Monday, May 2, 2011

Notes and Commentary on the Meridian Charter School Meeting

Warning: Very dry content. If you don't have a personal interest in either the school or my beliefs about education, skip the whole thing. Trust me.

Several people asked me, “Are you going to that information session? I can't make it. Please, take good notes!” I took eight pages of handwritten scrawls. I'll do my best to translate them now, put into paragraph form and re-organized slightly by category.

I also try to make it clear what is mostly unfiltered fact, and what is my own opinionated commentary.

Some helpful acronyms:
PYP = primary years program. Refers to grades K-6.
MYP = middle years program. Refers to grades 6 or 7-10. (The website says 6-10; the sixth-graders, however, are being classed with the primary years in terms of schedule next year.)
UL = upper level. Refers to grades 11 & 12, when students work on acquiring an IB diploma and also, frequently, receiving college credit for their work. Similar to the AP program, which I always liked.

Parent Association Plea

So, first up, the board member in charge of the parent association gave a brief presentation.

She said the parent association needs to raise $100K for musical instruments, playground equipment, furniture, and other supplies. She recommended parents check to see if their employers offered matching fund donations. I know Intel does; Jon and I will look into that. She explained they received a federal grant of $450K for start up costs, but that's not enough for everything.

"If we could raise $150 per student," she added earnestly, "We would be set."

Principal's Presentation

Mr. Rick Fernandez, the new overall “Head of School” introduced himself.

He says he graduated from UT and did graduate work in gifted education and educational administration, also at UT. He has been an IB consultant for over a decade. (I assume that means he worked with schools to help them become IB-compliant and -certified.) He also has administrative experience. For a more detailed resume, see his page at the school website.

He has been working on preparing the application for IB PYP. This application means the elementary years ought to be official candidates for IB certification starting in the fall. From a previous information session, I interpret this to mean that starting this fall, they will be in the queue for recognition from a national or international IB governing body. It takes at least two years (as I recall) to get certified, so its good they are beginning the process now. Right now they cannot claim to be an official IB school, they can only say they are following an IB-style curriculum with the intention of receiving formal IB designation as soon as possible. They hope to have the PYP be a certified, recognized, licensed/bonded/insured, IB-accredited primary years program starting in the fall of 2013.

Their goal is that 8th-graders starting this year will be able to earn an official IB diploma when they graduate from 12th grade. I assume they are on currently on track for that.

Mr. Fernandez said he had hired about half the staff necessary for PYP and interviews are still ongoing. All teachers either have PYP experience or will get the training in July. He looked primarily, not for PYP/IB experience, but for teachers who are qualified, enthusiastic, and love kids.

They have hired a “Primary head of school” (which I take to mean a principal over the elementary portion, kind of a vice-principal), but won't announce his name until the end of May because s/he insists on finishing this school year without distracting his/her current community. Mr. Fernandez made a big point of saying this person would be g-r-r-eat!!! and that he would stake his professional reputation on it. I thought this a trifle overdone, but whatever.

There should be another information session in June or July in which parents should be able to meet this mystery person.

In terms of curriculum, he said that K-6 should not get additional stress, just more enrichment. Grades 7-8 will get a more challenging curriculum, and that the high-school-aged kids will have to choose to commit to very high, demanding standards.

Handbook Notes

Another board member – sorry, I didn't catch the names – then went over the handbook and code of conduct, which can be found here: and here:

I like the mission statement: "Meridian School’s mission is to provide an invigorating educational environment that develops responsible citizens who can artfully navigate our complex world and enjoy a good life with others. Each student will engage in diverse investigations, disciplined inquiry, and integrated service learning to cultivate intercultural awareness, creativity and mental acuity."

They want to teach students how to learn, how to teach themselves, how to re-tool in a changing world, and how to be open to new experiences and cultures. They believe progress reports should be regular and thorough. They will administer the TAKS test (in accordance with state law) and see it and other standardized tests as helpful tools, but will not let the test dictate their classroom time or curriculum. Homework should be thoughtful, age-appropriate, and purposeful, not merely busy work.

As with most things at this charter school, I love the philosophy, and hope that the implementation measures up.

Many things were already explained in the two documents above; I won't necessarily repeat all of them.

I do note they said that nine unexcused absences constitute a serious discipline offense, and students might be “sent back” to their regular campus after such an infraction. They also asked parents to try super hard to have students in class between 10:00 to 10:15, since that is when attendance is taken, and attendance determines the funds they get from the state. “Schedule the dentist appointment around that,” they pleaded.

Wednesdays have early release at 1:00 p.m. because that allows time for teacher training and collaboration. It makes sense that if they want a highly integrated curriculum, with history and English and math teachers all working together, inter- and even intra-grade, they would need time to plan together. Personally, I would rather see a regular half-day off than random teacher development days scattered through the calendar. Of course, I'm not employed. The school does have an after-school program for Wednesdays so that parents can pick the kids up later than 1:00. The few extra hours of supervision on Wednesday afternoons should cost only a modest fee.

The enrollment package is due May 9th. (I think that means it must be postmarked by then.)

They encourage parent involvement and hope each family will volunteer 20 hours per school year. (That's per family, not per student.)

After School, Interpreted. (I think...)

Their various after-school programs are very complicated. I think I understand everything they said, but they haven't worked out many details yet. In principle, though, I believe they are divided into these major categories:

  1. Early drop-off/late release is for students who have siblings on a different schedule. (Grades 7+ arrive and leave campus an hour later than K-6). It will probably consist of supervised study time, and should not cost extra money.
  2. The complete after-school package, which will cost approximately $200 per month per student, is for students whose parents must work and cannot pick them up earlier than around 6:00 p.m. Students of working parents will be given priority placement in this program, which will consist of a variety of extra-curricular classes (like group music lessons), clubs (like chess or robots), and sports (like soccer). Baseball and swimming would be off-site but transportation would be provided by the school.
  3. Any remaining availabilities (like a slot in a special Spanish class) may be filled by kids who could be picked up at the regular dismissal time but whose family decides to pursue extra-curriculars voluntarily. Thus, some kids might opt into one or two activities, staying after school only some days each week. The fees would adjust to a pay-per-activity accordingly.
  4. The school is also looking into offering some private lessons (like violin). Those would be much more expensive than group lessons, of course, and would also be a completely separate program.
  5. For children who can't leave at 1:00 on Wednesdays, there will be a modest fee for supervision until 3:00.

    Note: They still do not have a specific schedule worked out, so at this time, it's impossible for a parent to know if chess club will run from, say, 4:30 to 5:15 or from 5:15 to 6:00. Obviously, this has great impact on the stay-at-home moms most likely to be reading this.


They then opened the floor for questions. Behold my notes on the answers, in no particular order:

Foreign Language. Spanish will be taught at every grade level. Later on, they hope to add more language options.

Medical Staff. There will NOT be a registered nurse on-site. Office staff will be specially trained to dispense medications, but the principal said, quite honestly, that if there are students with particular health needs (life-threatening allergies, perhaps, or diabetes), this school might not be the best fit for them yet. They hope to hire a nurse in a few years.

Note: They hope to do a great many things “in a few years” “when they have more funding.” Though I believe they are sincere, I have no idea how long it might actually take to 1) become fully IB accredited, 2) create school-fielded baseball, basketball, swimming, or soccer teams, 3) form a band and orchestra, 4) hire a nurse, 5) expand the foreign language options, 6) guarantee uber-healthy cafeteria food, etc.

They have acquired a site in Round Rock which used to be a light-industrial building. It requires extensive renovation. The contractor's plan of work indicates it will be done by the middle of August; they are tentatively planning on a start date of Sept. 6, just in case things (*gasp*) run over. In a dire emergency, they could apply for a waiver from the state to start school even later, but hopefully that won't be necessary. There is no real back-up plan if a) the work isn't completed and b) the waiver is denied. (If that should happen, the local public schools would suddenly find themselves placing an extra 750 students. Imagine their joy.)

Because the building won't be ready, there won't be an open house on-site. They will try to have opportunities for children to meet the staff in a different venue over the summer.

They have allocated a classroom size of 700 square feet per 25 students. There will also be a science lab for MYP, and a library with limited selection at first, though they do have a small book-buying budget. They also solicited donations. There will be offices for extra staff and special education classrooms.

Recess. They agree that recess is important. Children need a break in which to exercise and wiggle. They promised not to cut into recess time for more instruction. (As, apparently, some public schools are doing due to test-score desperation.) Repeated plea for donations of money and manpower to build playground equipment.

Food. They have space in the building set aside for a cafeteria. They agree in principle that lunches should be healthy, and that cafeterias should not try to generate extra revenue by selling ice cream. The board member answering this question admitted that they've been focused on other things and hadn't really addressed the issue yet, but were planning to tackle that next, and invited concerned parents to join the committee on food services. They don't want a huge industrial catering service, but they don't have a specific contractor in mind, and, as always, they must bow to budget constraints. In theory, I'll try to have Danny bring a sack lunch. In practice, with two babies...well, it can't be any worse than Whitestone's cafeteria, right?

Technology. They would love to have a large computer lab, smart boards in every classroom, and ipads for each student; again, fiscal reality makes that unlikely. They do intend each teacher to have a laptop with projection capability.

Skipping grades. Students wishing to double-promote are out of luck for this coming school year, since all slots for each grade have been filled, plus waiting lists. They intend to implement a program wherein a student may take a test at the end of the school year for possible placement two grades higher the next.

In MYP and above, PE is a requirement.
There will be “specials” – music, art, PE, and Spanish – in the primary grades.

Special Education (NOT including gifted): They are required by law to provide special education, such as in cases of Autism or learning disabilities like dyslexia. They will also provide ELL (English Language Learning, i.e., special language instruction for non-native speakers), services for learning disabilities such as dyslexia, and ELL (English Language Learning). These services might include pull-out and group classes. If I were the parent of an autistic kid who required a full-time aide, though, I would hesitate for budget reasons. I find it quite likely the charter school will go to even greater lengths to avoid hiring a full-time assistant than the public schools regularly do.

When asked, the Meridian administration emphasize that they are required by law to provide those services; however, it does not seem truly intrinsic to their mission. The original vision of the school, as I interpolate it, is for involved, educated parents of above-average kids to find a challenging environment for their children which avoids many of the problems of the traditional schools. Thus, my prediction is that they will do the bare minimum necessary to avoid a lawsuit when it comes to children with learning disabilities and behavior problems. Though I am thrilled about the emphasis on giftedness and creativity, this is definitely an important point for people in other circumstances to consider.

Mr. Fernandez explicitly said “Special education will be limited for the first few years,” adding that it is his plan to hire a special education coordinator to help manage cases and train other staff.

Note: At a previous meeting, a board member said Meridian would likely join a special education co-op. For example, school A would employ a speech therapist, school B would employ an occupational therapist, and school C would employ a teacher with special dyslexia training. The schools would then pool their resources, with each person rotating among the campuses, spending one or two days per week at each. I heard no mention of this idea Sunday night. Perhaps it has been scrapped; perhaps they're planning simply to contract the requisite specialists as needed; probably they are hoping they'll be able to have a special education coordinator handle everything in house but don't know for certain yet if that will be feasible. I don't know. Each parent only got one question, and I spent mine elsewhere.

A Charitable Explanation

Many people have been frustrated by the lack of specificity. It does seem like they are making progress in deciding some issues, like uniforms. Other things, like the cafeteria, remain unaddressed. I worry about them getting everything sorted by the start of school. Again, they are making progress, but they still seem disorganized in many ways.

On issues regarding special services (like dyslexia, gifted differentiation, and academic advancement), they have some excuse for lacking specifics: they don't have student profiles yet. Part of the paperwork parents must file by May 9th includes a description of each child's strengths, weaknesses, and special needs. It is reasonable for them to make a decision like “We'll offer a pull-out dyslexia class” or “We'll train a few individual teachers” or “We'll hire an extra Special Education Coordinator” based on whether they have thirty LD kids or three.

Understanding their reasons for vagueness does not make the immediate decision less frustrating. My personal prediction is that special ed will struggle the next two years, since they will be focusing primarily on the main IB curriculum and certification. Given budget constraints, it would be much easier for them to offer a few hours of training to some teachers and release 'em back into the wild to differentiate within the classroom. 

Regarding Gifted and Accelerated Differentiation 

“Differentiate in the classroom” seems their constant refrain. In response to questions about special education, giftedness, and, especially, academic acceleration like “My fourth-grader is doing algebra” or “My daughter is already fluent in Spanish,” the principal offered very vague reassurances that 1) they believe in gifted/advanced education, 2) they won't do any kind of gifted/advanced pull-out, 3) teachers will differentiate within the classroom, and 4) “Your kid will be taken care of.” While I believe the principal is sincere in his intentions, I cannot help but worry that the implementation will be uncertain.

I further agree that, in principle, IB integration would better meet the needs of gifted kids than a traditional classroom. Real-world applications, cross-disciplinary projects, and creativity are all much more engaging than rote drills. The board and Mr. Fernandez repeatedly stated that research shows IB is great for gifted kids. In theory, I agree.

Eric's Unique Issues

I'm not trying to brag obnoxiously about my kid, but people do keep asking about him. Feel free to skip this section if you think it does not pertain.

Other teachers have given lip service to classroom differentiation for Eric, but in practice it has been a disaster. Whitestone's solution to the problem was to send a high-school kid in to play Monopoly with him. They also tried PACE which meant he was doing third-grade math instead of second-grade. Woo woo. Another problem was that they insisted he had to do his regular work before he could do extras, like algebra worksheets or reading. This was before his ADD medication, and that policy was a nightmare. Plus he had to show his work to an insulting degree. I am all in favor of making kids show reasonable intermediate steps, but they took it to ridiculous extremes, mainly because it's important on the TAKS test. My reassurances that Eric would never, ever, fail the math section of a standardized test fell on the deaf ears of a lock-stepped administration.

(A friend in Raleigh once told me, regarding the administration at a public school, "It's like they want to care, but they can't." Yep.)

The problem, as I see it, is that most elementary school teachers probably don't know algebra themselves, let alone have certification to teach it. Here I will likely upset many people with my political incorrectness, but I tried taking some education classes in college, and I was appalled at my fellow students. Vapid airheads who “loved children,” but couldn't properly use “their” vs. “there” or “its” vs. “it's,” let alone grasp even the most rudimentary statistical concepts like “this is a standard deviation, and why it's important” or “it's much, much harder to move from the 97th percentile to the 98th percentile than from the 49th to the 50.” I walked out of there shaken to the core. “I never want her to teach my kid English,” I told Jon repeatedly, “Or him to teach my kids math, or her to teach my kids anything.”

Now, in fairness, there are some fine elementary school teachers out there. I am not trying to say they are all idiots. I do think it unlikely, though, that a person certified only to teach primary-level math (up to fractions and percentages) could possibly handle the differentiation requirements of algebra or above.

My mother had a very bad experience like that in eighth grade, where the school promised differentiation, but really only assigned her worksheets in a vacuum. Without any feedback, she never knew if she had gotten the answers correct, lacked confidence, and was upset when the “teacher” blindly gave her an A and passed her on to Algebra II. The school system then refused to allow her to repeat Algebra I because she was listed as having credit. She is super smart and would have done great with adequate instruction; sadly, this system failure meant she spent years feeling she'd never properly mastered the material.

It's all well and good for me to send in algebra worksheets for Eric, but if the teachers aren't qualified to assist him or to grade his work, what has it accomplished? Now, I would hopefully be more successful about negotiating with the charter school, some deal like “Fine, just don't assign him any math homework and I'll supplement at home,” but my question “Please walk me through the specifics of your IED/ARD* process – which typically involves a meeting of the parents, classroom teacher, special staff (like a school psychologist, speech therapist, social skills leader, special education coordinator) (or, in Eric's case, all of the above), plus a representative from the administration -- got only the repetitive refrain, “Your child will be taken care of.”

*IED stands for “individual education plan.” ARD is what they call the process in Texas. It stands for “admission, recovery, and dismissal,” but amounts to the same thing.

Mr. Fernandez did explain the reason they don't do gifted pull-out. Because IB is such an integrated curriculum, where a project might involve science, art, and foreign language, they can't swear a kid got the entire curriculum if the kid leaves his primary years classroom to attend 8th-grade math.

While I appreciated the blunt honesty of the explanation and the flat answer that they would “absolutely not” let kids go to a different grade for instruction, I am not convinced they can meet Eric's math needs in fourth grade.

Granted, we have only covered five chapters of Algebra I this year. At that rate, it will take him two years to complete the course instead of one. That will still put him well ahead of other fifth-graders.

I foresee a community college in his future...but not for a few more years. I also acknowledge that it will be difficult for me to teach him algebra at home next year when I have two babies. Still, two or three hours a week from me is still likely much better than what he'd be getting at the charter school, and definitely better than anything he'd get at Whitestone.

Another reason for not sending Eric next year is that he needs predictability and structure. Granted, a homeschool co-op is not the most rigid environment, but it's also small, and flexible enough to allow Eric to disappear into a corner for ten minutes if he becomes upset. From a social perspective, a group of eight to ten (most of whom he already knows from church) is much easier for him to navigate than twenty-five complete strangers.


I've already explained their approach to special needs and gifted education. It's worth noting, though, something that was mentioned casually towards the end of the meeting. A parent asked about “whole grade acceleration” (which I'm guessing means trying to get all the third-graders reading at fourth-grade level). They answered that they do not currently have any actual curricula. They have an IB framework, but they intend that the teachers will create a specific curriculum after they're hired.

I'm not sure how I feel about this. Sure, it's great to have the teachers involved in writing the curricula – but that's one more thing for them to iron out between now and September. Given that only half their staff is hired, and that many of them won't have any IB training until July, that makes me nervous. Again, a shakedown year or two might be in order.

They added that there is no specific IB method for acceleration; that's the school's responsibility.


One concern is that with each year, it will be harder to get a spot. I am finessing that one by sending Daniel this year, so that Eric will be given priority in later years if he applies. I gather the charter school expects to seat 750 students this year. Though they will add a grade each year until they reach 12th, the lower grades will already be mostly filled.

In Principle, in Practice

For me, so much of this comes down to a single problem. “I love their philosophy,” I told Jon repeatedly. “I love their attitude and their intentions. I worry, though, about the implementation of practical details.”

Joseph Smith was a visionary. He was rotten at specifics like money management. It took someone like Brigham Young to administer daily details.

I worry about this school transitioning to the nitty-gritty. Further, I worry about the example they will set for their students.

Gifted Philosophy: Balance Epiphanies with Tedium

Some people see Gifted education as elitist. When I attended a magnet school in the early nineties, people kept writing letters to the editor of the local newspaper. "Why are we wasting money on the smart kids," they asked, "When the smart kids are already doing fine? They should be in regular classes, helping to tutor the disadvantaged."

Asking "the smart kids" to help tutor struggling classmates is reasonable up to a very limited point, but it quickly becomes what I call "intellectual socialism." Don't get me started about the afterward of The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis. Imagine Mozart, Isaac Newton, or Da Vinci beaten down to the lowest common denominator.

If you want the U.S. to stay ahead in technology, if you want us to produce scientists and engineers who solve the world's problems, you should support gifted education.

High-Q children do need to learn how to interact with more typical peers. But they also need to be around other smart kids. Everyone has gifts: some people are smarter, some are stronger, some are good at woodwork and others at being charming hostesses. I am rotten at athletics and drawing, but I have many other talents. A smart kid should not be taught that she is "better" or more important than anyone else. God loves everyone. It's wonderful to develop gifts; it's bad form to brag obnoxiously about them. A truly smart kid, however, cannot possibly help but notice that she is smarter than all the other kids in her class. (Plus, in all likelihood, her teacher. In fifth grade, my teacher was a very sweet idiot, and I learned to correct her gently by asking very tactful questions.) 

Being around other smart kids helps a child in several ways: one, he can find friends with common interests (like hacking into the FBI servers!), and two, it actually keeps him humble, since he is no longer a giant genius fish in an backwater intellectual pond.

Gifted kids, who frequently learn intuitively and by leaps, do, however, need a practical grounding in things like “basic study skills” and “daily homework.”

I had many friends in school who argued “I have a D in that class because its sooo boring. I'm so smart, I can't stand to pay attention.” That excuse never impressed me. “I get horribly bored, too,” I reminded them, “But I still get good grades because I know exactly how much effort is necessary. If you can sleep through class but ace the tests and maintain a B, I will accept your argument. Otherwise, grit your teeth and do your homework.” (I note that I ended up with an excellent scholarship, where they had to take out student loans. Go figure.)

--(Another side note. Jon actually did sleep through Calculus, but got an A. Plus a 5 on the AP. Disgusting man. He did do his homework, though. It still drove me crazy when I heard that his habit had been to meander into class, ask "Oh, do we have a test today?" quickly read the chapter summary, and then set the curve. [grrrr] When I think of the bullets I sweated in Calculus, and for a less favorable outcome...)--

Despite exceptions like above, ultimately, work ethic is a much better predictor of success than raw I.Q. So, how do we feed the intellect and instill values like self-discipline?

Part of educating a gifted kid is figuring out how much “boring effort” to require. Too much mindless repetition is torture. And inefficient, even futile. Too little makes them lazy. I hate mere “busy work,” but it is reasonable to expect them to practice conjugating verbs. That's something they really do need to drill--icky word, ugh!--until it becomes automatic.

Kids today expect to be entertained all the time, this induced ADD being one of the many side effects of constant TV and video game saturation. Even without the electronic bombardment, they still get easily alienated. Once, when I was ten or eleven, I whined to my mother that Primary was soooo excruciatingly boring, I couldn't stand it. “I wish I were in Relief Society,” I complained, “Where the lesson level would be more interesting.”

“Honey,” she answered, “You'll be bored in church for the rest of your life. Get used to it.”

Harsh, but true.

--(As an aside, I noticed during the royal wedding that Prince William twiddled his thumbs, stared vacantly at the ceiling, and even whispered to Kate during the Bishop of London's excellent sermon. I know Christianity is mostly dead in Europe, but surely a protocol-trained prince ought to know better than to tune out so obviously in front of sixty world-wide television cameras. Ten minutes is a reasonable length of time to expect someone, especially an adult, to behave.)--

In other words, smart children, like everyone else in the world, need to self-manage. They need to learn how to be bored graciously for short periods. They need to do homework, even if it isn't always fun. When they join the adult workforce, they won't be able to tell their new employers, “Oh, the daily reports are grunt work. I'll just work on strategic vision.”

I think housework is inane, but I still force myself to do it. Sometimes. (Okay, not nearly often enough, but at least the house functions at a basic level, even if it's never immaculate. I suspect I have some ADD which never manifested in school since I actually liked school. But I digress.)

If the people at Meridian are all visionaries who are weak on details, what will that teach the gifted kids who need structure?

My sister Cheryl says presidential candidates often run excellent campaigns and then have trouble transitioning to the white house. “The skill set necessary to get your candidate elected,” she says “Has very little to do with actual governance.” That's why presidents tend to appoint their top campaign aides as chiefs of staff, only to fire them one to two years later.

I'm curious to see what Meridian will look like in two years.

I suspect they will weather the start-up problems, work out the kinks, and settle into a routine. They are dedicated, sincere people who believe in their vision. Inevitably, there will be political backstabbing at some point, but I'm not concerned about that right now.


I attended a magnet school for grades 6-9. It was fantastic in many ways; in particular, I loved having smart friends, and only 100 kids in the entire grade. Everyone knew everyone else. The competition was tight, but the friendships were tighter. (The clique politics were complicated, but that's just middle school for you.) I remain in contact with many of my buddies from that time.

One especially nice thing was the lack of turnover. The school ran from grades 2-12, and many kids stayed there a decade. I attended three different high schools. My little brother and sister changed schools almost every year between K and 6th grades. (There was a move, and a very rapidly growing school district.) Such disruptions are really hard on small people. I love the idea that Danny can get to know the same kids for ten years. Talk about a community.

One reason I hesitate to put Eric in this coming year is the fear that I'd have to pull him out again. If I'm going to put him in, I want a reasonable assurance that he'll manage, not just to stay, but to flourish.


For parents making this difficult decision, I can only suggest you research and pray about it.

Last night, the family decided that Daniel would attend the charter school in the fall, and Eric would join a co-op.

I think Daniel, who is highly creative, both at applied engineering and imaginative writing, will fit in beautifully. He is also much better at starting and finishing independent projects. Hopefully this will be a perfect fit for him.

Juggling two different school situations, plus two babies, plus Jon finishing his last semester of his Master's degree, will be brutal. (Forget what I said about cleaning the house; I resign myself to its being a complete disaster September through December.) Still, anything we tried would be grueling, and I really think this will be the best thing for the kids. We'll revisit Meridian for Eric in a year or two.

I'm eager to hear what other parents decide. And, if you decide to enroll your kids, let's talk about carpooling.

I hope you found my notes helpful.

Gail Homer Berry


Jessica Brown said...

Holy Moly!

Carolyn said...

I completely agree with your point about how facilitating gifted education is incredibly important.

First, I agree with the "common interests" point. As but one example, I've been hosting "nerdy board game nights!" at my house every month all semester. I've been slightly surprised, actually, at how many of my guyfriends keep coming back and enjoying themselves. It's become clear that they love having an environment where they can play difficult games, rather than standard party ones (like CatchPhrase). In addition, instead of having to deal with superficial cyclings of 5-minute conversations, they can have in-depth conversations about academic topics. And above all, they have a bubbly girl who embraces her nerdiness baking them cookies. My point is, the common interests has resulted in stronger friendships and more intellectual stimulation than throwing all these nerdy types into "least common denominator" mass parties.

Second, the humility point is also VERY true. With my scholarship in college, I never felt superior to anyone. This is because instead of lauding my own accomplishments, I compared them to the sum total of all of my friends. "I'm not special" I would think. "I haven't organized benefit concerts for New Orleans, and taught English to Sudanese refugees in Egypt, and interned in the White House, and helped on medical mission trips, and become fluent in 10 different languages, and played varsity tennis, and won a reward for biochemical research, and professionally played the piano, violin, flute, and cello..."

Instead, my experience surrounded by brilliant and talented friends taught me a couple of key lessons. (1) I can accomplish anything I put my mind too, but (2) I will never be good at everything, and (3) In spite of all this "competition" in the world, most of it is a sham. There is ALWAYS room for greatness.

If this charter school in the upcoming years can work out its kinks and live up to its vision, I think it could successfully instill that same message.

Krenn said...

point of order: I actually changed schools every year from 1st to 9th grades. Carolyn's timing was better, she had a few stretches of 2-year schools in there.

I also had my own nightmare experience with what I supposed could be described as 'differentiated' education during 2nd grade, although hopefully that problem won't be an issue in a charter school which is self-selected for relatively gifted kids.

basically, my second grade took the approach of putting everyone who wanted 'differentiated' education into the same classroom.... including those who were performing significantly BELOW grade level. the 'advanced' kids were maybe 1/4 of the total, and 'retrograde' kids were maybe 1/3. It was... bad. Most of the advanced kids took their chances with normal schoolrooms after a few months.

You might inquire if the school is interested in a Sorting Algorithm of Differentation... all the brightest math students in the SAME math class, all the brightest english students in the SAME english class, etc. that way, if in-class differentation really is neccessary, one teacher will have the most room to manuever.