Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The ES4SD Curriculums

The Elementary School for Sustainable Design is founded on the understanding that children have ownership and responsibility for their own educational processes and their future. Accordingly, our curriculum will be established using effective, research-based educational practices, hands-on, project based Service Learning adventures, and grade appropriate core academic materials. Our educational program will be designed to meet the diverse needs of individual students, including students with special needs. With our focus on sustainability, an “off the shelf” curriculum does not currently exist that teaches to this discipline via project-based experiences. Much research has been done, however, to initiate the design of our fully-integrated curriculum via such resources as: • PA State Standards and Assessment Anchors • NCTM Standards • AAAS’s Science Project 2061 • University of Oregon • Johns Hopkins University Center for Data-Driven Reform in Education: Best Evidence Encyclopedia • Micro-society • Thomas B. Fordham Foundation – At the Elementary School for Sustainable Design, our goal is to enable all students to be lifelong learners, exemplary, responsible citizens, caretakers of the environment, and leaders in the global community. Our expectation is that all our students can and will achieve at rigorous educational standards. When students understand that what takes place in their school is important, when they are expected to do well both academically and as citizens, when they are engaged in challenging and meaningful work, and when they are supported by a unified community of teachers, parents, and other concerned and involved adults, these expectations will be realized. We are committed to a rigorous educational program that promotes continuous improvement and individual development and provides an organizational structure that responds to the intellectual, social, environmental, and emotional needs of children at different stages of their development. The Elementary School for Sustainable Design is focused on a project-based learning and constructivist curriculum that emphasizes matters of global concern. Environment-based essential questions and overarching goals drive the curriculum. As the Elementary School for Sustainable Design achieves its goals and benchmarks, it will increasingly become a personalized learning environment where the student takes responsibility of his/her learning. Prior to the school’s opening, teacher study groups will work to produce models of authentic teaching practices and to develop curriculum that is standards-based and data-driven. Teaching will take place in a learning environment that is personalized for all students. The instructors will strive to acknowledge and accommodate different learning styles via differentiated instruction and to draw curriculum materials from appropriate sources of knowledge. The school’s environment will be characterized by developing habits of reflection and communication shared among students, teachers, administrators, and parents. Professional Learning Communities will endeavor to focus their action plans on student needs, identified by looking at data, and to use authentic assessment instruments to gather evidence of change in student performance. By creating these Professional Learning Communities, we create a system of professional accountability that is teacher-driven and nurtures the use of a common language. That shared communication extends to parents with whom the Elementary School for Sustainable Design actively engages in the work of improving student performance. Furthermore, partnerships will be created with community members and area institutions of higher learning that will work collaboratively to support the success of all students and reinforce a deeper understanding of what is learned. At Elementary School for Sustainable Design leadership opportunities are open to students, parents and community members to create a culture of sustainability. Our school actively promotes service in the community primarily as an avenue for student learning. Citizenship skills are also developed as a result of these community connections. Such a culture creates a school management structure that emphasizes shared decision making and lines of authority that integrate a collaborative team of teachers, administrators, parents, community members, and representatives of community-based human service and sustainability organizations.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Day in the Life at the Elementary School for Sustainable Design

A Day in the Life at the Elementary School for Sustainable Design (the ES4SD).

It was another cold February winter morning. Cold, dark, dreary. As I dragged myself out of bed again to get ready for work, I heard the same sound that I have heard every weekday morning for months. It was the sound of happy, energetic students waiting at the bus stop to go to school. At first, I just thought it was the excitement of the beginning of the school year- new classes, new friends, new teachers. But the happy chatter never lessened even as the days grew shorter, colder, and darker. I found myself envious of those students so excited about their day. In the hopes of adding some energy to my morning I began to listen a little more closely to those conversations outside my window. What I heard surprised and confused me at the same time. I heard a very young student talking to his classmate about native species. I heard two boys debating the benefits of weather-stripping versus caulking windows to save energy. I heard a group of mixed aged students planning the next phase of their “green” architectural project. Each morning it was the same: sustainable energy, global warming, native species garden, pod casting, non-point source pollution, macroinvertebrates, green architecture. I knew that I had to find out more.

I learned from speaking to some neighbors that these students all attended the Elementary School for Sustainable Design. Although the neighbors that I spoke with did not have children of their own who attended the school, they knew about the school because they had attended various functions there. I laughed at first because I pictured these adults going to an elementary school bake sale or going to the gym once a year to vote. That was the only real experience that I had growing up in which community members came into an elementary school. Rhonda Perez told me that she attended a community meeting there. Michael Flanagan told me that he is currently taking a graduate course at a local University that is held at the elementary school. Kristen Jones told me that she took her whole family to a workshop there on how to save energy in the home. The Delaware Valley Green Building Council and the students from the school hosted it.

I decided that the time had come for me to visit this school. There were just too many unanswered questions. I called the school and set up a visitation day. They told me that I would be spending the day shadowing a fourth grade student named Alex. I arrived at the school at 7:45 am. As I pulled into the parking lot I stopped and rechecked my directions because this place did not look like any school I had ever seen. It was a beautiful new building surrounded by trees, shrubbery and grass. On closer review, I could see that the green areas were not simply for aesthetics, they were classrooms. On one side of the building, I saw a native species garden. All of the species were identified and described with labels created by students. On the other side, I saw the windmill and the solar arrays. I found out later from my student guide that the windmill and the solar panels helped the ES4SD achieve a “Zero Carbon Footprint” and was the reason that the the school was “off the grid”. Where was I??? This was "school"??? be continued

Monday, January 25, 2010

A Day in the Life at the Elementary School for Sustainable Design, Part 2

Towards the back of the school grounds, there was an outdoor amphitheater and pavilion that appeared to be used for lessons. The building itself was remarkable. It appeared as if there were windows everywhere. As I approached the building, a very friendly man who introduced himself to me as a member of the administrative team greeted me. I watched as he excused himself for a minute and opened the door of the approaching car and greeted the student and his family. I asked if this was a special day or if there was someone who was absent that he was filling in for at car duty. He laughed and informed me that this is “the way we do things around here”. He motioned up a ways and pointed out another administrative team member who was greeting a bus (which used clean burning liquid natural gas) full of students who had just arrived. As the students from the bus approached him enthusiastically to say, “good morning”, he pointed out Alex to me. Alex came over and introduced herself. She had a spark in her eye, an easy smile, and a maturity that humbled me. I laughed, and teased the administrator for setting me up with the best and brightest student in the fourth grade. I never realized until months later that Alex was a special education student as well as a student with a multitude of family problems that no 10-year should ever have to deal with.
I entered the building with Alex and went to the multipurpose room. On the wall of the room was a beautiful tile mosaic. The mosaic was a depiction of the city and its relationship to sustainable energy. The students re-imagined Philadelphia as a Green city. I thought to myself that it must have cost a fortune to have an artist come in and do that mosaic. Alex must have read my mind because she brought me up to the mosaic and proudly pointed out a message tile with her name on it. I looked more closely and there were a hundred message tiles embedded in the mosaic. There were also handmade ceramic figures embedded in there. Alex told me that this was a schoolwide project. The students created the mosaic themselves with the help of a Community Partner as part of a unit of study on sustainability. She pointed out numerous essential components of sustainability to me and I humbly digested this new knowledge. One of the administrators came in and began the day. Alex explained that this was “morning meeting” and it was how they always started the day. I was told by my young chaperone that they always began the day together as a school because it was important to understand that they are a community of learners and that they were all here to learn together. Every student in the school was equally important and an integral part of the community. That week, it was the first grade’s job to do morning announcements. They had come in early and researched the important news of the day and the weather forecast and were sharing what they learned with the school.

I followed Alex to her classroom. My first reaction when I walked into the room was how odd this looked for a classroom. It was nothing like what a classroom should look like (at least, my perception of what a classroom should be). This room was so odd. First of all, the room was very bright. It seemed like the room was positioned “just so”, so that the natural light from the Sun would stream in. There were little nooks built right into the room and the room was setup with tables as well as desks and areas that were “centers”. Student work was everywhere. Every piece of student work had some form of writing attached. There were computers, ipods, a television, a cd player with headphone and something that I found out was called a “smartboard”. I watched as each student went up and touched the smartboard when they came in. I asked Alex what they were doing and she explained that is how they sign-in in the morning. I saw a student watering the plants, I saw another feeding the fish, and I saw someone feeding Iggy, the class iguana. Alex told me to follow her and her partner, Rasheed. I followed them to a bank of instruments in the school foyer and watched as they collected data regarding how much energy the school was able to sell the the electric company. The school actually produced more energy that it used and the excess was put into the electricity grid. I observed impressively as they entered the data into the database that they had created themselves earlier in the year and graphed the data on the full size graph paper in the lobby. The data was now available for any class to see and use. be continued

Sunday, January 24, 2010

ES4SD Evaluation of Curricular Effectiveness

The Elementary School for Sustainable Design will use the PSSA and Terra Nova standardized assessments in appropriate grades to meet Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and School District of Philadelphia requirements. The school will be held accountable to the AYP requirements for PSSA participation rate, PSSA test results, and school attendance through the year 2014. In addition to the scheduled PSSA assessments in Reading, Math, Writing, and Science, the ES4SD will administer benchmark assessments to monitor student progress towards proficiency in PA Standards and to inform instruction. Students in grades K-2 will be benchmarked using DIBELS and DRA. Students in grades 3-8 will be benchmarked in the areas of reading, math, writing, and science in appropriate grades using PA 4-Sight Benchmark Assessments. The PA 4-Sight Benchmark Assessments provide diagnostic information on PA Standards and specific subskills areas to guide classroom instruction and professional development efforts. After each benchmarking, time and ongoing support will be provided to the staff to interpret the data and to plan instructional strategies to insure that students are progressing towards proficiency. In addition, these data discussions will create a data-driven culture at the school. Response to Intervention (RTI) is an ongoing process using student performance and other data to guide instructional and intervention decisions. The first and most important step of our educational program is to insure that all students receive quality academic instruction and support including the use of research based core programs. Furthermore, behavioral and social supports will be in place on an as needed basis. All students will be screened for additional instructional needs in Fall, Winter, and Spring using DIBELS, DRA, and 4-Sight in appropriate grades. If less than 80% of students are not meeting benchmarks, the core programs will be reviewed by the RTI team to determine if they are sufficient to the students, needs. It will also be the task of the RTI team to monitor the core programs over time. We will follow a three-tiered model. All students (Tier I) will receive instruction using research based core programs. That instruction will include multiple grouping formats to meet individual student needs. Using the benchmark data, students will be assigned to supplemental small group intervention (Tier II) or intensive small group intervention (Tier III). Small group interventions will be designed by the teacher teams with RTI team support. Students assigned to Tier II will receive 20 minutes a day of additional instruction and students in Tier III will receive 30 minutes a day of additional instruction. Research based supplemental programs will be utilized to address weaknesses. Students in Tier II will be progress monitored monthly and those in Tier III will be progress monitored weekly. ES4SD will comply with IDEA standards for providing students with the least restrictive environment. The inclusion model will be fully developed in which the regular education teacher and the special education teacher work together to develop an educational plan that meets the needs of all special needs students within the regular education classroom. The Differentiated Instruction model will be utilized school-wide and in all content areas. Teachers will be expected to differentiate content, process, and/or product according to student's readiness, interests, or learning profile. All teachers will use a range of instructional and management strategies.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Elementary School for Sustainable Design

The Elementary School for Sustainable Design (ES4SD) is projected to open its doors in September of 2010.
Project Based Service Learning (PBSL) will be the primary method of teaching and learning employed at the Elementary School for Sustainable Design (ES4SD). The powerful inherent benefit of Project Based, Service Learning is that it is innovative, multidisciplinary and integrates real world skills, knowledge, and problem solving with best-practice strategies for teaching and learning. Service Learning engages the hearts, hands, and minds encouraging the whole community of learners to bring their interests into the learning process. PBSL enhances student understanding of citizenship (i.e. what it means to be positive, productive members in their communities) by engaging them in meeting authentic school and community issues, needs, or problems. At the ES4SD these issues, needs, or problems will reflect the areas of environmental sustainability through active service or advocacy. In PBSL, students take ownership of their whole learning process by creating outcomes of value to themselves and their communities. Service Learning requires students to interpret, analyze, synthesize, generate, and evaluate information about an area of study going well beyond mere recitation of information. By developing solutions to the community need, issue, or problem, students develop a more in-depth, applied understanding of academic content areas as well as non-academic competencies. Another great benefit of the PBSL methodology is that it creates the environment for students to work cooperatively. Students working in small groups and engaged in the many facets of authentic problem solving has the effect in the classroom of minimizing behavior related issues. Perhaps the biggest reason why PBSL works is because it is FUN. The ES4SD will use the actual physical facility, the school itself, as a 3 dimensional teaching and learning tool to achieve mastery of grade appropriate curricular objectives and state mandated standards. The school will also serve as a template in which to demonstrate cutting edge sustainable design, energy conservation, and alternative energy use. Integral to any Service Learning project is the active participation of real-world Community Partners. Under the umbrella of Project Based Service Learning, the Built Environment and Sustainability will be our prime focus. In our view, Sustainability will be the defining issue of the 21st century. Giving our youngest citizens the tools to function, compete and lead in the marketplace of sustainability will prepare them to be successful citizens/leaders in this global environment. Community Partnerships are the heart of Project Based Service Learning. Real world, professional partners provide expertise to assist students to address real world environmental issues. By bringing teachers, students, and professionals together in collaboration, these partnerships can bridge intergenerational, demographic, and cultural and digital divides. Furthermore, Community Partners model what it means to be good and successful citizens. To that end, The Elementary School for Sustainable Design will develop strong relationships with institutions like the American Institute of Architects, US Green Building Council, Northeast Sustainable Energy Association, the Philadelphia Water Department, and PECO/Exelon, and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Parental and Community Involvement

Parents and a variety of appropriate community groups will be integrally involved in the planning, program design and implementation of the Elementary School for Sustainable Design. The ES4SD is being developed in response to the great need in an under-served community for an innovative, best practices school that will meet the needs of the families in the neighborhood. Our decision to go forward with the ES4SD has its roots in the numerous conversations and requests from parents to begin this educational initiative. The basic organization for parental involvement will be the ES4SD Parent Association (PA). The PA will be a clearinghouse for ideas and will serve as the primary means of communication with parents about all issues related to planning, design, and implementation. In this 21st century Age of Technology, we are no longer bound by the geographical necessity of being gathered at the same physical place to meet. The PA will make full use of the internet with the ES4SD website and blog to serve as an "always on" extension of the PA. Via the internet, parents who cannot attend a meeting on a certain day and time will still be able to have their voices heard regarding their school related questions, comments, concerns, ideas, etc. by just logging on. We see 2 distinct but interrelated community sets who will have real, substantial, and authentic input in the planning, design, and implementation of the charter school. The community groups who are in the physical geographic neighborhood where the school is located will be deeply involved in the ES4SD. We understand and firmly believe that a diversity of views offered by appropriate neighborhood based associations for the benefit of our students will be of great benefit as we create the reality of the ES4SD. We envision that community input will be handled as a subset of the Parent Association. Again, the internet will also facilitate input via our website and blog. There is a 3rd community related to the ES4SD whose input into the planning, design, and implementation of the school we also actively seek, i.e. our Global Community Partners (GCP). Our GCP's will be totally unfettered by geography and much of their input will take place electronically. Our GCP groups will be of great value in realizing the goals of our mission and vision and they will address issues related to sustainability, architectural design, alternative energy, water quality, the environment, and cutting edge educational trends. Our plan is to establish the ES4SD Foundation and our GCP's will be represented on that platform, as well. Parents and Community Organizations will be directly involved with the rights and responsibilities of governance. There will be a parent and a community representative on the Board of Directors and there will be numerous opportunities for parents to serve on Board committees. It is clear that the key to successful parental and community partnerships will be to establish good lines of communication and consistent organizational frameworks to effectively transmit the flow of those communications between all stakeholders.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pre-Operational Management - The ES4SD

The pre-operational management by the Developers is the foundational framework on which the ES4SD depends. To this end, the first phase involves the Developers addressing the charter application and e-grant processes in a timely and competent manner. Issues to be addressed such as determining the pedagogical bases for the school and then writing curriculum relative to the pedagogy is a first step. Other pre-operational issues for the Developers in the formation phase of the ES4SD include but are not restricted to the creation of line item budgets, school by-laws, the location and contracting for the physical facility, and establishing relationships with families with school age children and community groups. Once the charter is approved, the Developers will address the hiring of staff, procurement of educational materials, furniture, legal and business related issues, Board set-up, and student recruitment and enrollment. When the Board is in place, this entity will have specific roles and responsibilities. This may include such things as supporting the CEO and reviewing his performance, insuring effective organizational planning, insuring adequate resources, managing resources effectively, monitoring the school’s program and services, and enhancing the school’s public image. The Elementary School for Sustainable Design will have an administrative team consisting of the CEO, an upper school administrator and a lower school administrator. The CEO will act as the bridge between the board and the staff of the Elementary School for Sustainable Design. He will be responsible for personnel issues, budget, overseeing and development of Service Learning projects, public relations, and the developmental campaign. The primary learning community will be grades K-4. The upper grades learning community will consist of grades 5-8. Unlike a traditional model, the lower and upper school administrators will be the curriculum specialist, coach, resource person, as well as evaluator. In our model the administrators will be integrally involved, and responsible in all aspects of curriculum and instruction. They will be true teacher leaders and mentors. The Elementary School For Sustainable Design will follow the Professional Learning Community Model. This model by nature lends itself to professional development. The goal is that the “experts” within are constantly sharing their expertise with each other. In this way, everyone at ES4SD is a leader and a learner.