Sunday, November 19, 2017

School of Dreams

As many people know I am originally from the Northeastern part of the United States.  I was born and raised in New Jersey, where I also became a teacher and eventually a principal.  After meeting my wife in 2002, I moved to Staten Island, NY and resided there for thirteen years. To be honest, I never thought I would leave that area of the country as my wife, and I had such strong roots there. Things change, however.  The successful digital transformation at the school where I was principal attracted a great deal of attention from the mainstream media, schools locally and globally, and organizations, in part because we were able to show efficacy in our work.  It was at this time that I decided to take a calculated risk and attempt to help other schools scale their digital and innovative change efforts.

As I transitioned from principal to Senior Fellow with the International Center for Leadership in Education (ICLE) my work began to take me all over the country and the world.  I vividly remember the day when I was away working in Hawaii, and Staten Island got dumped with over a foot of snow.  Shortly after I returned home, my wife sat me down and gave me an ultimatum.  I either had to go back to being a principal so I could be home to shovel any and all snow in the future or we had to move somewhere else in the county where it was warm and didn’t snow at all.  My wife knew full well how much I love the work that I do so out came a map of the United States and the discussions as to where we would raise our family for the foreseeable future began.

During our discussions, I had to set my non-negotiables.  She wanted warmth and no snow while I needed a huge airport that was centrally located to cut my flight times and connections down.  There were only two realistic choices at this point, Dallas and Houston. Since Houston was a bit further south and we could get the exact home we wanted the decision was made.  One other factor that weighed heavily in our decision-making process was the school district that our children would attend.  The icing on the cake for me was that when it was all said and done taking into account our non-negotiables, we decided to build our home within the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (CFISD). 

CFISD is an amazing school district that is not only one of the highest achieving large districts in the state of Texas, but also firmly committed to scaling innovative practices to improve learning for all 120,000 students. For the past year and a half, my team and I at ICLE have been assisting the district with doing Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) K-12, incorporating blended learning, and aligning sound pedagogy to the use of flex spaces.  We have also used our Digital Practice Assessment (DPA) process to help them determine where they are at, but more importantly where they want to be for their learners. Now back to my story.

Shortly after arriving in the Houston area I was contacted by Cheryl Fisher, a local CFISD elementary principal.  She had been following me on Twitter and asked if I would be willing to visit her school and see how they were implementing blended learning across all grade levels.  What I saw just warmed my heart, but more on this later.  A little over a year later Cheryl was named the principal of Wells Elementary, a brand-new school right smack in the middle of the community where I lived.  I couldn’t control my excitement, but there was a challenge ahead in the form of my daughter, Isabella.



Bella, who was in 4th grade at the time, had a big decision to make. Stay in the other community school where she had made friends for two years or go to a brand-new school for her last year of elementary school. To be honest, she was leaning on staying put. I discussed this with Cheryl, and she said quite bluntly, “If your daughter decides to come to Wells she will love learning every day.” Well, I was already hooked, but Cheryl also made the time to meet with Bella and explain in detail the vision she had for the learning culture at Wells.  What followed was the waiting in anticipation of what Bella would decide to do. 

Well, my daughter, on her own without much pressure from my wife and I, decided to attend Wells Elementary. Every day I ask her how school was and literally tear up when she responds as the answer is always the same – “It was great Daddy.” My daughter is entirely in love with the school. As an educator and parent, this means so much more to me than her consistently being advanced proficient every year on all standardized tests.  Wells Elementary to me is a school of dreams because my daughter loves learning.  Here are some specifics as to why:
  • School-wide decision to have no homework.
  • Students K-5 are empowered to use their technology to support their education as part of BYOT. In addition to this, technology is used to support and enhance learning while providing authentic opportunities to explore concepts.
  • Strategic use of the station rotation blended learning model to maximize learning time and increase student agency.
  • Incorporation of flexible learning spaces throughout the building.
  • Portfolio-based assessment using Seesaw and Google Classroom to provide better feedback to students.
  • An entire staff that believes in the power of being connected and the importance of having a Personal Learning Network (PLN).
  • Systemic use of a variety of social media tools to communicate with stakeholders and keep them in the know.
I encourage you to check out this video where Cheryl and one of her teachers discuss the digital transformation at Wells Elementary.



It is important to know I am not just making the casual statements about using only my parent lens.  I am honored by the fact that I am the one who is engaged with Wells as part of ICLE’s partnership with CFISD to support the district with our Digital Leadership and Learning solutions.  As the job-embedded coach for the school, I have been working with the teachers and administrators and will continue to do so throughout the school year.  Even though there are some fantastic initiatives in place as mentioned above, the Wells community knows that there is room for improvement.  This is the case in any classroom, school, or district. Together we are working on the pedagogical shifts needed to support their bold vision and plan for innovative learning.  

All in all, this is a school of dreams in my opinion.  The fact that my daughter loves learning and is being prepared for her future means the world to my wife and me.  Thank you to all the educators at Wells and CFISD who are have brought so much joy to my daughter. With the compelling learning opportunities she is experiencing, I hope that she will be further motivated to follow her dreams, no matter what they are. 

1 comment:

  1. Great article! As someone who was able to follow this journey from your office at NMHS to today, it shows the thoughtful dedication you have personally and professionally to your life. It's no accident that life is good...you put hard work and a dream into it!

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