each section of the application. 2) We have no idea. 3) We have no idea. 4) We have no idea.

June

Questions:

1) How can we work on the application without knowing where we are going to open the school?

2) What is a board, and how do we get one?

3) Where is the money going to come from?

4) What does the organizational chart look like?

Answers: 1) We can’t. 2) We have no idea. 3) We have no idea. 4) We have no idea.

July 

Questions:

1) Where are we going to open the school?

2) What is a board, and how do we get one?

3) Where is the money going to come from?

4) What does an organizational chart look like?

Answers:

1) Not Montgomery County, but Baltimore City.

2) We are the board, and we get one by voting on officers and bylaws.

3) The money will come from several foundations and donations.

4) The org chart looks like this:

It’s July, and now I’m thinking: let the possibilities grow and the serious work begin.