When creating a school whose mission is to provide a culture of possibilities and growth, can you find a permanent structure that fits the mission?
If You Build It, They Will Come?
How do you find a site for your school that satisfies all the possibilities you imagine for our school? How do you satisfy the requirements from the school charter board, the needs of the community, the staff, and the students? How do you build a school building that is full of possibilities?
Da Vinci Revisited
Over the past four blog posts, “Between Passion and Possibility,” “Fatal Flaw,” “Elevator Speech,” and “The Bookroom, Finding possibilities by leaving it behind”. I’ve shared the beginnings of my journey working to open my own teacher-led high school, Da Vinci High. With the mission, the vision, the elevator speech complete, and explorations into eliminating hard copy books, the detail work of writing the charter application continues. Yet, none of this can be a reality without a structure.
As I explore starting my own school, everyone I talk to says that the building is the biggest obstacle to starting your own school. It had become my adult boogeyman, until I networked with a previous colleague who I had watched work on my previous school’s building for over five years. On October 15th, the boogeyman was, if not defeated, caged.
The Past Informs The Present
From 2008 to 2013, I lived the building challenge. At the time, I lived it as a teacher and teacher leader, but now that experience has become my challenge as a potential executive director of my own school. My previous school was “lucky” enough to have 52 acres of an old high school given to them for a dollar a year for 99 years. It has an Olympic size pool, and 900-seat auditorium, a football field, tennis courts, outdoor basketball courts, a track, and a public park next door. Perfect, right? Not so much. We started that school at the exact time the economy went into the Great Recession.
We spent the first year in FEMA trailers transported from Katrina. The second year, we rented a nicer trailer, and the third year, we contracted to have a modular school built to house three grades, 8, 9, and 10. By 2013, we hoped to have the money to renovate the school. In 2013, we moved to the new showcase.
Maybe it was nostalgia or my reluctance toward change, but I missed the trailers, especially the modular campus. In addition to my affinity for the modular campus I am informed by my conversations with and visits to friends who work in charter schools. The buildings almost always feel like an obstacle to be overcome rather than an enhancement for learning. There are two types, the old abandoned school building renovated to code, or the conglomeration of several renovations over the years where every addition seems forced. It is this experience and my obsession with making sure every aspect of Da Vinci lives the mission and vision that informs my next choices about the building.
Possibilities From Pushing Through My Fatal Flaw
Overcoming my fear of speaking to people when I need their help with Da Vinci, I picked up the phone. Speaking with my colleague who led the building of my previous school, we explored my vision. At minute five of our conversation, I said I wanted a building like a strip mall or an abandoned Circuit City. At minute 10, I said, I wanted flexibility in my building, much like the flexibility represented by my vision of the Da Vinci non-book room. At minute 20, my colleague, said, “Well you could find some land and build a modular campus that would get you through ten years.”
I felt my heart stop as I experienced the new buzzing feeling I’ve been having each time a truly novel idea enters my brain.
Temporary As Permanent?
I love the idea of having a modular campus. But is it practical? Every new idea leaves me with questions. Can a school function in a structure that others will feel is temporary?
Other questions I’ve been exploring in the development of Da Vinci High School…
Can teachers work as Knights of the Round Table? In my first blog post, I created an organizational chart that designated a specific group of teacher-leaders as members of a round table, mirroring the structure of King Arthur’s Knights of the Round Table.
Can a school thrive without hard copy books? In my blog post about leaving the bookroom behind, I am trying to increase the flexibility of Da Vinci and increase the resources available within a potentially limited beginning budget.
Can a school truly be a place where children pursue their dreams? The mission and vision of Da Vinci is precisely that – a place where dreams come true for children and staff.
When I talk about Da Vinci to others, I can feel the promise of Da Vinci in my bones and in their eyes. When I teach each day, I feel the need for Da Vinci in my bones and in the eyes of my students and colleagues. When I write, I feel the joy of Da Vinci in my bones, and see it in my eyes on the screen of the computer. I have no choice but to make this – Da Vinci – a reality.