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Don Roach: My Education Crusade - Finding the Secret Sauce

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

 

As I’ve spoken with a number of educators, parents, and teachers on my months long educational crusade, I really never expected to find a simple “secret sauce” or solution to our state’s educational problems. That was before I visited Blackstone Valley Prep, or BVP as everyone called it.

I pride myself on not being easily impressed, but let me walk you through my visit. I arrived as the students were getting dropped off. Director of External Affairs, Jen LoPiccolo, asked me if I wanted to observe “handshakes” which they do every day. In my world a handshake occurs when one system speaks to another validating data transfer, I was shocked that teachers were outside literally shaking hands with students. Students were asked, “how are you doing today?”

An answer of “good” was usually not sufficient and eye contact was also required. In most cases the students also asked how the teachers were doing. It was an assembly line of handshakes and while I participated, I often fumbled over my words while the students would wait for me to properly address and respond to them.

I didn’t need to ask Executive Director, Jeremy Chiappetta, the purpose behind the handshakes even though he was eager to tell me how he wanted (paraphrased) the kids to understand that they were leaving the home environment and entering a place of learning, to teach them to look adults in the eye, and to show them how to enter school with a good attitude.

Succeeding on purpose

I told Chiappetta that the intentionality of handshakes was simple but probably quite effective. He said the school’s intention is to expect the very best from kids and create a culture to do just that. A number of times the students were called “scholars” instead of students. That’s another intentional word choice and such things are part of everyday vernacular at BVP.

Chiappetta and team have determined that nothing is impossible for scholars and their roles as teachers are to help facilitate their progress towards succeeding in college.

From “handshakes”, I went to the cafeteria where I observed students engaged in a number of call and response games, even leading some themselves. Two things struck me, the student population at BVP is incredibly diverse and second, the teacher leading the exercise seemed to know every child’s name. There had to be at least 150 students ranging from kindergarten to fourth grade in the cafeteria at the time so learning all the names of the children can’t be a small task.

I cannot stress enough how much success is a result of purpose filled actions at BVP. From handshakes to giving children opportunities to lead from the amount of homework and on and on, BVP is incredibily intentional about the way scholars are taught.

Parents talk empowerment

I also had an opportunity to speak with a few parents and they spoke of feeling empowered as parents and how empowered their children are. One parent spoke of her child being able to contact a teacher after hours. Another spoke about how the scholars help each other.

But while you’d think these parents would be content enough that their own children were in a school that was successful, each of the four spoke about how all of Rhode Island’s children were there concern. It didn’t seem like lip service because I was in the room but appeared to be a sincere desire to see children to succeed. Community was also another term the parents spoke about and how important the partnership between scholars, parents, teachers, and all other workers at BVP is. For example, if a student is called on in class and doesn’t know the answer they can “call in a friend” for assistance.

From empowerment to a sense of community, I wonder how many children at some of our failing schools feel “empowered” or that they are part of a thriving community? I wonder.

Funding is not the secret sauce

We’re often told how education is all about the numbers. Well, BVP debunks that notion. BVP’s per pupil expenditures are one of the lowest in the state. Nevertheless, they have the highest NECAP marks in the state. This leads me to believe that funding is not the problem. Chiappetta told me that he’d love more funding, but I don’t believe additional funding is the “secret sauce” to success.

If it were, BVP should be performing far worse than best-in-state. When I visited a few classes, none of the classrooms seemed focused on “teaching to the test”. A math class focused on probability by having the students work in partnerships while another class had kids reading passages aloud. But, beyond this the difference at BVP is clear.

One – parents are involved.

Two – students are empowered and expected to succeed.

Three – teachers are accessible.

Four – students, teachers, parents, and administrators form a community partnership.

Five – expectations for each student is incredibly high.

Are any of these aspects of BVP possible to bring to other schools across the state? You better believe it, but at one of my children’s school when my son needed additional help the response was “get a tutor”. That’s not a partnership, that’s something very different.

If the school that receives one of the least amounts of funding per student can achieve the best test results in the state, perhaps we should try to learn something from them. In my short time there last week, I did. I learned there’s a secret sauce at BVP, but it’s really not a secret and it’s something schools across the state could implement.

The question is why don’t we do this in more schools?

 

Related Slideshow: RI Home Schooled Students

Prev Next

34. Central Falls

Home schooled students per 1,000: 1.1

Total home schooled students: 3

Total public school students in district: 2,694

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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33. Barrington

Home schooled students per 1,000: 3.6

Total home schooled students: 12

Total public school students in district: 3,334

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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32. Providence

Home schooled students per 1,000: 3.7

Total home schooled students: 89

Total public school students in district: 23,827

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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31. North Providence

Home schooled students per 1,000: 6.0

Total home schooled students: 21

Total public school students in district: 3,498

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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30. Johnston

Home schooled students per 1,000: 6.5

Total home schooled students: 20

Total public school students in district: 3,095

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

29. Lincoln

Home schooled students per 1,000: 7.9

Total home schooled students: 25

Total public school students in district: 3,182

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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28. Pawtucket

Home schooled students per 1,000: 8.0

Total home schooled students: 15

Total public school students in district: 8,953

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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27. Westerly

Home schooled students per 1,000: 8.3

Total home schooled students: 25

Total public school students in district: 3,016

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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26. North Smithfield

Home schooled students per 1,000: 8.7

Total home schooled students: 15

Total public school students in district: 1,729

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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25. New Shoreham

Home schooled students per 1,000: 8.8

Total home schooled students: 1

Total public school students in district: 114

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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24. Bristol-Warren

Home schooled students per 1,000: 9.0

Total home schooled students: 31

Total public school students in district: 3,429

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

23. Cranston

Home schooled students per 1,000: 10.05

Total home schooled students: 106

Total public school students in district: 10,552

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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22. South Kingstown

Home schooled students per 1,000: 10.3

Total home schooled students: 35

Total public school students in district: 3,397

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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21. Middletown

Home schooled students per 1,000: 10.6

Total home schooled students: 24

Total public school students in district: 2,267

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

20. Narragansett

Home schooled students per 1,000: 11.5

Total home schooled students: 16

Total public school students in district: 1,396

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

19. East Providence

Home schooled students per 1,000: 12.0

Total home schooled students: 64

Total public school students in district: 5,321

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

18. Glocester

Home schooled students per 1,000: 13.2

Total home schooled students: 7

Total public school students in district: 529

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

 

Prev Next

17. Smithfield

Home schooled students per 1,000: 13.4

Total home schooled students: 32

Total public school students in district: 2,396

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

16. Cumberland

Home schooled students per 1,000: 13.5

Total home schooled students: 61

Total public school students in district: 4,531

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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15. Burrillville

Home schooled students per 1,000: 14.2

Total home schooled students: 34

Total public school students in district: 2,401

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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14. Warwick

Home schooled students per 1,000: 14.6

Total home schooled students: 137

Total public school students in district: 9,393

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Photo: Flickr/Ken Zirkel

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13. Jamestown

Home schooled students per 1,000: 15.8

Total home schooled students: 8

Total public school students in district: 507

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

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12. North Kingstown

Home schooled students per 1,000: 16.5

Total home schooled students: 67

Total public school students in district: 4,056

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Photo: Flickr/C. Hanchey

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11. Coventry

Home schooled students per 1,000: 16.6

Total home schooled students: 83

Total public school students in district: 4,992

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

10. Portsmouth

Home schooled students per 1,000: 17.0

Total home schooled students: 45

Total public school students in district: 2,647

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

9. Foster-Glocester

Home schooled students per 1,000: 17.3

Total home schooled students: 20

Total public school students in district: 1,153

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

8. Woonsocket

Home schooled students per 1,000: 17.9

Total home schooled students: 106

Total public school students in district: 5,920

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

7. West Warwick

Home schooled students per 1,000: 18.4

Total home schooled students: 63

Total public school students in district: 3,421

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

6. Scituate

Home schooled students per 1,000: 18.7

Total home schooled students: 27

Total public school students in district: 1,448

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

5. Tiverton

Home schooled students per 1,000: 20.3

Total home schooled students: 38

Total public school students in district: 1,873

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

4. Newport

Home schooled students per 1,000: 23.5

Total home schooled students: 47

Total public school students in district: 1,996

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

3. Foster

Home schooled students per 1,000: 25.7

Total home schooled students: 7

Total public school students in district: 272

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

2. Chariho

Home schooled students per 1,000: 26.8

Total home schooled students: 92

Total public school students in district: 3,427

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

Prev Next

1. Little Compton

Home schooled students per 1,000: 42.3

Total home schooled students: 11

Total public school students in district: 260

Note: Data reflects October enrollment period for school year 2013-14.

 
 

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Comments:

Don--BVP is a charter school, no? I'm wondering why this wasn't mentioned in your very positive article.

Comment #1 by Jimmy LaRouche on 2014 03 19

Yes it is. It wasn't left out intentionally, but how would it affect the article positively or negatively?

Comment #2 by Donn Roach on 2014 03 19

Well... Because a charter school such as BV does not have to handle issues such as hungry neglected kids, behavioral problems from neglect/ lead/ drug use/ alcoholism, kids who come to school physically abused, 0 to little technology in the classrooms because of the cost, cafeteria with between 500 and 1000 kids packed in for breakfast, buses that arrive late, 12 year olds who have to walk 2.5 miles in freezing weather with snow covered sidewalks, parents who take no interest in their child's education on a daily basis. I wish what BV does could happen everywhere, but the powers at be, such as Angel TaverASS could give a sh*#. As evidenced by his closing of small schools and jamming them into larger ones to save a penny. The same people who celebrate the success of BV, and demand that everywhere would puke at the cost it would take.

Comment #3 by lupe fiasco on 2014 03 19

Donn, you used the word, "diverse." How is the school diverse? Does it include kids from a variety of income levels? Does it include kids with special needs or IEPs? Does it include kids from a variety of family backgrounds? Does it include kids who learned, or are learning, English as a second language? It's really easy to be a high-performing school when it's able to cherry-pick high performing students.

Comment #4 by John Onamas on 2014 03 19

Not so much high perfomring students, but high performing families.

Comment #5 by John Ward on 2014 03 19

Don--seriously? You ask the question in the article what the state can learn, yet neglect to let the audience know that the school is a charter school--a school-choice initiative despised by the education unions. Perhaps the state can encourage the growth in education by encouraging more Charter Schools?

Of course you have the protectors of the failing status quo denigrating these successful schools, but they have a point. It's the FAMILY that makes these schools a success. Better to have a few schools that allow some to succeed vice pack them all into some of the failing, costly public schools that currently exist. The "shared misery" policy of those who rail against charter schools is ignorant--and often self-serving.

Comment #6 by Jimmy LaRouche on 2014 03 19

Jimmy, that sounds good, but we can't let public schools become simply places to house students who don't meet the admission standards established by charter schools. Public education is supposed to provide an equal opportunity to everyone to receive a quality education. Some schools don't come close to meeting that lofty goal, but siphoning "good" students off to charter schools and abandoning public education isn't the answer either.

All this talk of "good families" is a red herring. What is a good family?

Comment #7 by John Onamas on 2014 03 19

"Nevertheless, they have the highest NECAP marks in the state"

This is incorrect. BVP's scores are above the state average, but they're not the highest in the state.

Comment #8 by Sleepy Dog on 2014 03 19

I think we all know what a good family is. The leftys just don't want to admit the MESS they have left in the wake of Lyin' Lyndon's "War on Poverty". They have reached the unenviable point of not being able to admit a mistake of any kind in their house of cards. Not ONE.
The Nanny State doesn't encourage supportive families.

Comment #9 by G Godot on 2014 03 19

No, Godot, I don't think we all know how you define a good family, so humor me. Is a good family one that works hard and stays involved in their kids' lives as much as possible but maybe needs to work more than one job to stay afloat in this state? How about a family with a special needs child or a learning disability that sucks enormous amounts of time away from their other kids? How about a good family with a child who is small, shy, and bullied and who is afraid to go to school at all? How about a good family with a child who just isn't blessed with a high IQ and who struggles to make grades? How about a good family of recent immigrants who want their kids to succeed in this country but are still struggling with English? Would these kids of "good families" make it to Donn's handshake school?

When I hear some people trumpet "family values" and "good families" sometimes it sounds suspiciously like "good breeding" or "good family income," or simply as a way to be critical of families who don't meet your standards of goodness.

Comment #10 by John Onamas on 2014 03 20

Believe it or not, some parents want their kids to go to public school. My wife and I both went to parochial elementary schools, and when we arrived in high school we were both shocked at our lack of knowledge. Both of my kids have at one point scored a perfect grade on a segment of the NECAP. I think they have a "good" family. They would both be eligible to be admitted to the charter school that's a couple of miles from our house. We think they'll be better prepared to face the world by staying in a truly diverse school that admits kids of ALL kinds, and not just kids whose "diversity," in the way that Donn uses the word, is incredibly superficial.

Comment #11 by John Onamas on 2014 03 20

That's your choice, John--and you should applaud the freedom to do so. Others choose differently. Who are you to decide what they can do?

As for your lack of knowledge, was it all the schools you attended or could it be your lack of reading and work? Because my children went to parochial schools, studied hard at home and school, and all are successful, hard working professionals. So, perhaps incomplete, anecdotal evidence is limited in use?

Moreover, please examine your biases. Charter schools aren't "siphoning off" anything--parents are fighting to get their students into these schools across the U.S. Just look at NYC--and the actions of parents where the mayor is attempting to shut down charter schools.

Finally, IMHO, only the diversity of ideas counts. The truly superficial consider skin color and sex as 'diversity.' We might as well add height and weight to 'diversity' if we really want to be superficial, no?

Comment #12 by Jimmy LaRouche on 2014 03 20

John, you wrote that "we can't let public schools become simply places to house students who don't meet the admission standards established by charter schools." This would never be the case. Charter schools are public schools and don't have admission requirements. Acceptance is determined by lottery.

Comment #13 by Emma Nelson on 2014 03 20

Yes Emma, but the exit because of bad behavior or non supportive parents is swift and permanent. Imagine if all schools could do that. Instead, the child with any disability that disrupts the learning will not be tolerated and that child will be sent back to public schools.

Comment #14 by lupe fiasco on 2014 03 20

Emma--very true. But you are informed--many aren't--but think they are.

lupe--please explain to us why any school should tolerate disruptive behavior. Do you really think we should keep disruptive students in a class to the detriment of all the other students who actually want to learn? Finally, charter schools are public schools.

Comment #15 by Jimmy LaRouche on 2014 03 21

Here's the problem with condescending school "choice" advocates like Jimmy: It's not a choice for everyone, only for kids deemed acceptable and who meet his standards of a "good family"--which he doesn't bother to define. Anyone outside the norm is "disruptive." Meanwhile the school "choice" people advocate for under-funding or de-funding true public education so that people who choose to send their kids to a school with true diversity are reduced to a separate but unequal option. And then they brag about their watered-down NECAP scores. Congratulations. You've rigged the system for the success of your child. Then, to top it off, you'll try to force me to use my tax dollars to fund your child's Christian education--all in the name of "choice."

Comment #16 by John Onamas on 2014 03 21




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