My Fear for F.I.R.E.

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It has been an amazing journey for Eminence Independent Schools since the birth of the School on F.I.R.E. (Framework of Innovation for Reinventing Education) on May 1st. We have had the opportunity to see our school, our students, our staff, and our community transformed by the innovation occurring in our classrooms from Kindergarten to Seniors. We feel we are a full year ahead of schedule thanks to the courageous, committed teachers that are embracing the School on F.I.R.E. vision. Our staff have worked tirelessly in their efforts of embedding both “best practice” and “next practice” into their daily instruction.

The most surprising affect of the start of the School on F.I.R.E. model is not how warmly it’s been received at Eminence, but by how fast the rest of the state has embraced it. We have been bombarded by over 100 educator visit requests and numerous media visits. We have had the privilege to share our framework to almost every district in Kentucky, and their response to it has been astounding. It is very humbling that Eminence is quickly becoming one of the models of innovation for schools in Kentucky. Again this is a direct tribute to the willingness of our staff to implement these vital changes at the classroom level. Their efforts are fanning the flames of F.I.R.E. into almost every region in the state. We are seeing districts taking many of the core elements of our model, such as Next Generation skills, Surprise and Delight, 1:1 technology program, student led learning, standards based grading, personalization, student agency, teacher voice, excellence continuum, I.C.E., and our early college model to name a few, and starting to adopt them at their own districts.

However, I’ve developed a new fear as the F.I.R.E. has just began to spread. My fear is that the release of the new accountability data will extinguish many of the efforts currently underway to adopt innovation in Kentucky. I fear what I heard a fellow superintendent share in a large group this week, “we are about to play the testing game AGAIN once we know all the rules.” This comment made me realize that one of the reasons for innovation’s exponential growth, in Kentucky, over the past couple of years is that there has been a sense of reprieve for accountability as we have been in the “interim” between the KCCT and our new model. With the upcoming release of the new rankings of all schools statewide, I fear that districts will lose their “vision” of innovation for the sake of “playing the accountability game”. I feel that schools and districts don’t fully understand the value of true next generation learning. Many educational leaders still view accountability and innovation as “either / ors” instead of “both / ands”. I sincerely hope that other districts, like ours, will stay the course of innovative educational excellence despite their rankings, whether good or bad. With all my heart, I believe that eventually statistical success will follow these innovative initiatives to create successful students for and beyond college. If it’s not in this first round of data, it will come in the future for those that persist in our quest to reinvent the instructional process. So here’s to those that will continue to fan into flames the F.I.R.E. our schools so desperately need!

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Beyond A Bus: A mindset more than a mode of transportation

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What a busy time for tiny, old Eminence.  Since the launch of the School on F.I.R.E. model last May, Eminence has been bombarded with requests from the media for interviews in addition to the numerous requests from school districts throughout our state to visit the school.  People have a true desire to see school reinvented and to see how courageous leaders are stepping out and taking risks.

I am always shocked when we tell the story of the monumental changes taking place in such a short period of time because the thing people are most intrigued by is the wifi bus.  It must be what it feels like to be a musician ready to play your set when the audience wants to hear that one song that you are tired of playing.  My fear is that the audience sees the wifi bus as “the next great thing” or something to add to their district checklist.  It is new.  It is novel.  I don’t know of another district in Kentucky with a functioning wifi bus.  But it is more than a bus.  It is a symbol of the culture and mindset in Eminence schools.  I hope people are seeing past the bus and seek to emulate something much more powerful…the mindset behind it.

Why a Wifi Bus?

We had immersed ourselves in the core beliefs of next generation learning outlined by the CCSSO and were “Blue Skying” how to make those things a reality in the reinvented school model.  Buddy Berry, the superintendent, and I had just negotiated a partnership with Bellarmine University to send 35 of our students to their campus.  With each new layer of the School On F.I.R.E. model we were faced with new, unforeseen issues.  I remember being so excited to run the idea of the Bellarmine partnership by staff members in the school.  Instead of “Wow, this is a great opportunity for our kids” we were met with “So you mean you are taking 35 of our top kids to a college campus twice a week?  They will miss three hours of instruction time a week in travel time!”  Point taken.  Students would miss class time while on the bus.  We had a new problem.

“Yes and…Yes if”

At the origin of reinventing schools is not stopping at the problem level.  We are not the first district team to recognize our education system is broken and we are at the crisis stage as a country.  How many people stop at the problem?  Recognizing the problem is easy.  Doing something about it is hard.  Eminence seeks to create a “Yes and…Yes if” culture.  We took the new problem facing us and gathered our team in a room.  We don’t take no for an answer and we have to find the remedies to the barriers in front of us.

Someone mentioned that the students had school issued laptops as a part of our ACES (Apple Computers for Every Student) initiative.  Why couldn’t we engage them in “Anytime, Anywhere Learning” on the bus.   It would have been easy to stop the discussion with another problem or reason why we couldn’t make that happen.  You can’t connect to wifi on a school bus.  Instead we said, “Yes and we we will need to find a way to get wifi on a bus.”  We called several companies and asked if a wifi bus existed.  We were told, “No,’” over and over.  The conversation went something like this:

Group:  Doesn’t a hotspot connect you to the net?

Company:  Yes, it does.

Group:  If we were to put a hotspot on the bus and it traveled with the bus, wouldn’t that connect kids while on the bus?

Company:  Technically I guess it would.

Group:  You sell us a hotspot and we will find a way to mount it.

Beyond the Bus

We are several months into utilizing the wifi bus.  It has been great for field trips, sports teams staying connected to content in their classes, and for our students traveling to Bellarmine.  It is my hope that you see beyond the bus.  Simply adding wifi buses won’t change your school, but developing a “Yes and” attitude will. You have issues and problems facing your organization.  Innovative and creative solutions are out there. The wifi bus is one of many manifestations of the “Yes and…Yes if” mindset.  Don’t take no for an answer and find the solution.





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May 1, School on F.I.R.E. Launches

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The School On F.I.R.E. model launched on May 1, 2012. Take a look at what people are saying.

Dr. Nick Sauers, a 1 to 1 guru and blogger from the University of Kentucky commented here.

Bellarmine University published this article on their website, outlining their partnership with Eminence Independent Schools.

Louisville’s WHAS TV ran a news feature on the School On F.I.R.E. launch.

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A Site is Born!

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How appropriate that the school on fire site is born on Mother’s Day!  If it weren’t for my mother I wouldn’t be in a position to blog about educational issues.  Dr. Anthony Muhammad once said that the difference between he and his friends is that he was lucky enough to be born to his mother and they weren’t.  I echo Dr. Muhammad’ssentiments.

It is my hope that this site will enrich the ongoing discussion of how we need to reinvent school to better meet the need young students and prepare them for the 21st century.

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