With this post I come to the end of  three terrific years as Head of School for St. Gregory College Preparatory School in Tucson, Arizona.  It has been an honor to serve, and I know I will treasure always these years as an extraordinarily high point in my educational leadership career.

In our three years together, we’ve seen enrollment stabilize and grow (after ten years of nearly continuous decline), and expanded external financial support to the annual financial aid/scholarship funding by several hundreds of thousand dollars– allowing us to considerably diversify enrollment and provide new opportunities to students who otherwise wouldn’t have this chance.  Each of the three years has ended financially with a good, positive balance sheet.

From the St. Gregory 2012 yearbook.

I am most pleased about the ambitious twin initiatives,  “Roots and Wings:” Advisory and Laptops, which we launched in 2010.   First, we dramatically overhauled what was previously a small homeroom program into our new, teacher-student advisory program, strengthening student “rooted-ness” with a home base over the course of each week and strengthened relationship with a teacher and other students.   Advisory has also become a new home for service learning, teacher mentoring of students, parent-student-adviser conferencing,  and much more.  We’ve also, especially in the middle school, developed several new bullying prevention programs, which brought a national award from Teaching Tolerance, and significantly revamped our bullying and harassment policy for the entire school.

Wings” is our nickname for our 1:1 laptop program, which has had two years of fine success, with students doing great project-based learning, developing fine research skills, practicing terrific on-line collaboration, and exploiting social media and other tools to connect, share, and learn together.  This project also demanded a significant expansion of the campus WiFi infrastructure and fiber-optic bandwidth.   Students need to learn how to use digital tools responsibly, and we developed and implement a fine, three day, digital citizenship “boot camp.”

We launched a trio of new student outcome measurements, CWRA, HSSSE, and MAP, and I believe we are the only one of the 1400 NAIS member schools to be using and learning from all three of these fine new tools.   We use them because we are more serious than ever about academic outcomes, and want to use the best tools we can to track, monitor, and intervene to improve our educational program.  Believing that we must assess what matters to us, new report card extension, providing goal-setting and formative feedback for our students on a set of 21st century  and mission-central skills we call the EGG: the Essential Goals for Gregorians.  We’ve also worked in both the middle school and upper school to increase and enlarge academic requirements: now 8th graders must take 8, rather than 7, classes, and our graduation requirements for high school students include four years of math and history (up from three), and have gone from 24 to 26 credits in total.

Our faculty culture of collaboration and planning has been greatly improved by the addition of two hours weekly (previously it was one monthly) for time dedicated to this, and the valuable work of our new Critical Friends groups.    I should add that an important priority of my leadership, and a critical recommendation to us from our accrediting association, was that we progress in diversifying racial/ethnically our faculty and administration, and we’ve done that significantly,  taking the percentage of professionals of color in three years from under 3% to about 15%.   In these three years we’ve also doubled the number of Ph.D’s on our faculty, from 3 to 6, with the appointment of three new Ph.D’s to our upper school.    Knowing that a high performing and always-growing faculty is of the highest priority, we worked as joint admin-faculty team to completely revamp our teacher evaluation system, taking it from every four years to annual, and building into it a stronger goal-setting and growth orientation.   I also implemented in 2011 St. Gregory’s first ever annual written evaluation for senior administrators.

A major theme for educational program development has been developing innovative mindsets and habits for our students, and we’ve developed several new elective courses, new project-based learning units, new experiential education elements, and a new special diploma program, to advance this important theme.   Dennis Connor in particularly has built his physics lab into a robotics and engineering lab, and it is a very exciting place, complete with a 3D printer.   (Some of our initiatives on this front are featured in a forthcoming book (July, 2012) by Suzie Boss, Bringing Innovation to School).

We’ve installed more than 600 solar panels on the roofs of 5 of our buildings,  providing more than 30% of our energy usage, and re-engineered air conditioning for our gymnasium, dramatically reducing our carbon footprint.  We’ve built out a new community garden on campus, and a new goat and chicken pen in the middle school.    Through a variety of initiatives, including the new Youth Leadership Summit for 7th graders from 20+ schools, the continuation of the Rotary Car show, hosting a new 5K/10K charity run,  new speaker and film events, and other activities, we’ve made good progress in better sharing our campus resources with the wider Tucson community.   Summer at St. Gregory has also been transformed; we brought back to campus the elementary day-camp Summer Fine Arts, which had left us in 2008, and we launched a brand new, now thriving,  academic enrichment summer day-camp for middle school students called Minds Alive: Leadership and Innovation camp.

Looking forward, I’m anticipating a very different and very exciting several years learning, writing, sharing, speaking, and consulting on the topic and cause I am most passionate about: advancing 21st century learning and schools of the future.   I’ll be blogging regularly, and I have several other writing projects in the works.  I’ll be keynoting and speaking at educational conferences and for faculties, boards and parents at schools around the country and beyond; I’ve already confirmed about eight  such “gigs” for the coming year and new invitations and opportunities are arriving each week.

To expand the breadth of the work I do supporting schools, districts and associations, I’m developing and promoting my new educational consulting practice, JonathanEMartin Ed. Services.  At the same time, I’m forming affiliations, formal and informal, with a wide variety of national educational organizations and consulting firms, including Educational Collaborators,  for whom I’ll do some consulting on strategic planning, technology integration, and professional development.

As a family, we are staying here in Tucson, most of all because both my sons are happily enrolled in schools which suit them well, including my older son, who will be entering the 9th grade right here at St. Gregory, which my wife and I believe is a perfect match for him.   My wife, Carman Ryken, has accepted a terrific appointment as a math teacher at an exciting, dynamic, progressive charter school here in Tucson, Paolo Freire Freedom School, a middle school of about 75 students.   The school is a great match for her educational philosophy and ideals and also for my own views:  the school uses a very interesting and exciting problem-based learning math curriculum called “Connected Math,” out of Michigan State University. I’ll surely blog about the qualities of this math curriculum in the months to come.   With my wife employed full-time, I’ll be, happily, picking up a larger share of the household management and parenting.   As a family, we’ll also continue hosting in our home international students enrolled at St. Gregory, something we enjoy greatly.

We’ve relocated to a home closer to both boys’ schools and within walking distance of shops and cafes, so we’ve downsized to just one car and are happy to be conducting a relatively more urban lifestyle, walking and cycling around Fort Lowell neighborhood.  I have a home office, but I expect I’ll spend as much time working at the two nearby Starbucks (Swan/Camp Lowell in the Basha’s, and Swan/Grant) as I do in my office, so Tucsonans can look for me there and say “hello.”

Over the course of what potentially will be 25-30 more years of professional work are many possible career paths and projects, I anticipate: among them are returning, almost certainly at some point, to independent school leadership positions; joining a national educational reform organization on a full-time basis;  and taking on state/regional or national association management roles for independent schools or other school groups.

To my St. Gregory colleagues, parents, students, and supporters, thank you very, very much for inviting me to join this community and serve this school’s excellent and extraordinary mission.  To my readers, please know that the blog carries on and the best is yet to come.    Onwards.

Our new policy is below, after the top few paragraphs and videos.

It has been great to see the swiftly growing national attention to and concern about bullying in our schools in the past year, although the attention brings some increasingly challenging management issues.   As school leaders, we must take stronger action to elevate our vigilance; communicate emphatically our disapprobation; educate our students, teachers, administrators and parents;  facilitate and advance intentional, pro-active, bullying prevention programs; and respond to acts of bullying with vigor and consistency.   That said, there are many, many grey areas in evaluating and judging events that appear very differently to different observers.

Among those deserving praise and appreciation for leadership in this movement are Dan Savage and the team of danah boyd and John Palfrey at Harvard’s Berkman Center.  Dan Savage is the creator of the youtube “It Gets Better” campaign (video below), and was a featured speaker at the NAIS annual conference in Seattle this past March.   At that convention, Savage spoke with tremendous compassion for all, gay, straight, and everyone else, who is bullied, and directly confronted and challenged school administrators to take a stronger stance, suggesting that we have betrayed the trust families put in us to provide a safe school environment.  (President Obama’s  video contribution to the “It Gets Better” project is available here.)

Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society has a new project which offers some valuable resources, the Kinder and Braver World Project, with funding and support from Lady Gaga’s Born this Way foundation.   In preparing our new policy here at St. Gregory, we reviewed these resources closely, and took especially from the paper What You Must Know to Help COmbat Youth Cruelty, Meanness and Bullying, co-authored by Law Professor (and the new Headmaster of Andover), John Palfrey and the terrific social thinker about social media and new technologies, danah boyd.  A few key quotes:

Bullying is a serious issue.  It leaves scars and makes learning hard.  Both those who are victims of bullying and those who bully others face serious  educational, social, and psychological challenges.  We need to address bullying in order to make certain that all youth have the ability to grow up healthy and happy.

Not all aggression is bullying. Bullying refers to repeated psychological, social, and physical aggression propagated by those who are more physically or socially powerful.

“Zero tolerance” school policies are ineffective. They sound good, but they do tremendous damage in schools and are often correlated with a rise in bullying and other forms of aggression.  Consequences for bullying should be clear, but support structures must also be put in place to help youth learn from their mistakes.

Cyberbullying is not a discrete practice. It should not be addressed separately. While digitally mediated interactions can complicate bullying dynamics, what happens online is often deeply entangled with what happens offline.

Cyberbullying is more visible, but not more common.  Studies consistently show that face-to-face bullying is still more common – and youth consistently report that it has a greater negative impact – than what happens online. Technology can be a valuable venue to communicate messages of love, acceptance, and bravery and to engage youth who are struggling at home  or in school.

We must create a positive youth culture that reinforces kindness and bravery. And we must help encourage youth to be courageous and loving, respectful, and tolerant. This is hard, but it starts with each of us.

At St. Gregory, we have taken new, sincere, and I think significant action to enhance our efforts to prevent and combat bullying.   Our terrific new school counselor, Kim Peace-Steimer, has teamed with our (also terrific) Middle School head to launch several new programs in the middle school, one of which garnered a national award as can be seen in this video below.

We also have worked hard this spring to review and revise our anti-bullying policy, which is pasted in below and which will be published in our 2012-13 parent and student handbooks.  Note that at bottom of the policy is a set of references and resources, most of them which links to online published documents, which readers might find valuable.

See also my post:  “Stand Up to Homophobic Bullying” An important, effective video for schools

ST. GREGORY’s new and revised Anti-Bullying Policy. 

Bullying/Harassment

One of the principal statements in the philosophy of St. Gregory is that the school community values the dignity, self-worth, and potential of each individual.  Bullying/harassment will not be tolerated.  The school will become involved in cases which occur at school or at a school event, or which substantially disrupt the orderly operation of the school and/or the learning environment for any individual regardless of where they occur.

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I’ve written before about the extraordinary value and significance of digital video for enhanced teaching and learning; as Chris Anderson writes in Wired Magazine:

 I believe that the arrival of free online video may turn out to be just as significant a media development as the arrival of print. It is creating new global communities, granting their members both the means and the motivation to step up their skills and broaden their imaginations. It is unleashing an unprecedented wave of innovation in thousands of different disciplines: some trivial, some niche in the extreme, some central to solving humanity’s problems.

In short, free online video is boosting the net sum of global talent. It is helping the world get smarter…. Video is the killer app.  Don’t write me.  Tell me. Show me.

When I was a teacher in the nineties, videos were much harder to access, often expensive, and somehow it seemed the mentality was that if you were going to show a video, you ought to show an entire hour– a full episode for instance of “Eyes on the Prize” or “The Civil War.”  The youtube revolution, however, has unleashed not only an enormous array of video opportunities, for free, but also shifted the mindset to the power of short video- five minutes is too long, 2-3 minutes perfect.  It is for illumination, not full-length exposition.

And as we recognize the power of digital video-watching for student understanding, we also come to see the critical importance of the digital video-making for student skill development.  It is the third leg of a communication skill set, joining written and oral communication.    As the Chronicle of Higher Education wrote last year

Film students aren’t the only ones producing videos for homework these days. Professors teaching courses in writing, geology, forensics, sociology, anthropology, foreign languages, and many other disciplines now assign video projects, pushing students to make arguments formatted for the YouTube age.

video is only one aspect of multimedia literacy, which can also include other forms of digital communication, including audio and interactive presentations. “It’s really being able to communicate effectively in a networked culture.”

I’m lifting the following from our weekly St. Gregory Hawks e-view newsletter; it is a monthly column prepared by our Technology Director Andrei Henriksen, a series he calls Trending site of the month:   This month’s subject is YouTube use, and he has helpfully collected reports from a number of our teachers about the way they are using youtube, as an element of our 1:1 laptop program, in class. My thanks to both Andrei and these teachers

 English, Dr. Kate Oubre

First semester, students in English 1 produce a creative project including a written memoir/story, original art, and an original promotional video uploaded onto YouTube and inserted into their own Google site page.  Students this year focused on food and culture and produced such works asThe Perfect Gift” with animation, and “St. Patrick’s Day Supper,” with a slide show and written narration.

 History, Dr. Michelle Berry

We use YouTube in both my Seminar in US History and my AP U.S. Government courses.  Most recently, students uploaded their own videos from the APGOV Campaign Project to YouTube.  For an example: 

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As part of a continuing exploration here, I am happy to share this next example of and reflection upon “Open Computer” or “Open Internet” Testing at St. Gregory.  As I’ve written before, I think this assessment approach is a highly valuable one for promoting deeper learning, information literacy, and analytic and organizational skill development over memorization and regurgitation.  I think that many tests in most subjects can be, with the right intentional design, “open internet” and that they will be the better for it. 

Some argue against tests altogether, but I still love a good test, and taking the time to think through as a teacher what kind of questions can we ask which will continue to be meaningful assessments when Google and Wolfram Alpha are available is, I think, a highly productive exercise, and, of course, will generate a more authentic assessment experience far more well aligned with the real world of professionals for which we are preparing our students. 

Below is a report about another experiment with this approach from our Theater teacher and director, Lisa Bodden.

Comparing my approach to teaching this course with the last time I taught a similar version I realized that the major thing that has changed is the student’s access to technology. Did I still need the students to buy a heavy, although comprehensive, textbook? No, the information is available at their fingertips.

Did I need to order lengthy videos describing very limited topics and spend time plucking out the important details? No, YouTube is almost too easy and has a plethora of informative  videos, performances, and interviews with scholars and professionals.

Therefore, did I really need the students to regurgitate information or could I ask them to utilize  Internet resources and their class notes to compose essays based on questions that they helped craft?

The “answers” the students created in response to the essay prompts not only proved to me how well they understood the information, but also allowed them to maintain their individuality, voice, and opinion. I asked for historically specific information, but they could choose who and what on which to focus. The test went very well, in my view, and I will happily turn to this method again and again. Although this will not be my only method of assessment, I consider it a success. (more…)

In what has been one of the most exciting curricular developments of late at St. Gregory, our ninth graders are tackling each winter an elaborate multi-disciplinary project on the topic of bioethics. The assignment comes jointly from the ninth grade biology and English teachers, and requires students in teams to research an assigned topic in bioethics, address driving questions, take it through multiple steps of revision and reflection, and then publish their completed work in a presentation which they deliver to other students, after which they actually provide a test-for-understanding quiz to those students about their presentation.

Below these four presentation Prezis and video (two prezis after the jump (more), which I am so happy to be sharing, is more detailed information about the assignment, including a rubric and the project “pitch” requirements. (You may need to click on “more.”) I thank the St. Gregory students whose fine work this is for giving me permission to share.



Here is a link to the test for understanding quiz which was prepared to accompany this presentation, designed by the students as part of their project. (it is amusing to me to read question 4, multiple choice option b). (more…)

(This is the third post in a series; be sure to read the first for context).

This Class project was a year in the making: It began last spring, and I posted then about the class plans and my conversations with the working group as they “pitched it” to me and sought my approval and sponsorship. It is worth checking out this previous post to show the sequence, beginning with designing and planning and now culminating in completion:

Below are the student overview of the project’s purpose and procedure, and after the jump (more)  is the Solar Oven Project.

Purpose:  The purpose of this project was to provide the school’s students with an environmentally friendly way to charge their laptops.

Procedure 1. Screw wooden beams onto the preexisting structure. 2. Cut L-shaped metal to the correct length to fit the desired mounting angle of the panels and cut L-shaped metal to fit the length of the panel. 3. Attach the metal to the panel. 4. Attach the panel supports to the metal running the length of the panel. 5. Put the panel on the roof. 6. Attach the panel by screwing it to the structure. 7. Run conduit from the panels to the wall. 8. Drill a hole through the wall. 9. Run the wires from the panels through the hole. 10. Attach the panel wires to the charge controller. 11. Attach the charge controller to a car battery. 12. Attach the car battery to a power inverter. 13. Run a power cord from the inverter to a wall outlet outside. (more…)

See previous post for more information about the Design Build Tech Innovation Class. Reports written by students in the class.

Alex,  Nik and Michael: An LED matrix. 

8X8LEDMatrixThis project started with a 7 by 5 L.E.D Matrix found in the physics room. I then had the urge to get it working, so I started to test connections on the Matrix too see how the wiring was done.

I figured out that the Matrix worked in a row column fashion which made it impossible to make any other letter than I or l. Then I told myself that if I switched rows and individual dots every millisecond, I could then make any letter, picture, shape, etc. I then started looking for the most practical programming chip, an Arduino.

After the large amount of wiring I started programming. My first program consisted of turning on and of lights very quickly, which is simply but requires about 150 line of code. After completing one letter, “N”, everybody realized that this thing was freaking awsome! So everybody started to get involved (mostly Alex). (more…)