"I'm seeing things I never expected to see."
By 1990, John Muir Elementary seemed to be just another casualty of urban neglect. Built in 1907, the school was literally falling apart -- the structure decaying, the roof leaking, and student test scores falling. A drive-by shooting, in which rival gangs who just happened to be passing the school exchanged gunfire, frightened parents and children and galvanized outraged community leaders to action.
Today, it is getting high marks for educational innovation as a member of the "Accelerated Schools Program" of Stanford University, setting high expectations for students, transforming the educational environment of the school, and mobilizing the community to help.
Henry Levin, the director of the Center for Educational Research at Stanford (CERAS) has helped create more than 140 "accelerated schools" throughout the United States. He has to ward off schools, superintendents, boards, and politicians who want to sign up but show no signs of understanding the difficulty of transforming a school (or a district) along the lines of the three deceptively simple principles that undergird accelerated schools:
What is an accelerated school? Levin's answer is straightforward. It is a school in which what we want for "at-risk" children is the same as what we want for all children. "Ask yourself the question," says Levin, "Is this the kind of school I would send my own child to?"
Levin and his partners in the 140 schools are people with a mission: to change traditional mindsets, establish high expectations for all students, make learning an exciting and enjoyable experience for children, and engage the entire school community -- students, parents, teachers, administrators, and neighborhood leaders -- in the process. He describes the process as "low-budget education reform" explaining that planning costs money, but that once attitudes and processes have been changed, they normally become a part of the routine education budget.
The results are as varied as the schools in which they are found:
Les Crawford, superintendent of the Roseland School District in Santa Rosa, California, says the process of change is difficult, "because it requires a great deal of time, energy and hard work. Decision making in a group process is slow and time consuming."
However, the results appear to be worth the effort. As teacher Vipi Dorland at John Muir says: "I'm seeing things I never expected to see." Henry Levin would be pleased but not surprised. As he never tires of preaching, the accelerated school program is likely to produce some very powerful learning.
For additional information:
John Muir Elementary School
3301 South Horton Street
Seattle, Washington 98144