Growing pains

Eyeing national expansion, School of One founder leaves Tweed

Joel Rose, founder of the School of One, is leaving the New York City Department of Education

The founder of the School of One, one of the city’s most touted educational innovations, will expand that model nationally — by leaving the city Department of Education that helped him create it. The founder, Joel Rose, announced his move in an email to colleagues this morning.

The School of One is part of a national effort to re-imagine how teaching and learning happen at schools by taking advantage of technology. At the three schools that work with the School of One model in New York City, teachers still lead instruction, but they do so with the aid of a “learning algorithm” that creates a personalized program of study for every student.

The idea is to free educators from the more rote elements of school and let them, as Rose put it to us in 2009, “focus on is the hardest part of the equation, which is delivering great lessons.” In the first pilot of the program, a summer math program launched in 2009, School of One reported that its students learned significantly faster, citing externally commissioned research.

The three schools will continue to operate under the guidance of the Innovation Zone, or iZone, team inside Tweed Courthouse. But with Rose’s departure, the national apparatus around School of One — from press attention to large foundation grants — will leave the Department of Education and follow him to a new nonprofit he plans to create.

The move raises questions about New York City’s capacity to act as an incubator for educational innovation. For one, will programs incubated by the iZone stay in New York City for the long haul? Or will they follow the School of One’s path: attracting national attention for a few years and then seeking another home?

Students at the School of One's summer pilot program in 2009.

Those interested in innovating K-12 education often complain that local school districts erect only barriers to change. Outside contractors must navigate behemoth bureaucracies, waiting several years until they can get permission to do business with the school district. And the political nature of school districts, whose management is often constantly shifting, creates worrisome instability. Under a new mayor, who would appoint a new schools chancellor, would the innovation survive?

The School of One was seen in some quarters as a counter-argument; it showed that a school district was not only embracing change, but incubating it. With Rose’s departure from New York, School of One could reverse into a case study.

Figuring out how the new national organization Rose creates can continue to work with New York City may prove to be complicated. City conflict of interest rules prohibit previous city employees from contracting with the city until a substantial period of time has passed.

Rose’s email says that he made the decision to leave New York “with mixed emotions.” But he argues that the innovations that have won School of One national attention are best expanded outside the framework of the city government. Spreading the model to other cities, Rose writes, is “something that I believe can best be accomplished through the sustained efforts of an independent organization with a national scope.”

Rose’s next step, he writes, will be to create a national nonprofit to do that work.

Here is Rose’s full e-mail.

Dear Friends,

It is with mixed emotions and a profound sense of gratitude that I am announcing today my transition from the New York City Department of Education to lead a new non-profit organization that will develop and scale innovative school models for students across the country.

Arriving at this decision was not easy as NYCDOE has been a wonderful place for building and implementing School of One. Indeed I can’t think of another place where School of One could have emerged than in NYC schools over the last two years. I depart with only fond wishes and respect for the team I worked with and for the leadership that made this work possible.

But now is the time to create the foundation for broader impact. Innovation is part of our nation’s strategy to address the moral and economic imperative of improving our schools. New school models that both personalize learning and leverage the time and talents of teachers hold great promise, particularly given the budgetary challenges our schools are experiencing. Delivering on that promise will require the development and scale of these kinds of innovations, something that I believe can best be accomplished through the sustained efforts of an independent organization with a national scope.

The School of One team will continue to support the NYC program in my absence and will be transitioning to fall under the leadership of the NYC iZone. Jonathan Werle, who currently serves as School of One’s Director of Administration, will serve as the project manager. I’m confident that under their leadership, School of One is well positioned to be sustained into the future.

Thank you again for all of your support over the last two years. If you’d like to stay in touch, please drop me an email at [REDACTED] and I’ll keep you updated on my efforts.

Joel

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.