If you only had the time it takes to ride an elevator from the first floor to the twelfth, could you describe your ideal school before the door opened and closed on the twelfth floor.  Preparing to talk to a potential partner in my quest to open my own school, I needed to do just that, metaphorically.  Elevator door opens, and…..

Da Vinci Revisited

Over the past two blog posts,  “Between Passion and Possibility”, and “Fatal Flaw”, I’ve shared the beginnings of my journey working to open my own teacher-led high school, Da Vinci High, which we hope to open in Baltimore City, MD. Over the next several months, we will travel together on my hero’s journey toward completing the charter school application. So far, I’ve shared our mission statement and the organizational chart. Today, we will take another step on the journey – finding allies.

Why the Elevator?

I first heard this term when I was working as a district manager for a PepsiCo restaurant. You had the time it took an elevator to reach the penthouse floor to pitch your idea. Thinking about a twelve-story building, I began to formulate my 12-floor elevator speech. Fitting the complexity of Da Vinci High into the 12 floors it would take to reach the penthouse floor has been a daunting but necessary task as I speak to busy people in an effort to garner support. In my effort to network, I’ve been stumbling around trying to articulate what was unique about Da Vinci. At first I was talking to colleagues with whom I had worked before, so the stumbling was more of an annoyance than a hindrance. But last month, one of those colleagues connected me with a colleague of his/hers who could potentially be a key contact. I had to get it right. I had to sound like I knew what I was talking about. So everyday on my 45-minute commute, I practiced.

First to Fourth Floor: What Da Vinci means for students

Da Vinci will provide an opportunity for students to discover their passions and pursue them. During the academic school day (8-2) students will acquire the skills, habits of mind, and love of learning that will ensure not only the attainment of a diploma, but a strong basis for lifelong learning in all disciplines enabling them to follow their passions. Throughout the year, they will participate in interdisciplinary inquiry units of study that result in the real world application of their learning thus opening the doors to possibilities. Students also will be provided with opportunities to identify their passions through exposure to a broad spectrum of occupations. As students begin to express a particular interest, teachers will use that interest to connect them with the content being taught. A Director of Possibilities will be tasked with helping staff to find opportunities and information about passions.

From 2 to 4 on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, students will participate in extracurricular activities run by adults who model a passion for the activities. For 9th and 10th graders, these activities will provide them with exposure to numerous clubs and organizations with the exception of large, organized sports. In lieu of these sports programs, Da Vinci will focus on building the habits of mind of a healthy lifestyle providing experiences in activities that can be pursued throughout their life. Students will participate in programs such as robotics, Odyssey of the Mind, personal fitness, Chess, Debate, Theatre, Art, etc. By 11th grade, students will focus on fewer activities as they narrow their focus to their passion. By senior year, many students will be running these programs for the underclassmen. Intervention programs will be provided for struggling students, but they will be balanced so that these students also participate in extracurricular activities. On Wednesdays from 2-4, students will be dismissed from school, and, ideally, work with organizations like the YMCA, Boys and Girls Clubs, or other community partners providing internships.

Fifth to Eighth Floor: What Da Vinci means for teachers

In much the same way as students, Da Vinci will provide opportunities for teachers to discover and pursue their own passions and will serve as a pipeline for future teacher leaders. Da Vinci will be a teacher led school where between nine and ten teachers will serve in hybrid roles, teaching a half load of classes and fulfilling an administrative position the other half. The faculty will be balanced with these teachers; new teachers, preferably from schools using the new edTPA program who, while needing mentoring, will bring new ideas to the school; and slightly more experienced teachers who are eager to grow in their profession. Ultimately, we will provide a pipeline from internship to teacher leadership in the charter school system and back into the public education system. To support their professional development, teachers will use the 2-4 time on Wednesday to meet for one hour in their content planning groups and the other hour in their interdisciplinary teams. This will honor teachers’ individual planning times during the 8-2 day, while still allowing consistent time for collaboration and professional development.

However, the pursuit of teacher passions will not be limited to the realm of their career and professional development. The school culture will be built around recognizing the achievements and passions of teachers both in and out of the classroom. By demonstrating their pursuit of passion and a healthy lifestyle, Da Vinci teachers will serve as models of the Da Vinci mission.  Teachers will be encouraged to share their passions with students during the extended day.

Ninth to Twelfth Floor: What Da Vinci means to others

The other staff members, such as administrative assistants, cafeteria workers, custodians, etc., will also be expected to pursue their passions and contribute to the Da Vinci community. From 8-2, they work at their official role. From 2-4, they will run clubs and organizations. In this way, every member of the Da Vinci community will have direct interaction with students. On Wednesday from 2-4 they will be given time to prepare for their enrichment time activities or to share in other, appropriate, professional development.

The parents will be full members of the Da Vinci community as well. Beyond the role they must play in their child’s life, when possible, we will provide them the space and resources to pursue their passions and possibilities. Parents will be encouraged to participate in the 2 to 4 time period if they are available. They will be encouraged to use the school resources to extend their education, garner job training, and work on their own healthy lifestyle. The Director of Possibilities will be responsible for coordinating the pursuit of passions for the students, teachers, staff, and parents.

At the open door on the Twelfth Floor

Da Vinci will be a place where everyone will grow and pursue their passions and become self-actualized citizens of their home, community, city, state, nation, and/or world.  Every adult will be a role model for the students. Everywhere they turn people will be pursuing their passions, finding possibilities, and living a healthy lifestyle. Da Vinci will be a place where students are at the top of the organizational chart and every adult member stands beneath them supporting them in their pursuit of all they can be. Da Vinci High School will be a place where growth, possibility, and passion are pursued with vigorous intent.

Door closes

(From behind the door, loudly)

Will you help us live our possibilities?


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