Creating High Performance Public Schools
Bellevue International School and Lake Washington International Community School have consistently ranked in the top tier of schools nationwide...Read more
School Design for Student Achievement
We founders of Bellevue International School believed that public schools can perform miraculous feats...Read more
Test Score Targets for All Schools
A curriculum that inspires participation creates habits of mind that students carry carry forward to all their coursework throughout the school day...Read more
Creating A Powerful Teaching Culture
New charter schools are not necessarily better school programs. They must rebuild the teaching culture if they....Read more
Social Promotion...or Program Accountability?
It's August, and twenty one administrators sit poring over the files of 91 students who do not have the credits to graduate from Jr High...Read more
Every School's Challenge: Making it Better vs. Making it New
How different should new schools be from the public schools that they intend to replace? Read more
The Power of Seamless Curriculum
By the time my 6th grade students were seniors, we had built and climbed a ladder of skills...Read more
Teaching for a New Century...New International School wants to leap beyond traditional boundaries of learning...
Education blew in and took its seat in the classroooms along the breezeway still scattered with flaking chips of paint. It was the first day of school. It was the first day of a school.
...It's a real mix of students, drawn from nearly every elementary and middle school in the district. One-third of the students have special needs, ranging from the academically gifted to those with behavioral and learning disabilities. There are a mildly mentally retarded student, a couple of transitional [ESL] students and a student quite mobile in his wheelchair. Twenty of the students are Asian, African-American, Latino or Asian American.
-Mary E. Cronin, SeattleTimes
How A High Performance Public School Begins
Bellevue International School and Lake Washington International Community School have been consistently ranked in the top tier of schools nationwide by both Newsweek and USA Today.
As co-founder and program developer at both schools, I have created this website to describe the instructional practices and program goals that produced this consistent record of student achievement--by design. The lessons we learned establishing these schools can guide developers of new charter schools across the United States.
The Bellevue International School program was envisioned and developed by six veteran teachers.* Our goal was to discover whether a school could be created that would be a joy to work in, as well as produce superb learning results for students.
The six of us met for a year and a half on our own time, and hammered out a vision for a 6-12 school that would raise the level of accountability for all participants. We made a presentation of our vision to the Bellevue School District Board, and asked for the go-ahead. Although board members were enthusiastic about our ideas, they challenged us to seek external validation for our concept.
Six months later, we six returned with a $300,000 Schools for the 21st Century Grant from the State of Washington: one of twelve recipients from 113 schools that had applied. Unlike the other applicants, we were awarded the grant based upon the promise of our design and core values. Unlike our competitors--all of which were schools already in existence-- we had no students, we had no building, and we had yet to write curriculum. At the next Board meeting our proposal was enthusiastically approved, despite district level administrator doubt and wide-spread district teacher resistance.
That spring we were given an unused elementary school as our site: a building that was then being used as a district warehouse and as a food-bank. A suburban educational "favela" to be sure; but we six were ecstatic, and now the pressure was on.
On half-time release from our regular teaching assignments, we were left on our own to develop the program, write a curriculum, equip a building, and then recruit families and students who were willing to take a risk on an untried idea. We had six months to to be up and ready.
I can't begin to describe the sense of obligation--and isolation--that we felt at the time. We were moving from the realm of being teachers in classrooms to becoming designers of a school program in which parents would place their children and their trust. Such high flying carried with it a high potential for failing to fly: forever after, as individual teachers and program developers, we would take the credit or the blame for the quality of the program that we envisioned and created. This challenge--and its obligation--will be exactly the same that new charter schools in Washington State will experience.
A semester of intensive planning led us to a widely publicized launch sequence.
Our first recruitment and information meeting, held in 1991 on the night of "Desert Storm," brought a grand total of three parents and one student.
But the next, held two weeks later, brought an overflow crowd that was eager to hear about new schooling choices.
As word spread, we were on our way to getting the 150 students that we needed in order to open in the Fall of 1991.
During those early meetings we described a program where learning, skill acquisition, growth and inquiry were the standard. Our emphasis was not on content mastery alone, but also on what we called the "metacurricular" aspect of an effective school: students learning how to participate, how to ask questions, how to apply new knowledge and skill in meaningful ways--all supported by a staff ethos of interrogative modeling, well designed activities, relentless checking for understanding, and student-centering that created numerous opportunities for discovery and success.
As a 6-12 school of choice, we accepted all students who applied, and final enrollment decisions were based upon a lottery.
The founding of Bellevue International occurred in the earliest days of the small schools movement--a movement based upon the belief that elements of the teaching & learning equation needed to be re-examined if public schools were to be renewed.
As co-founders and program developers of this small learning community, we knew that our success in improving upon the large high school model would depend upon instituting key "second order" changes that went to the heart of the educational endeavor.
Deep level transformation was our goal, and our first task would be to create an articulated, essential curriculum that deliberately targeted fundamental skills, and that provided continuity of learning experiences over the years.
But in order for this to be accomplished, staff in each department would have to identify and commit to referencing all classroom activities to a core of "essential questions" and skill practices that would underlie all learning activities, as well as link them forward through the years (see Building a Powerful Teaching Culture).
Because of our cumulative experience in large American high schools, we also knew that we would have to consistently uphold the same performance standards and behavioral expectations for all students. In order to create a school culture where exploration, scholarship and respectful participation were the norm, all teachers needed to be on the same page.
Our community and our culture were "the school," a sensible and humanized center that required all students to come together under the same teaching and learning aegis. In that regard, we were a mono-culture, not a multi-culture, and we expected that each of our students would respond to a quality learning environment, regardless of race, religion, or national origin. Staff expectations, values and modeled behaviors consistently hewed to that standard.
As master practitioners, we also knew that each teacher would be expected to model and reinforce those scholarly "habits of mind" that would be the key to student success in each content area and level.
There could be no weak link in the chain; no inconsistency as to "what we were about, and what we cared about."
Like our counterparts in other areas of the country, we teacher founders of Bellevue International believed that our children's schools needed to be re-dedicated to high academic standards; that our schools needed to bring an end to social promotion ; and that coherent curriculum and oustanding teacher instructional skill would be the essential ingredients for any small school's success.
Our vision was not about separating the gifted from those who were struggling.
Instead we planted ourselves firmly within the arena of public education and proclaimed that all students can learn, and that all students can achieve.
The key to our success: united staff commitment to a strong school culture, and a curriculum design that targeted fundamental skills while pursuing essential questions that knit together all learning experiences.
By the time we graduated our first class in 1997, our lottery waiting list had grown to several hundred students, and our state and national test scores indicated that we were heading in the right direction.
As the last of the remaining original founders on the Bellevue International staff, I graduated with our first 17 member class in 1997 and left for the neighboring Lake Washington School District, Redmond, Washington.
As parents requested--and as the school board agreed--I was hired to design Lake Washington International Community School to be a clone of Bellevue International School.
As program developer and "head teacher" I had the opportunity to recruit our first two classes of 150 7th and 8th graders, to work with parents to select the inaugural content area staff, and to develop a curriculum and program philosophy that extended and improved upon the original Bellevue model. For its first three years, ICS was housed in several portables located behind Redmond High School. Earl Wayman, Principal at Redmond, was instrumental in providing the assistance that led to a successful opening.
Lake Washington International Community School is now entering its seventeenth year of operation, and is a leading public school program in Washington State.
(See 2013 Sr. Project By ICS student Alex Shaw: YouTube Link: Forever We Rise: The Story of ICS.)
In 2003 I accepted an offer from the Marysville School District to develop yet another new small learning community: Marysville Arts & Technology High School.
During five months of program development, I identified a focus and name for the school, recruited 140 ninth and tenth grade families, and hired the inaugural staff. Jim Fenstermaker, Facilities Director at Marysville, provided excellent leadership for the renovation and remodel of the office park complex that was to become A&T's first home.
After a successful first year at A&T, and after the longest teacher strike against a school district in Washington State history, I accepted a position with the North Kitsap School District as planning Principal for the new Kingston High School.
After two very productive years at North Kitsap, and after thirty five wonderful years in secondary education, I made the decision to retire to our Hobart farm in June of 2006.
Since then, I continue to be involved in education in a variety of important ways.
**Bellevue International School's founding teachers were: Rick Hart, Patricia McLean, Rita Lowy, Terry LaRussa Banton, Karen Kurle and Bruce Saari. Of these six planners, only four assumed teaching positions when the school opened: McLean, Lowy, LaRussa Banton and Saari. Hart assumed administrative duties at the District level, and Kurle was not available to teach because of an upcoming leave.